These days we often read that our universe is a holographic projection. One’s first encounter with the idea that our universe is a holographic projection can engender bemused disbelief or outright skepticism.
We also read various takes as to the origin of the holographic projection. String theorists, who popularized the notion, tell us, somewhat confusingly, that the holographic information that determines the behavior of the three-dimensional volume of space we call the universe is “pasted on” the “boundary” between our three-dimensional universe and a two-dimensional energy realm.
Other explanations range from the wildly imaginative to the darkly sinister and often involve technologically advanced aliens and Matrix-style computer simulations. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not ready to go there.
Rather, I’d like to suggest another origin for the holographic projection that we call the universe, one that fuses string theory with spiritual teachings: Simply put, I believe heaven is a hologram.
My suggestion is based on theories of science, such as string theory (and its most accepted branch, M-theory, in particular), but also religious tradition and, especially, the testimony of the saints, sages, and near-death experiencers who have had direct transcendent experience of heaven.
Not everyone accepts the idea of heaven, but it is common to every religion. And most descriptions of heaven include the metaphysical concept, “as above so below,” that is congruent with my suggestion that heaven acts as a holographic template for the physical universe. The Hindus and Buddhists describe multi-leveled heavens with as many as ten levels. The level above always defines the level below. Interestingly, the Hindus and Buddhists do not separate the heavens from the earth—the earth is just one more level of creation that has its own particular qualities determined by the level above.
The idea that heaven can be real and could have a direct connection with our physical world is easier to accept, I think, from the direct testimony of relatively more contemporary sources who base their descriptions on direct transcendence experience.
“In a word, absolutely everything in nature, from the smallest to the greatest, is a correspondence. The reason correspondences occur is that the natural world, including everything in it, arises and is sustained from the spiritual world, and both worlds come from the Divine.”__ Emanuel Swedenborg, Christian mystic
“Material existence is only a shadow of that higher, finer dimension of reality. This world is the result of the astral world. The blueprints of everything in the physical universe have been astrally conceived—all the forms and forces in nature, including the complex human body, have been first produced in that realm where God’s causal ideations are made visible in forms of heavenly light and vibratory energy.”—Paramhansa Yogananda, yoga master
“Everything was created of spirit matter before it was created physically—solar systems, suns, moons, stars, planets, life upon the planets, mountains, rivers, seas, etc. I saw this process, and then, to further understand it, I was told . . . that the spirit creation could be compared to one of our photographic prints; the spirit creation would be like a sharp, brilliant print, and the Earth would be like its dark negative. This Earth is only a shadow of the beauty and glory of its spirit creation.”—Betty J. Eadie, near-death experiencer
Until the advent of string theory and the holographic principle in the 1960s, there had been no persuasive scientific framework to support how such transcendent testimony, describing a dynamic connection between our physical world and a subtler purely energetic one, could possibly be reconciled with science.
M-theory, string theory’s most well-known version, posits that vast amounts of pure energy exists in extra dimensions beyond the four dimensions with which we are familiar (three dimensions of space and one of time). These dimensions and the high-frequency energies they contain are beyond our senses’ and our finest instruments’ ability to detect. In M-theory, the three dimensions of our already almost incomprehensibly large physical universe are the smallest dimensions in the cosmos.
Our three-dimensional universe could be described as being like a saturated sponge submerged in an ocean of high-frequency energy. The string-theorist’s name for this vast ocean of energy is the “bulk,” as in, “the bulk of the cosmos.” I prefer to call it the energy-verse as the word bulk is so poorly descriptive of the reality to which it refers.
Counter-intuitively, the energy-verse, as posited by M-theory, is two-dimensional. The energy-verse is completely nonmaterial, that is to say it contains no three-dimensional space in which there could be three-dimensional material. It is composed of pure energy that vibrates in two-dimensions.
The energy-verse is, I believe, the location of the heavens or astral regions of all religious traditions. The essential qualities of the energy-verse—that it is nearly infinite, that it exists “beyond” the physical universe, and that it contains only nonmaterial, two-dimensional, high-frequency vibrating energy, matches uncannily well the descriptions of the heavens, or luminous astral regions, given by hundreds of saints, sages, and near-death experiencers.
