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What Is the Implicate Order and the Holonomic Brain Theory of Mind?

Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.

David Bohm was an amazing physicist with an incredible creative approach to science, incorporating philosophy and trying to build a coherent worldview. His ultimate work was in developing the idea of the Implicate Order, which can be considered the true reality that we are slowly verifying to be true. But talking about it is very challenging, and I will freely admit there is much of it that remains beyond my grasp. But I feel a need to go over what I have uncovered about it, because it is promising in its implications of tying everything we experience into a universal whole. And that makes me excited and hopeful for the future.

Challenging Copenhagen

It could be argued that the seed from which the theory of the Implicate Order arose from was planted in the late 1920s when the leading minds in quantum mechanics came up with the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. A wavefunction for a given quantum system gives a probability of an object having a certain state that we wish to measure, and once we make that measurement then all the other possible states collapse away (Pylkkanen 75)

As Pylkkanen puts it, “the wave function is often said to describe not a quantum system directly but rather our knowledge of the quantum system to be observed.” Reality is inherently indeterministic, and all material has a wave/particle duality to it. To this day, it remains the prevailing viewpoint, but many alternatives have appeared over the years (Ibid).

Bohm was troubled by certain unresolved features of quantum mechanics. One of these roads let him to revise de Broglie’s quantum mechanical work and develop the pilot wave theory, where particles are guided by an actual, physical wave. Another area Bohm focused on was the principle of entanglement and spooky action at a distance. This is when two particles are seemingly connected to each other and measuring the state of one will change the other seemingly instantaneously, violating the speed of light (Peat, Pylkkanen 75).

Many quantum physicists remain unbothered by this outcome because the information about the result cannot be sent any faster than the speed of light. But Bohm viewed this differently. What if entanglement is really showing that there is something going on at a deeper level of reality, known as the Implicate Order? (Ibid)

The Holomovement

Bohm found the best way to illustrate his ideas was to reference a hologram and its properties. They are a photographic means of capturing information where we can gather information about the whole image from just a small subset of it with a loss of clarity as we get smaller and smaller chunks. This is contrary to a localized viewpoint of data where each piece only has its own value. Jeff Prideaux actually offered several real-world examples to demonstrate just how common holograms actually are in our lives. If you watch a movie with the wrong lens, then the film is blurry, but if you adjust the screen distance, then you could still see the movie. The information about the whole is still contained at any screen distance, but with a loss of clarity (Prideaux).

You could also consider a picture of an object taken at different places. It’s still the same object no matter where you end up taking it, the only different being the viewpoint. A final example is using binoculars to see something but decreasing the aperture size. You can still see the image but with a gradual reduction in clarity. All of this shows how we can alter the perspective of the information, but the content remains the same, all based on a piece of the whole (Ibid)

When we create a hologram, we are imprinting an interference pattern onto a physical medium from light originating from our object interacting with light from a laser that has been diverged by some lens. We end up with “is a one-to-one mapping between the two-dimensional projection of points on the object to locations on the photographic plate.” This generates a pattern wherein I can get the whole image from any part of the physical object, because all of it contains the information of the holographic domain (Ibid).

The light from the object is recorded everywhere on the plate, but, and this is a little confusing, the photograph on the plate itself is an image and NOT the hologram. Only upon engaging with light does the image on the photograph enter the holographic realm. It all boils down to the information and how it is presented, and interpreted, by us (Ibid).

Mathematically speaking, holograms are all about Fourier transforms, a powerful tool for converting data into different forms. You pretty much have leeway to create any Fourier transform based on what you want, you just have to be able to come up with the equation. And “as long as a part of the hologram is large enough to contain the interference pattern, that part can recreate the entirety of the stored image, except with more unwanted changes, called noise” according to Peat. Even if parts of the network are damaged, then we can suffer no loss of content (Prideaux, Peat).

So the light coming to our eyes is a Fourier transform (converting spatial data to optical), encountering our lens which then perform an inverse transform (converting the visual to spatial) once it hits our retina. If we could show how the brain does a Fourier Transform on visual data mathematically and account for said noise, it is possible we could so the same for the other senses. This leads us to the Holonomic Brain Model (Ibid).

The Holonomic Brain Model

One of the most striking consequences of Bohm’s Implicate Order is the holonomic brain model, developed by Bohm along with Karl Pribram. The basic premise is that the brain is a holographic storage medium which “operates in a manner similar to a hologram in accordance with quantum mathematical principles and the characteristics of wave patterns,” according to Peat (Peat).

