chapter one

Quest of Hologramic Memory

I am an anatomist. I say that with pride and satisfaction, even now. And during much of my career, I was certain beyond a conscious doubt that the truth about life would reduce directly and explicitly to the architecture of the things that do the living. I had complete faith, too, that my science would one day write the most important scientific story of all: How a brain gives existence to a mind. But I was wrong. And my very own research, which I call shufflebrain, forced me to junk the axioms of my youth and begin my intellectual life all over again.

My research supports, vindicates, and extends a theory of biological memory, of neural information generally--whether ordained by instinct or acquired through experience--a general theory of the very nature of mind. "Hologramic theory," I shall call it in this book. As its name implies, hologramic theory relates mind to the principle involved in the hologram. Its conclusions, predictions, and assertions represent the antithesis of what I once believed.

Holograms encode messages carried by waves, waves of any sort, in theory. And holograms of all types share in common the fact that they encode information about a property of waves known as phase. I will defer definition of wave phase until later in the book. But phase is a relative property, without definite size or absolute mass; it is elusive and seemed virtually unknowable until the development of holography, the branch of optics concerned directly with holograms. To reconstruct phase, which a hologram permits, is to regenerate a wave's relative shape and thus recreate any message or image the original wave communicated to the recording and storage medium.

Thus the basic assertion in hologramic[1] theory, and the thesis I develop in this book, is that the brain stores the mind as codes of wave phase.

Where did hologramic theory begin? Its origins are complex, and this question should be answered by a professional historian; but the connection between holograms and the brain caught hold in biology and psychology in the late 1960s. Then a neurophysiologist named Karl Pribram,[2] who was writing and lecturing eloquently and insightfully on the subject, proposed the hologram as a model to explain the results not only of his many intensive years investigating the living monkey brain, but also to account for many paradoxes about memory that had persisted unabated since antiquity.

Memory often survives massive brain damage, even the removal of an entire cerebral hemisphere. In the 1920s the celebrated psychologist Karl Lashley, with whom Pribram once worked, demonstrated that the engram, or memory trace, cannot be isolated in any specific compartment of a rat's brain. Certain optical holograms invented in the early 1960s, the most common today, exhibit just what Lashley had alleged of memory: A piece cut from such a hologram--any piece--will reconstruct the entire image. For as unlikely as this may seem, the message exists, whole, at every point in the medium.[3]

My own research has not always focused directly on memory. Regeneration of tissues and organs held my fascination for many years, and I am still pursuing certain questions about the molecular aspects of the regrowth of muscle tissue. But even as a sophomore in college I had the persistent hunch that all recurrent biological events, developmental or neural, might be explained by one unified theory. I spent some years in the pursuit of a structural explanation of how new muscles and skeletons regenerate in the limb of the salamander. My investigations began to suggest that the cells responsible for each new tissue acted as independent mathematical sets. Using transplantations and various other means, I tried to model transformations of independent sets. This approach was very productive.[4]

No other creature rivals the larva as either donor or host of transplanted organs and tissues.

Here, for instance is an animal with an arm in its right orbit, as anatomist call the eye socket. The transplant moved in harmony with eye in the other orbit, the reason being that the muscles that had previously attached to the eye grew into and mixed with the muscles of the transplant. Meanwhile, the still cartilaginous skeleton of the orbitally transplanted limb remained normal. Now, the forearm and hand of the limb transplant are regenerates (as were the animals normally situated limbs). Later, microscopic examination of speciments like this revealed mixed muscles amid perfectly regenerated skeletons. I planned to employ transplantation in shufflebrain research.

Here's another illustration of the transplantability of salamander parts.

This fellow is an axolotl into whose dorsal fin, I'd transplanted a hind leg and an entire brain, including the donor animal's inner ear, where it's orgas of balaance reside . I spliced the leg to the brain with a hank of spinal cord. I knew the splice worked when the transplanted limb began to feel for the floor of the aquartium and walk on its own. Nerves from the ear must have grown into and hooked up with the brain. Also, the leg would kick wildly where the animal rocked back and forth, presumably from stimulation of the transplanted inner ear. I used to call this animal Thumper, from the sometimes jackrabbit-like action of the transplanted limb.
Here's an animal with an entire head tranplant in its right orbit. The donor head, which came from a beheaded embryo, developed normally with two anatomically perfect eyes and a snapping set of jaws. The transplanted head couldn't eat because it lacked the rest of the equipment -- which was transplanted somewhere else. The host was a larva at the time of the transplant operation. Did the two heads think as one? By all indications, each retained its separate psychological identity.

