Holonomic brain theory, originated by psychologist Karl Pribram and initially developed in collaboration with physicist David Bohm, is a model for human cognition that is drastically different from conventionally accepted ideas. Pribram and Bohm suggest a model of cognitive function as being guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic gestalt perception and discrete quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials.

Pribram was originally struck by the similarity of the hologram idea in brain function, along with Bohm’s idea of implicate order in physics, and contacted him for collaboration. In particular, the fact that information about an image point is distributed throughout the hologram, such that each piece of the hologram contains some information about the entire image, seemed suggestive to Pribram about how the brain could encode memories. Pribram was encouraged in this line of speculation by the fact that others had found that the spatial frequency encoding displayed by cells of the visual cortex was best described as a Fourier transform of the input pattern. This holographic idea lead to the coining of the term holonomic to describe the idea in wider contexts than just holograms.

In this model, each sense functions as a lens, refocusing wave patterns either by perceiving a specific pattern or context as swirls, or by discerning discrete grains or quantum units. David Bohm has said that if you take the lenses away, what you are left with is a hologram.

According to Pribram and Bohm, future orientation is the essence of cognitive function, which they have attempted to define through use of the Fourier theorem and quantum mechanical formulae. According to Pribram, the tuning of wave frequency in cells of the primary visual cortex plays a role in visual imaging, while such tuning in the auditory system has been well established for decades. Pribram and colleagues also assert that similar tuning occurs in the somatosensory cortex.

Pribram distinguishes between propagative nerve impulses on the one hand, and slow potentials  or hyperpolarizations that are essentially static. At this temporal interface, he indicates, the wave interferences form holographic patterns.

What the data suggests is that there exists in the cortex a multidimensional holographic process serving as an attractor or point toward which muscular contractions operate to achieve a specified environmental result. The specification has to be based on prior experience of the species or the individual and stored in holographic form. Activation of the stored process involves patterns of muscular contraction guided by basal ganglia, cerebellar, brain stem and spinal cord, whose sequential operations need only to satisfy the target encoded in the image of achievement much as the patterns of sequential operations of heating and cooling must meet the setpoint of the thermostat.

According to this theory, waveforms within the matrix of a distributed system allow fluctuations taking place to create new patterns, and the resulting dynamic potential can then organize new foci of activity oriented to the precipitation of strategic planning and exercise of free will.

In a 1998 interview, Pribram addressed the understanding of cognitive potential, stating that if you get into your potential mode, then new things can happen. But usually free will is conceived of in terms of how many constraints are operating, and we have in statistics a notion of degrees of freedom. I think our will essentially is constrained, more or less. We have so many degrees of freedom, and the more degrees of freedom we have, the more we feel free, and we have freedom of choice.


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