Top-Down and Bottom-Up

The holographic model of the universe is an example of the Top-Down paradigm, which is to say, it is a way of looking at the world around us as being a vastly over-simplified version or analogue of a reality that lies beyond our ability to either perceive with our senses or understand with our minds.


The key element of the holographic model of the universe is what David Bohm refers to as ‘enfoldment’ or ‘implicate order’. In this quote taken from Bohm explains the implicate order as follows:

This order is not to be understood solely in terms of a regular arrangement of objects (e.g., in rows) or as a regular arrangement of events (e.g. in a series). Rather, a total order is contained in some implicit sense, in each region of space and time. Now the word ‘implicit’ is based on the verb ‘to implicate’. This means ‘to fold inward’ (as multiplication means ‘folding many times’). So we may be led to explore the notion that in some sense each region contains a total structure ‘enfolded’ within it.


Anaxagoras was talking about David Bohm’s principle of implicate order when he said that ‘there is a share of everything in everything’. With regard to the type of common-or-garden holograms which we are all familiar with it is entirely uncontroversial to make this claim – we all know that holograms have this property of enfoldment whereby any little snippet of a hologram is enough to perfectly reconstitute the whole thing. That’s how they work, after all. It is not going to shock or challenge anyone to say that – in a hologram – ‘the whole is present in every part’. Professor David Bohm and Anaxagoras were not just talking about mere toy holograms, however – they were applying this principle to the actual structure of the physical universe itself, no less. Contemporary physicists have argued this both ways and reports regularly come through on popular media platforms that scientists have either proved or disproved the thesis that the universe is actually a hologram. The point we are making here however is that if we look at the universe in a Top-Down rather than a Bottom-Up way – which is to say, as an unfolding of what is already there rather than a building-up or accumulation of something tangible and therefore real from blank nothingness – then it inevitably is going to be a hologram. There’s nothing else it could be!


We do seem to live in a world where everything is segregated in its correct compartment rather than being ‘all mixed up’ – this compartmentalization is what we see as the proper order of things. But what we’re really saying here is that this is how we see the world, rather than how the world actually is in itself. Reality – as any physicist will tell you – is not as hung up on boundaries as we are. We generally relate to the world in a rule-based way; we run a simulation of what’s going on and this simulation is entirely based on the principle of compartmentalization and so, naturally enough, we are prone (or more than just prone) to falling into the trap of assuming that this is really how things work (rather than just how the simulation works). We use our digital simulation as ‘the measure of all things’ and we do this unreflectively, we do this without even realizing that we are doing so. It is not that the digital simulation which is our rational understanding has zero applicability (because this is manifestly not true) but rather that when we forget that this is only a limited tool and assume it to be the alpha and the omega then what happens is that we end up in a kind of ‘sterile backwater’ that we tragically mistake for life itself.


When we fall into the trap of thinking that the simulation is the measure of all things then we live in a world where everything exists in neat compartments where the content of one compartment never intermingles with that of any other compartment. This is most emphatically ‘the non-holographic universe’! This nice and orderly scheme of things is however not the final reality that it makes itself out to be but just a ‘vastly oversimplified version of a reality that lies forever beyond our ability to understand’. This means that the world which we know so very well and relate to so very comfortably is only a simulation. It’s like ‘a thought’ (a thought being the same thing as a simulation), which echoes what the astrophysicist Sir James Jeans said almost ninety years ago when he wrote –

…the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.


