Holograms: An Allegory of Sorts

Holograms       (edited; original essay written August 2009)

Holograms are light sculptures.

I’m not saying “pictures,” because I think people want them to be more than that. For example, the military is fooling around with hologram projectors on the battlefield, using three-dimensional imaging to confound the enemy. In the 1990s, the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced the “holodeck” to popular culture: a region of light-emitters that can create holograms that move and are solid, and can be programmed to speak and otherwise interact with the crew. In one or two episodes of gleeful sci-fi excess, writers toy with the idea of holograms so complex that they become “aware” – self-conscious. The holodeck was an idea that gripped the science-fiction culture, and has become a popular staple of the genre.

So: people want holograms, and they want the complicated, touchy-feely ones, not just the simple bird-on-the-credit-card variety.

A world created out of less-than-thin air – created out of light, in which we can live and move and the world around us can have its being. You would buy a holographic tomato, and it would look, feel, smell, handle like a real tomato. You could interact with a holographic cat and it would react like a real cat, purring, rubbing, maybe even shed. It would be soft and furry if you petted it.

And you could call out to a holographic person, a person made of light, and they would hear you, and turn to you and respond to you. You might smile, and they might smile back, and wave. You could greet them, go up to them, shake their hand.

Fantastic! You could ask them about the weather or what they had for breakfast, and they would tell you about it.

In the dreams of the most ambitious sci-fi fan boys, you might become so comfortable with a hologram that you could become friends with it – with her – share jokes, and pleasant silences. Take her out to a dinner; a dance; a kiss. You might awake in the middle of the night, in your bed, to find her there, asleep next to you, radiating warmth, her skin smooth to the touch.

You might touch her, and she might sigh in her sleep, wiggle a bit under the covers as she did so.

At the far end, holographic worlds might be designed that would be so large that you could travel in them, to other cities – states or countries, even. The complexity and the energy requirements of these “holodecks” would stagger the imagination of even our brightest and wildest engineers. Thousands upon thousands of holograms of solid matter, plants, animals, mamals, humans. And thousands upon thousands of users interacting with the system.

If a virtually inexhaustible supply of energy were available, one might imagine building a holographic planet or – why not? – a planetary system, or a galaxy.

A cosmos.

It’s all in our imagination at this point, so why not? An entire Universe of light, tangible where it needs to be, tangible, and fragrant; tasty, as well as visible and audible. A deck so large one could live and die in it and only experience an infinitesimal percent of it.

Billions of users a day, trillions over time, each user having his own set of experiences and memories and joys and fears:

— a walk barefoot on a beach of damp sand.

— ice cream cone.

— the sun beating down on a hot day.

— a soap store.

— a falcon eating its prey, not 50 feet away.

— a graduation ceremony.

— giraffes.

— a spoon stuck to the end of your nose.

— a lover.

— a wife.

— a son.

All made out of light. It would be wondrous and amazing.

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