“Just as persons on the cinema screen appear to move and act through a series of light pictures, and do not actually breathe, so the astral beings walk and work as intelligently guided and coordinated images of light.”—Sri Yukteswar, yoga master
“Heaven is a world much like our own except there is no time nor space as we think of them here. Heaven exists in a higher dimension of energy. The higher realms are a world of inexpressible beauty.”—Nora Spurgin, near-death experiencer and researcher
“Time as I had known it came to a halt; past, present, and future were somehow fused together for me in the timeless unity of life. I learned that all the physical rules for human life were nothing when compared to this unitive reality.”—George Rodonaia, near-death experiencer
“But if prophets down the millenniums spake with truth, man is essentially of incorporeal nature. [Man] is only temporarily allied with sense perception.”—Paramhansa Yogananda, yoga master
Not only did M-theorists unknowingly provide a location for heaven, but, by making the mathematics of holography an integral piece of their theory, they also provide the key mechanism by which heaven can be understood to function as the template for the physical universe.
The holographic principle, as it is used in string theory, states that the behavior of the three-dimensional volume of space, time, and matter that we call the universe is governed by information existing outside the universe. Put another way, high-frequency light-energy, interacting with the information contained in a two-dimensional hologram in the two-dimensional energy-verse, results in the creation and unfolding of the colossal three-dimensional holographic projection we call the universe. Or put yet another way, in the language of M-theorists, the holographic information that determines the behavior of the three-dimensional volume of space we call the universe is “pasted on” the “boundary” between our three-dimensional universe and the two-dimensional bulk.
A missing piece of any of these scientifically couched descriptions of the holographic mechanism is the explanation of where the information in the hologram comes from in the first place.
In our physical world, a hologram is a flat, two-dimensional film with which light can be made to interact to project a three-dimensional image. Using today’s technology, the creation of the two-dimensional hologram requires starting with digitized images either of an actual three-dimensional object or one generated by a computer. Then the information in those digitalized images of three-dimensional objects is encoded into a two-dimensional hologram.
Thus in our physical world the information for the hologram comes either from imaging an existing form or from the creative mind of a designer.
Where, then, in the vast ocean of high-frequency energy in the energy-verse, do the original forms, the original templates, the original intelligently and creatively ordered information that encodes the universe, come from? Information complex enough that it can project the universe into being in all its intricate detail from the stars to subatomic particles?
It’s not enough that such information contain only the physical laws that govern the birth and behavior of our universe. Inherent in the very principle of holography is that the physical universe can’t simply have been started and left to its own evolution. It wasn’t created once and left on its own. The holographic principle suggests that our universe is being continuously projected in dynamically and rapidly evolving detail down to the tiniest sub-atomic particle.
You may be surprised to learn that saints and scientists alike concur on this point:
“God is creating the entire universe, fully and totally, in this present now. Everything God created . . . God creates now all at once.”— Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic
“The universe emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss not only twelve billion years ago but in every moment.”—Brian Swimme, physicist
“My solemn proclamation is that a new universe is created every moment.”— D. T. Suzuki, Zen teacher
“We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves; whirlpools of water in an ever-flowing river.”—Norbert Wiener, physicist
“The Tao is the sustaining Life-force and the mother of all things; from it, all things rise and fall without cease.”—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
A continuously and dynamically evolving holographically projected creation requires a continuous and dynamically evolving source of holographic information. The saints, sages, and near-death experiencers tell us that the information source is a luminous, heavenly counterpart to our universe: the “sharp, brilliant print,” as was described by near-death experiencer Betty Eadie, or as explained by Yogananda, “all the forms and forces in nature, including the complex human body, have been first produced in that realm where God’s causal ideations are made visible in forms of heavenly light and vibratory energy.”
Not only is the universe around us a holographic projection, we, ourselves, inhabit holographically projected bodies, projected from our own personal luminous “astral body” hologram. Living through both our bodies, we interact with the complex reality that is the cosmos on many levels. We are both actors and directors in an Intelligently created cosmic movie.