Whether we feel the universe to be a hologram or not isn’t just some dry intellectual debate – the psychological implications of our orientation (which is to say, whether we are Top-Down or Bottom-Down in our outlook) are immense. There is no bigger psychological factor – the former corresponds to being conscious, the latter unconscious. When we see the world that is made up of definite facts as ‘an end in itself’ this shuts down all higher perspectives. It rules out any subtler ways of looking at things, and relating to them. When we look at things in a Bottom-Up way then this totally invalidates any subtler way of looking at things – we become smug and cynical, and lacking in any genuine curiosity about life. This really is shooting ourselves in the foot therefore because our validated way of looking at things isn’t actually a genuine way at all; if we see the construct or simulation as being ‘an end in itself’, the ‘alpha and omega of all that there is or ever could be’ then this puts us in the position of having to relate to the construct from the POV of the construct and when we do this we get stuck in a tautological loop that never goes anywhere. We get stuck in a tautological loop because there’s nothing that can be meaningfully said about the construct from the basis of that same construct. All our perceptions of what we suppose to be reality are guaranteed to be pure illusion. It’s like printing your own money – you can print as much of it as you want but it’s still going to be worthless. You more you print the more worthless it becomes!


There are therefore two consequences when we take the construct as a ‘final reality’: [1] is that we automatically shut the door on all higher perspectives, and [2] is that even the way of seeing things that we do have becomes meaningless. These are terribly restrictive consequences of course – it’s would not actually possible to find anything more restrictive! A huge burden of suffering comes about as a result of adopting the Bottom-Up view of the universe – suffering that comes about as a result of [1] cutting off all higher perspectives on life, and [2] relying on a view of reality that is tautological (or ‘hollow’) in nature. It is of course not the case that we have the choice and choose to opt for the Bottom-Up paradigm. Why on earth would we choose to cut off all higher perspectives on life and commit ourselves instead to a completely sterile, suffering-producing way of seeing things? This is something that just automatically happens to us – it happens in the absence of awareness, in the absence of attention. It happens as a result of succumbing to fear, in other words; fear is the only reason we would ever shut ourselves down…


The Bottom-Up paradigm takes for granted an absolutely literal understanding of reality – it takes for granted an absolutely literal understanding of what ‘nothing’ means and of what ‘something’ means and it sees ‘progress’ or ‘evolution’ or ‘positive change’ only within its own literal terms of what it sees as ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. There is no question of change as in ‘the unfolding of the genuinely new’ because ‘the genuinely new’ wouldn’t be something that we could recognize as a possibility – we can only add to what we have already got in the BU paradigm, we can’t suddenly come across something radically different, something that wasn’t already present in our scheme of things. One thing can never become another, different type of thing because that would be a violation of the laws of logic. That would mean that our original understanding of what the thing in question literally ‘is’ (or ‘was’) no longer holds true in the way that it did before and a literally-understood truth is a truth that doesn’t mutate or shift its meaning under any circumstances. A literal truth is by definition ‘a truth that is true forever’; a literal description is a final description – it never gets revised. A literal definition is an exhaustive one – it says everything that needs to be said. Our understanding of reality will never change in any significant way – the details may change but the overall ‘framework of interpretation’ never will – and so with regard to the world that we create for ourselves by not seeing that the construct is only a construct (which is the literal or ‘neatly compartmentalized’ world) we can say that it is [1] shut off from all higher perspectives, [2] completely self-contradictory (because it is tautologically derived) and [3] utterly incapable of ever changing…


When we see that the concrete world which we are so very familiar with is only ‘an oversimplified version or analogue of a higher reality’ (i.e. a metaphor for something that can’t be logically or rationally grasped) then this radically changes our way of relating to that world. There couldn’t be a bigger difference than the difference between the literal and the metaphorical understanding of reality – differences don’t get any bigger than this. When we look at things in a Top-Down rather than a Bottom-Up way then new dimensions inexplicably come into everything; we see the old stuff in a new way and so it isn’t the old stuff anymore. The compartmentalized objects we encounter in everyday life can still be treated as if they are what they appear to be, or what we previously understood them to be (i.e. ‘discrete entities that are not intermingled each other on some deep level’) but we nevertheless have an awareness that they are infinitely more than this, and this changes the nature of our dealings with them. When we look at the world in a TD rather than a BU way we carry on living our lives just the same, but we know that the objects (or things) which we previously took seriously as objects (or things) are empty categories, mere ‘compartments of the mind’ with nothing in them. The uncompromising falsification of the previously unquestioned belief in the concrete or literal existence of objects or things may seem like a frightening ‘loss’, a ‘subtraction of something that we very much rely on’, but in reality it is a great blessing – our attention has been liberated from the ‘compulsory experiencing of’ (or ‘attachment to’) the vacant realm of samsaric appearances.