The idea started when Pribram wondered about dendrite systems, which surround neurons and axons but do not operate under the action-potential system of said duo at synapses. Pribram found that electrical oscillatory waves along the dendrites followed interference patterns as put forth by Fourier transformations in a manner consistent with holographic information storage principles. And since prior evidence has shown dendrite activity being tied to memory formation, it could be a possible connection to holographic principles (Ibid).

The model offers some advantages that neuroscience doesn’t have an answer for currently. For starters, long-term memory seems to be a spread-out neural construct, and yet it seems like one piece of it is all that is required to recall the memory. This is much like how we only need a piece of a hologram to know the whole image (Ibid).

If this is so, it then also explains fast associative memory, with different pieces of information leading to a quick tie to some memory and it points to a non-local theory of memory storage. If the brain encodes information in a dimensionally reduced manner like a hologram (with 3D information stored as 2D), it could explain the brain’s ability to recognized objects at different angles than we previously have encountered (Ibid).

Pribram postulated that “neural holograms were formed by the diffraction patterns of oscillating electric waves within the cortex.” It is worth noting here that people often mix up holonomic brain theory with that of a holographic one, and its easy to see why. To Pribram, the brain wasn’t a single hologram but “smaller neural networks which create localized holograms within the larger workings of the brain” via windowed Fourier transforms (Ibid).

The Implicate Order

The holonomic brain model hints at what Bohm called The Implicate Order, and its most basic feature is the interconnectedness of everything, and that all boils down to the information at a given moment. Information is another critical quantum mechanical feature that ensures no duplicating of it. What we call particles are in fact just a complex way to describe information on a quantum wave, and through them we can gain insights into this unseen reality where everything is connected to one another (Peat, Pylkkanen 75).

This hidden reality could extend to other dimensions, with space and time being derived from this deeper level of reality, instead of being the building blocks of it. Instead, it is information itself which is at the heart of everything. Information would be reinterpreted as being “a pre-space structure, or about algebraic relationships that precede the structure of space and time.” His pilot wave theory would have matter being operated on by a wave which is derived from the quantum field around the matter and determines the effect the wave will have on the particle. That quantum field is the information being realized as informed by the environment, and so through that information does anything end up moving (Ibid).

For Bohm, this informational stance would show that there is “no sharp division between thought, emotion, and matter” because they are all just different ways to view the same thing. When we sense something, it causes electrical and chemical changes in the body, so we have taken the environment and converted a thought into action. As Pylkkanen puts it, “abstract information content is something intrinsically active and intrinsically able to cause changes in the more concrete underlying physical aspects of the system in question" (Peat, Pylkkanen 76-9).

It implies matter follows whatever the information tells it to, and so the connections between matter and thought become more concrete. And recall that those holograms inform me about the whole from any given part. If the Implicate Order is true, then it is possible that information of the Universe is encoded everywhere and can be extracted anywhere. The Explicate Order is just our approximations and interpretations of what we have seen and theorize, but the Implicate Order would be the true reality (Ibid).

This deviation from a strictly mechanical viewpoint of the world has certainly made the Implicate Order not so popular amongst scientists, because it would require a major reworking of many successful theories. But Bohm would have countered that the Explicate findings do tell us at least something about the Implicate, so it’s not a total loss. Information at a quantum level would be the starting ground, pointing to the true information “that prevails in various levels of nature” (Ibid).

That information would also have to tell us things about the mind. This also implies that consciousness is “more than information and the brain,” but instead we should view the process as “information that enters into consciousness.” This would imply consciousness is instead more of a progression of moments which has taken implicate information and recontextualized it explicitly, but the moment we have left returns to the implicate fold. Consciousness would then be “an interchange; it is a feedback process that results in a growing accumulation of understanding” and would make the individual as a critical component of the Universe. We participate in the Universe and so are a part of the Implicate Order, meaning in some strange way that “the Implicate Order is getting to know itself better (Peat).”

Final Reflection

That idea of the Universe getting to know itself may seem a little New Age for some people, but it makes sense to me. We do play a critical role in the unfolding of events, no matter how small or spread out that contribution may seem. The Implicate Order, whether you subscribe to its physical meaning or nor, is at least a sound philosophical stance to remember.

But if it is true, then I think we have so much to look forward to.

Works Cited

Peat, David. “David Bohm, Implicate Order, and Holomovement.” SAND. Web. 16 Feb. 2021.

Prideaux, Jeff. “Comparison between Karl Pribram’s ‘Holographic Brain Theory’ and more conventional models of neuronal computation.” ACSA and BCN Group. Web. 24 Feb. 2021.

Pylkkanen, Paavo. “Cognition, the implicate order, and rainforest realism.” Futura, 31(2), 74-.9

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Leonard Kelley