“We are beginning to see the entire [cosmos] as a holographically interlinked network of energy and information, organically whole and self-referential at all scales of its existence. We, and all things in the universe, are non-locally connected with each other and with all other things in ways that are unfettered by the hitherto known limitations of space and time.”—Ervin Laszlo
Our astral hologram, the perfect luminous counterpart to our physical body, is not distant from us, rather it interpenetrates our physical body at every point. Just as the physical universe is like a saturated sponge submerged in an ocean of high-frequency energy so, too, is our physical body. According to M-theory, this energy vibrates at such a high frequency that it is detectable neither by our senses nor by physical instruments.
Despite not being able to perceive the interpenetrating subtle energy with our five senses, to one degree or another we are all aware of it. The experiential religious traditions of the world—from yoga to Sufism, to charismatic Christianity, to tai chi—call these subtle energies life force. An abundance of life force puts a bounce in our step and a smile on our face. It tingles through our being when we feel delight and knots our stomach when we’re stressed. It warms our hearts when we feel love and tenses the body when we feel fear. It gives us an upward “rush” when we feel excited or inspired and drags us down when we are fatigued or depressed. It keeps the heart pumping, the lungs breathing, the digestion working, and it animates the myriad processes taking place in our trillions of cells. Without knowing precisely how we know, we are all aware of the presence of life force within us.
In fact, according to the healers, psychics, seers, mystics, and saints who have highly developed intuitive perception, most of what we experience, most of what fills our awareness, most of what matters to us—our vitality and life force, our feelings, our creative will, our personality and character, and our experience of happiness, love or joy—actually originates from our interpenetrating subtle energy body, and does not exist in the physical body at all.
More significantly yet, the mystics tell us that when we die these essential aspects of who we are continue to exist as they have always existed—in our non-physical, interpenetrating, energy body. The person we are today is very much the person we will be after death—only we will find ourselves existing solely in our more perfect energy body in the heavenly freedom of an unconstrained energy world.
It is fair to say, then, that we are already in heaven. When we die we no longer have the input from our physical senses that distract most of us from being fully aware of the spirit body that’s been with us all along.
“In this way, our lives in this plane of existence are encompassed, surrounded, by the afterworld already. . . . The body dies but the spiritual quantum field continues. In this way, I am immortal.”—Dr. Hans-Peter Dürr, former head of the Max Planck Institute for Physics, Munich
“You don’t die when you die. You shift your consciousness and speed of vibration. That’s all death is . . . a shift.”—P. M. H. Atwater, near-death experiencer, NDE researcher, and author of Beyond the Light
But we don’t need to wait until we die to experience our subtle energy body more deeply—we can meditate and tap into it in the here and now.
“Since my return [from my near death experience] I have experienced the light spontaneously, and I have learned how to get to that space almost any time in my meditation. Each one of you can do this. You do not have to die to do this. It is within your equipment; you are wired for it already.”—Mellen-Thomas Benedict, near-death experiencer
Meditation is a supremely effective tool for tapping into our energy body because—through relaxation, breathing, concentration, and stillness—meditation methodically turns our attention away from the physical body and allows us to experience our subtle energy body more and more fully.
Meditation doesn’t create calmness and joy: it allows us to experience the calmness and joy natural to our subtle energy body. In practicing yoga postures, it is not the act of relaxing the physical body through stretches and breathing that creates calmness and joy. Rather, the physical tension that was keeping us focused on the physical body has been released, allowing us to feel our natural state. Concentration and stillness similarly are effective, because they get us beyond our stream of thoughts and body sensations, freeing us to become aware of our energy body’s natural state of joy.
When Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you,” he meant it literally. The more our awareness becomes centered in our subtle energy body, the more happy, fulfilled, loving, compassionate, energetic, and calm we feel.
Expand your awareness of your subtle body. It’s the secret to health and happiness. Breathe in energy from your subtle body, then relax and feel. Concentrate on your calm, still, center.
Be in heaven now.
Originally published in Science and Nonduality Dialogs