In the mid-1960's, while searching for a system that would allow me to extend my theory from regeneration to memory, I decided to perform experiments with the brain. Hologramic theory had just begun to emerge as I was gearing up.[5] Its predictions were at odds with virtually everything else I believed. Hologramic theory predicted that memory cannot be explained by the structure of the brain.

"What kind of a nitwit would seriously believe a thing like that?" I asked a senior colleague. "Don't we use legs to stand on, teeth to chew with, bronchioles to breathe through? Sperms swim with their tails. Hairs curl or don't curl depending on the detailed structure of their proteins. Even genes work because of molecular anatomy. Why should the storing of mind be different?"

Hologramic theory not only stirred my prejudice, it also seemed highly vulnerable to the very experiments I was planning: Shuffling neuroanatomy, reorganizing the brain, scrambling the sets and subsets that I theorized were the carriers of neural programs. I fully expected to retire hologramic theory to the bone yard of meaningless ideas. I had begun licking my canine teeth like a mink who has cornered a chicken. I even began considering which scientific meetings would be best for the announcement of my theory. I should have awaited Nature's answers. For hologramic theory was to survive every trial, and my own theory went down to utter defeat.


Will my experiments prove hologramic theory to the careful reader? Maybe, in the casual or even legal sense of establishing truth. Possibly, according to the pragmatist's test: For hologramic theory works. But as the logician tests truth, my answer is I hope not.

No experiment can deliver the whole truth about a theory. Take Einstein's special theory of relativity, for instance--the most powerful and durable theory in all the natural sciences, and the source of the famous e = mc square. Unless Einstein was totally wrong, there is no actual c-square--the square of the speed of light. He assumed that the speed of light is the maximum velocity any mass-energy can attain. Obviously, no experiment will ever detect what is greater than an attainable maximum.

Theories deal with generic features of a subject, with explanations for groups of facts or classes of events as a whole. They serve our understanding precisely because they exist in the ideal, operate in the abstract, and lend themselves to perfectibility. For many of Nature's secrets lie beyond experience. Experiments yield controlled experiences. By their very character, experiments must focus on particular observations. They furnish concrete examples of a subject in the reality we know best. But experiments cannot penetrate to the ideal core of a theory, and they cannot take us to the repository of the theory's meaning.

Experiments may let us examine a theory's consequences and test its predictions. They may produce the results a theory forecasts, and by so doing establish widespread belief in the theory. And that is fine, as long as we do not forget the distinction between belief in the truth and the truth itself. Failure to make this seemingly obvious differentiation is a serious philosophical malady within many sciences today.

Setting philosophy aside, I am still unwilling to declare hologramic theory true. Do I believe the theory? Yes, of course, or I would not be writing a book about it. But belief has an irrational component built in. As a logic professor of mine used to insist, "The routes to certitude and certainty pass through different territories." The reader is entitled to find his or her own certitude. Science does not elevate its practitioners above mortality and fallibility, not even in judging the implications of scientific data. Only the writer with this thought in the prow of the mind may guide a reader to a brand new universe of understanding; and only as another mortal can I make shufflebrain a window on the hologramic mind.

Shufflebrain gives us sufficient reason to develop hologramic theory into a carefully reasoned system of propositions. After we deal with the theory in the abstract--where we can take it apart, where we can "see" the hologramic mind, where we can construct rational explanations of what we find in our world--then shufflebrain experiments will justify our putting hologramic theory to work.

And what uses it has! The theory explains observations about the brain that once defied explanation; it reconciles contradictory evidence that today alienates different groups of scientists into rigid, hostile, xenophobic camps; it gives the brain's architecture new significance; it sharpens the anatomist's mission. Hologramic theory, when fully developed, liberates us from the tyranny of reductionism and the pitfalls of trivialization. But the theory connects mind to the same Nature science has been studying all along. We take no magic carpet on our journey through this book.

Hologramic theory permits us to tour the vast ranges and reaches where minds abide; but this book only begins the tour.

