The World Hologram
In the previous page World Superposition it was stated that one exists in a great number of worlds, all at once. This is true even with regard to the physical body, as described in The Indeterminate World, but that does not lead to a world superposition. On the other hand, with regard to oneself as the individual ‘in here, this does. For this to make sense we first need to understand the nature of the perceptual reality of the individual, and then its relationship to the dynamics of quantum theory.
The process of perception tells us about the world around us. The product of this process of perception is the perceptual reality, that which is actually experienced. The precise nature of the perceptual reality has been unclear until recently, but we now know exactly what this is because we use the same principle in information technology. It may seem weird, but the perceptual reality is simply a three-dimensional virtual reality. As the famous biologist Richard Dawkins states:
Our brain constructs a three-dimensional model. It is a virtual reality in the head. (1998, 276)
In other words, the brain produces a representation of the three-dimensional physical reality, the world, in the form of a three-dimensional virtual reality. The precise neural construction of the perceptual reality is still unclear but there is no question of the effect. As eminent physicist David Deutsch states:
What we experience directly is a virtual-reality rendering, conveniently generated for us by our unconscious minds from sensory data (1997, 120)
It is kind of obvious once you start thinking about it, but of course normally we never do. It seems perfectly obvious that my eyes see the world and that is that. But in fact the picture of the world I am experiencing is an internal construct. At the same time this is vastly more than a picture; it is a representation of the whole of the world that I know. This includes all the places in the world I have been, all the people I met, all the things I have interacted with. In a way, therefore, as well as the picture I am actually looking at, the things my eyes are seeing, I can also ‘see’ other attributes of the world when I think about them. To think about somewhere else in the world, such as where a friend is at the moment, is to look at a specific view of this virtual reality.
Deutsch describes this very neatly. The imagination is the way we formulate images, ideas and concepts in the mind. To see how something would look we make up an imaginary reality in the mind. By definition, therefore, this is a kind of virtual reality. As he states, exactly the same mechanism is at work in the perception of the real world:
Imagination is a straightforward form of virtual reality. What may not be so obvious is that our ‘direct’ experience of the world through our senses is virtual reality too. … What we experience directly is a virtual-reality rendering, conveniently generated for us by our unconscious minds from sensory data. (1997, 120)
In other words, one’s apparently direct experience of reality ‘out there’ is in fact the experience of a virtual reality ‘in here’, in the imagination as it were. But of course this is not imagination in the ordinary sense. This is the operation of the navigation equipment of the human observer; it is vital that it is highly accurate. In the ordinary imagination we create images and ideas in the mind independently of immediate sensory input, but the crucial three-dimensional model of the real world is the representation of the things known from direct observation of the real three-dimensional world.
So what is actually experienced directly is the virtual-reality rendering of what reality looks like, rather than the reality itself. This is the perceptual reality. There is one more vital and fascinating fact about this. It seems totally obvious that what one is actually experiencing is ‘out there’. In one sense this is as true as it is obvious; but in another sense it is quite false. As Deutsch goes on to explain:
Consider the nerve signals reaching our brains from our sense organs. Far from providing direct or untainted access to reality, even they themselves are never experienced for what they really are – namely crackles of electrical activity. Nor, for the most part, do we experience them as being where they really are – inside our brains. Instead, we place them in the reality beyond. We do not just see blue: we see a blue sky up there, far away. We do not just feel pain: we experience a headache, or a stomach ache. The brain attaches those interpretations – ‘head’, ‘stomach’ and ‘up there’ – to events that are in fact within the brain itself. (2011, 10)
Although the virtual reality itself is going on ‘in here’ within the brain, it is experienced as going on ‘out there’ in the world, or elsewhere in the body. In other words, it is mentally projected out onto the world. This is why we do not notice that what we are actually experiencing directly is a virtual reality ‘in here’. But it is.
The perceptual reality, the virtual reality being experienced, is like a hologram: it is a spatially-distributed, three-dimensional image. This is the amazing natural technology of the brain that enables us to perceive the world and interact with it. The perceptual reality is a holographic field of information that is mentally projected onto the real world, so as to match up precisely with the three-dimensional physical reality. This is here called the world hologram.
The Self-Concept Avatar
We have still only just begun to scratch the surface of the significance of this extraordinary phenomenon. Along with making observations of the rest of the world, one also makes observations of oneself. You see the outside of yourself in the mirror, and you are also constantly making observations of your internal state: body sensations and emotional feelings. And technically, every thought you experience is an observation of the state of the neural network of the brain. All this information is added to the record of observations, and forms part of the world hologram, a hugely significant part. This is the self-image and the self-concept. In technical terms, this is the avatar figure at the centre of your world hologram representing yourself.
You exist at the centre of your world, obviously; this is where you see things from. Therefore, naturally, the three-dimensional representation of your real three-dimensional physical self is at the centre of your three-dimensional representation of the real three-dimensional physical world. Just as the world hologram is integrated synthesis of all your observations of the world, this avatar figure is the integrated synthesis of all your observations of yourself, here at the centre of your reality. Whenever you think about your physical presence or your physical state you are bringing to mind some aspect of your self-concept avatar, as Deutsch describes. You could say that is what it is for. But this is a great deal more than an avatar of your physical state. To start with, all the sensations one experiences are mapped into this avatar, as he states. And this also serves as the repository of all the things one knows about oneself. The avatar is the representation of the whole of what you know about yourself. The self-concept includes your character, beliefs and criteria, hopes and fears. This is who and what you know yourself to be, here at the centre of your world.
The final extraordinary thing about the world hologram arises when we come to contemplate who you are in the light of quantum theory. You are a physical entity, but in this domain your primary identity is the world hologram as described in Identity. Here the term individual is always used to refer to the world hologram. In contrast, the body-mind, that which produces the world hologram, is referred to as the observer. This distinction, and the reasons for it are considered in increasing detail in the following pages.