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A paradigm shift in thinking from Michael Talbot
on 13 March 2010
This book is the crowning achievement of the late Michael Talbot, mystic and science fiction writer whose short life ended in 1992 when he succumbed to leukaemia at the tragically young age of 38. "The Holographic Universe" is the only work by Talbot which most people have ever read or heard of, though he wrote other books on the "new physics" and on reincarnation. This book has been influential in popularising the holographic model of reality, postulated by the respected London University physicist David Bohm who originally hypothesised it to explain the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox and other quantum anomalies, and separately by Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram to explain the many complex workings of the human mind.
In "The Holographic Universe" Talbot takes the original models of Bohm and Pribram, backs up his thesis with the work of psychologists like Fred Alan Wolf, Stanislav Grov and others and extends the holographic model to postulate an all-embracing idea to explain: the nature of human experience and spiritual awareness, the nature of memory, the nature of time, near death experiences, paranormal phenomena of all kinds, multiple personality disorder and religious experience no less - and this list is by no means comprehensive. It's thought-provoking stuff with some good science but manages to be at the same time racy, absorbing and accessible to the non-science reader. This is quite a trick to pull off, but Talbot succeeds splendidly.
Examples of strange and mysterious phenomena outside the classical Newtonian-Cartesian model abound, from people who see the human energy field to telepathy, stigmata, psychokinesis, clairvoyance, prophecy and spontaneous healing. Talbot's thesis tries to fit all these paranormal phenomena into the holographic model and largely succeeds.
More scientifically literate readers, especially those versed in quantum theory, have used terms like "populist" and "shallow" to describe this book, but this criticism is only partly justified. The less educated reader may take Talbot's door-opening, paradigm-shifting thesis and investigate deeper and further into the physics underpinning the theory. It's not a scientific paper: it's a layman's book about a theory, written to sell and generate widespread popular discourse about its subject.
Talbot does however exhibit the zeal of the young and over-eggs it a bit, coming across more as an evangelist for the hypothesis than an impartial investigator using the scientific method to arrive at a sustainable model of reality. The fact is, some of the underlying physics is not very thoroughly understood by the author and alternative interpretations of the anomalies found in quantum mechanics have gained stronger support from many in the scientific community in the two decades since the book was written. In the assessment of this reviewer however these developments do not invalidate this important book, and though imperfect and pushing a scientific model which is incomplete and may well soon be obsolete, reading it is still time well spent. Talbot was a good writer, is never dull, and knows how to make you think.
It is interesting to speculate if, had Michael Talbot lived, he might have revised and deepened his thesis in the light of recent discoveries in quantum physics and developments in parapsychology into a more mature and serious work. We'll never know.