Above all, hologramic theory provides a system in which human reason and imagination, coalesced, may comprehend and appreciate themselves. If, in some transcending design, the theory is false, it will still be of value. It is in this spirit that I offer it to the reader.


The following chapter primarily deals with the mind-brain conundrum, or what the situation is like without a general theory. I found that if I chose examples carefully, I could in passing, present background about the brain that could be used later in the book. Selecting from the vast possibilities in the literature, I tried to pick examples that are interesting in their own right.

Chapter 3 surveys the hologram and its underlying principles. My intention is to provide the reader with enough theoretical background to deal with Chapters 4 through 6. There is a vast literature on holography, much of it not directly related to our discussion and not included in this book. The reader whose interests in this subject develop along the way will find various works listed in the bibliography, and most libraries contain excellent popular books on holography.

Why would any serious thinker even consider the hologram as a potential model of the brain? I try to answer this question in Chapter 4 with examples of how holograms mimic brain and mind functions. These examples illustrate how the hologram can be used in a casual way to conceptualize a surprising list of previously imponderable considerations about ourselves.

Chapters 5 and 6 describe my experiments on the brain. Having explored the possibilities of the hologram, and the theory, in earlier chapters we now need experimental evidence to justify further work on hologramic theory itself.

Chapter 7 is an introduction to the wave as a theoretical entity. In this chapter, we begin the process of determining the underlying propositions and principles we will need to formulate hologramic theory. In Chapter 8, we put our new rules and our recently acquired background knowledge to work, and by inductive reasoning we assemble hologramic theory, at least in the much simpler process of deduction, to explain the results of shufflebrain experiments and to take a "look" at the hypothetical hologramic mind. But in its simple form, hologramic theory is too reductionistic for our quest. In Chapter 9, therefore, we reformulate hologramic theory in the most general terms available. The result is a theoretical entity I call the "hologramic continuum." But hologramic theory, even in its general form, does not solve all existing problems in science. It will not, for instance, cure warts. The theory restricts itself, as we will be able to deduce in Chapter 9, but there is an ironic consequence awaiting us there.

Whereas Chapters 7 through 9 focus on mind, Chapter 10 returns to living organisms. Up to this point, we have been asking, "What is mind?" In Chapter 10, we pose the question, "What is brain?" The answers may surprise the reader. Chapter 10 also looks at a few interesting facts about the brain and behavior.

Chapter 11 provides a glimpse of the meaning of intelligence from the vantage of hologramic theory. Can we describe and define intelligence in a hologramic mind?

During the late 1960s, when my work on shufflebrain was beginning, I worked with Carl Schneider, brilliant physiological psychologist and remarkable person. Our joint investigations were very rewarding, and Carl and I also became friends. But on the question of Lashley's work, Carl and I had deep philosophical differences at the time. To preserve our collaboration, I did not involve Carl in shufflebrain experiments. Yet, unwittingly, our joint projects were producing the very evidence that would, years later, place hologramic theory in a wider context. And that wider context is the purpose of Chapter 12, the conclusion of the book. I think one of the first phrases a novice scientist or philosopher must learn is, "What do you mean by . . . ?" Some scholars never quite outgrow the definitions game. Few of us need to be reminded of the ambiguities built into language. But protracted definitions rarely correct the problem, often render a serious work solemn, and frequently preempt splendid general words for narrow and polemical purposes. When our discussion requires careful definitions, we will build up to them rather than proceed from them. Otherwise, the lexicographer has already done a much better job than an anatomist can hope to accomplish. Generally, I defer to him or her.

But two terms do warrant special note here: Theory and memory. Solely to minimize confusion, I will employ theory in the sense of explanation.

The usages of memory differ in empirical versus rational schools of philosophy and psychology. Empiricists, the intellectual heirs of John Locke, who believe that experience is the source of all knowledge, define memory in terms of learning. Rationalists, the followers of René Descartes, who believe in innate ideas and hold that reason is the source of knowledge, do not accept experience, and thus learning, as the principal source of the brain's stores of information. Well into this book, I develop the point that how the brain acquires information is of little significance in hologramic theory. Meanwhile, believing that empiricists and rationalists both have their rights, I use the term memory in reference to all the brain's stored information, whether learned, innate, or installed by some still unknown means. I use the term interchangeably with stored mind. In fact, if you look in a dictionary, you will find memory given as one definition of mind.