When we are taking everything literally (which is to say, when we are not able to see the construct as a construct) then our attention is not liberated from this vacant realm of samsaric appearances! On the contrary, we’re stuck fast to these hollow appearances; we’re glued as if with super-glue to every literal representation that comes our way. If it’s a literal representation that we’re favourably disposed towards then we’re attracted to it and if it’s one that we see as being unfavourable then we’re repelled, but what we’re being attracted to or repelled by is nothing more than an empty category of thought. The things that I am attached to, either positively or negatively, don’t really exist – they are nothing more than my own system of abstract representations. They are nothing more than glittering two-dimensional surfaces which only seem real to us because a switch in our minds has been ‘thrown’ causing us to stop looking any further (or any deeper). This is what a ‘judgement’ is – it’s the point at which we stop looking any deeper! If we were conscious then there would be no switching off, no judging or evaluating, no GOOD and no BAD…


It’s our ‘not looking any deeper’ that creates the literal world, therefore; this concrete or literal reality is a function of our unconsciousness. We could also look at this the other way around and say that the ‘literal mind-objects’ that we encounter ‘turn our awareness off’ because as soon as we come across one of these literal mind-objects we automatically stop being curious. There’s nothing there of any further interest to us – we have identified the object as being whatever it (nominally) is and that is the end of the matter. Everything that needs to be said on the subject already has been said, so what else is there to take in? All that’s left for us to do is to turn our attention to the next thought, the next ‘literal mind-object’ that is coming our way, and then the next, and then the next, and then the next after that, and there never will be a time when our attention is not stuck fast to some literal mind-object. It’s literal mind-objects all the way…


In the ‘concretely’ or ‘literally-understood’ universe what happens is that the part overpowers the Whole and gets to masquerade as the Whole. A fraction passes itself off as an integer. But it isn’t even a legitimate ‘part’ that we’re talking about here because the Whole doesn’t have any parts, not really. It’s only us who divides everything into parts, into categories – that’s not reality, that’s just an exercise in accountancy! What we’re looking at here therefore is a case of the abstract representation overpowering the reality that is being represented, as Jean Baudrillard says. The map becomes the territory. If the part genuinely was the part then it would at least have some reality in it, some faint trace of the real. There’s no trace of the real in the abstract representation however – not even the faintest homeopathic hint of it! So if we go back to this question of our basic orientation in life, whether it is Bottom Up or Top Down, then we can say that the BU orientation means that we can never see more than the part in the part, even though this ‘part’ is only a fictional representation in the first place, whilst the TD orientation means that we see the Whole in every supposed ‘part’, even though there isn’t actually any ‘part’ at all really.


Speaking of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddhist sage and prophet Nichiren Daishonin writes,

Each character of this sutra is a living Buddha of supreme enlightenment, but with our naked eyes we human beings see only its characters. Similarly, those in the world of Hunger regard the Ganges River as flames, those in Tranquillity regard it as water, and those in Rapture regard it as ambrosia. Water is water, but it changes according to the state in which each individual dwells. The blind cannot even see this sutra. To the naked eye it is but characters. The men of the two vehicles (Learning and Realization) regard them as ku. Bodhisattvas look on them as innumerable teachings. However, Buddhas recognize each character as a golden Buddha. …


The well-known line in the Bhagavad-gita reads,

The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].


The sage sees Lord Krishna residing in the heart of every living thing, rather than seeing a multitude of diverse and fundamentally separate living beings. The Buddha sees everyone and everything to be the Buddha. “In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number” writes Sir Charles Eliot. When we see clearly, we see that the Whole is in every part, and this means that there are no parts! There is only the Whole – everything is just ‘the Whole in disguise’, and this is the principle sometimes referred to as ‘the holographic universe’…




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