Welcome back to a somewhat late edition of Trenchant Edges. Where we dive deep into weird ideas of fringe culture, politics, and history.
We’re late because sifting through information on today’s topic took vastly longer than I expected. So, disclaimer, today’s email probably includes wild extrapolations on insufficient data understood badly. Woo hoo!
Because I got kinda obsessed with a single chapter of The Invisible Landscape. Anyway, you’ll see what I mean.
Today’s subject is a weird one for me, since when I was in my weird knowledge expansion phase I had many people recommend me Michael Talbot’s 1991 book, The Holographic Universe, which follows very much in Terence’s footsteps by extrapolating from the Holonomic Brain Theory onto a much larger canvas. I’ve never read the book since after I found a copy early on Michael Talbot made a comment about how hearing loss doesn’t stop one from recognizing what direction a sound is coming from.
But, uh, as anyone who’s ever tried to get my attention by shouting my name can tell you, my hearing loss came with a vastly reduced capacity to recognize what direction a sound is coming from so, lol. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have dismissed the whole book from this one anecdotal fact, but that’s pretty much who I was at the time.
We’ll be keeping to our regular schedule this week after this though. So without any further pomp:
Onto the Subject
When rereading The Invisible Landscape, I couldn’t help but notice an awful lot of the argument in TIL was built on the idea of the mind acting somewhat like a hologram. But, despite me reading the 1994 edition of TIL, the main citation for this view of brain and memory is Karl Pribram’s 1971 book Languages of the Brain. Now, when I see a 20 year gap between a major source and publication date get suspicious.
Terence brings up holography in Chapter 4 of TIL, “Towards a Holographic Theory of Mind”. This chapter is a wonderfully reckless bit of improvisational theorymaking, where Terence attempts to ground his alchemical “as above so below” style worldview in scientific materialism.
Holograms are the mechanism he uses for this trick and, to be fair, holograms are super weird. In under 20 pages he links up the brain’s storage and retrieval of memory, Holography, Alchemical symbols, Jungian Archtypes, DNA, Liebeitz’s Monads, Whitehead’s Mere Continuum, quantum theory, and Einstein’s relativity. It’s all quite a rush of universal weirdness, but no subject is treated any more than an absolute generality.
I have a simple rule: If someone’s referring to quantum mechanics’ words or analogies instead of the underlying mathematical relationships, they probably don’t actually know the math that expresses the theory, which means they’re working at least second or third hand and possibly much worse. It’s a red flag.
And here Terence gives he same treatment to no less than 7 highly technical fields of study. As someone who also notes the suspicious self-similarity of so much of the universe and suspect’s foul play on the part of the almighty (whatever that is), it’d be really easy for me to accept this uncritically.
But that’s not really what we’re about here. Let’s take a closer look at one of those fields and see if it holds up to scrutiny.
[Editor’s note: I’ve just closed about 35 browser tabs, down to about 60 open trying to piece together a picture of this field as it developed. Clearly, this is way beyond the scope of this email so, lol, we’re going to do what we can with it. What follows is my estimation from a couple hours spent trying to understand holograms and the attempts to use the principles behind them to explain other stuff. ]
As near as I can tell, while the Holonomic Brain theory proposed by Karl Pribram explains some otherwise confusing experimental results, it never really expanded much beyond its original range in hard science. Lots of people have built off Pribram’s ideas, but there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much experimental work after the 70s as I expected to find.
In a sense, Terence wasn’t wrong to not really update chapter 4 because the broad points he wanted to make in that era were the same in 1993 as they were in 1975 when they first made it. But since Pribram kept publishing papers through 2004, it still would have been nice to see if any of the details
There’s a whole different abstraction of holography in physics that proposes the whole of the universe is a hologram in the sense that information is the base unit of reality and that the information capacity of any 3D space is based on area, not volume. Which is a weird idea that I profoundly don’t understand the implications of. But recent experiments show it to at least be unfalsified and at least as supported as more common sense orientations.
But all that evidence for the holographic principle came out in the last 20 years, far after Terence could observe it himself. A good intro for this issue is Leonard Suskind’s The Black Hole War, which did a very good job getting me suspicious of quantum physics analogies.
What does all this have to do with Terence?
Well, I was able to find a couple solid rounds of criticism mostly from the 2000s which weren’t really critical of Karl Pribram as much as some of his more enthusiastic successors who generalized his fairly technical research into memory into more broad metaphysical ideas. Not unlike Talbot or Terence.
So the short answer there is, well, Terence also wildly generalized the Holonomic Brain Theory. All his examples are with memory storage and retrieval and the brain does maybe one or two other things at a time.
From a rhetorical point of view, Holography plays a role in building a veneer of scientific credibility to dress up Terence and Dennis’ wilder mushroom fueled speculations from later in the book.
The whole of chapter 4 says something like, “Well, lots of people have tried to work out how this whole self-similarity thing works on many different levels.” And then he builds on that in part 2.
And that’s about the energy I’ve got in me today. Been sitting too long already.
It’s going to be a fun week ahead. See y’all Tuesday, where I’ll be going in detail on some of the scope research I’ve done for our next topic.