Wednesday, 29 October 2008


"The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember and describe. This field is basically that which is manifest, or tangible. The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word spirit, whose root meaning is 'wind, or breath'. This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds. This energy, or spirit, infuses all living beings, and without it any organism must fall apart into its constituent elements. That which is truly alive in the living being is this energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies." - David Bohm

Bohm knew that what he was proposing as a new model for understanding the Universe was in essence Mystical or Metaphysical. When asked if there was any difference between it and what the great Seers of the past said he replied: "I don't know that there's necessarily any difference". In his vision of the Cosmos as being made up of an infinite amount of levels of Order, each unfolding and enfolding in and out of each other, he was trying to offer the human race a new way of looking at itself and understanding 'Reality' based upon the implications of Quantum Science. For him, focussing solely on the Explicate Order, ie the material world in which we thought we lived, set us onto a hiding to nothing as it was only the most superficial level of our existence and, understood only in terms of itself, lead nowhere. When one looks at the endless cycle of problems we have created for ourselves in our efforts to control and exploit nature one can see what he meant. By obsessing about the empirical payoffs of cause and effect rather than viewing things holistically, we have done nothing but mortgage the future by banking up endless after-effects. Nuclear power? Terrific - except for nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. The Industrial Revolution? Terrific - except for massive exploitation of the human race and the near-fatal destruction of the planet. Modern medicine? Terrific - except for the endless side-effects and new problems and illnesses it has brought in its wake. For every positive achievement of Western Science there has been a negative. What Bohm hoped was that the shift in perspective Quantum Theory offered might liberate the human mind to change its focus, rethink its values and solve problems in a different way. For instance, exploration of the potentials in the Zero Point Energy field might yield cheap, harmless and possibly limitless amounts of energy to power our world, while the philosophical and metaphysical implications of the idea of Orders might finally prize the human mind of materialism and encourage it to think in a more holistic and wide-viewed way.

What Bohm was doing was offering us the possibility of a 'Transcendent Reality' which was not dependent upon the idea of a personal God with its attendant problems of tribalism, exclusivity, hierarchies or 'divinely-inspired' moralities. Quite naturally, inside the Scientific Community, no-one was very interested. Such considerations, for them, were not to do with Science, and Bohm was largely dismissed as a 'mystical' crank whose ideas were 'not Scientific'. His more generous detractors viewed him as a tragic loss to Science, acknowledging the greatness of his mind and understanding of Physics, but regretting his wasteful involvement in speculative realms which were outside his field - philosophy, metaphysics, the nature of Consciousness. In this view, Bohm was regarded as a tragically misguided man who got lost chasing fairies when he might have made himself a Nobel-Prize Winner had he stuck to the pure, hard-headed business of Science...

None of this stopped, Bohm, however, even though his continued rejection by his colleagues stung and hurt him. Undeterred, he continued to explore his ideas, striving to promote what he believed was a new way of looking at the Universe which might lead us forward. He became very interested in ideas of Consciousness which sought to ask probing questions about the innate assumptions we made about ourselves and the world. Fascinated by the research of Piaget into the development of Consciousness in children, he asserted that each of us had an underlying 'world map' which we used to interpret and understand everything around us. What we did not realise, he argued, was that this 'world map' was not 'Reality' but a way of understanding Reality. The danger was that unless we questioned it and kept it flexible, we would become ensnared by it, believing it was 'the Truth' instead of 'a Truth', turning what was a way of looking at things into a 'Necessity' which then became a barrier for a flowing relationship with the world. Thus a Christian or a Muslim, convinced of the 'Truth' of his or her way of seeing things could rigid and fundamentalist as his or her view of Reality became 'Necessary' - ie non-negotiable. Where Bohm really challenged people, however, was in extending this to less obvious, more subtle forms of rigidity, such as Science. Scientists like to think of themselves as disinterested, flexible, evidence-based people. Bohm suggested that Scientists were as hidebound by 'Necessity' as anything else, the tacit assumptions drilled into them in Universities and Colleges continuing to hold them back from looking at what was really there. His prime example was the refusal of Scientists to make the imaginative leap needed to embrace the implications of Quantum Theory. Bohm asserted that while most Scientists claimed they understood the implications of Quantum Science, in fact they were tacitly hidebound by mechanistic, Newtonian notions of how the Universe worked. So instead of looking beyong the Explicate Order at what might lie beyond, they were still trying to pull the Implicate Order back into line with the Explicate, thus preventing crucial progress from taking place. Quite naturally, the Scientific Establishment didn't warm to this, but one only has to look at the way Richard Dawkins, for instance, writes about Quantum Science to see that Bohm has a point. QM blows all linear theories of existence out of the water, as we have seen. What does Evolution mean if there is no linear progression or Time (or even Space!) in the Cosmos? Indeed, if the manifest Cosmos is essentially only a fraction of what is out there?

Bohm extended these issues into the wider dilemmas facing the world. Just as Scientists were still shackled to a Materialistic, Mechanistic view of the Cosmos, so the human race was tearing itself apart by its insistence on investing only in the short term and continuing to see itself as divided along endless divisions of class, gender, race, nation, religion, politics, ideology etc etc. A classic analogy for the Explicate and Implicate Orders would be the whole human race. The Implicate/Superimplicate Order would be humanity as a whole. The Explicate Order or Orders would be the division of that Implicate Order into all the different categories mentioned above, all of which by definition lead ultimately to conflict. Thus instead of looking at the bigger picture, the Implicate Order that is humanity, we obsess about the multiply divided Explicate Orders which separate us. This, for Bohm, was the key problem faced by our species today. Until we changed our perspective, we would go on turning in circles in a maelstrom of unproductive, tribal, short-term conflicts. Alas, we are seeing the reality of this today, with everyone enthusiastically dividing themselves along battle lines of religion, nation and income - America vs Islamic Terror, Russia vs the West, Palestinian vs Israeli, Right Wing vs Left Wing, Religion vs Science, Muslim vs Christian etc etc - when in fact the planet-threatening problems the human race faces demand global, holistic solutions set about as a species and not as divided communities.

This fragmentation was the disease that Bohm diagnosed as being the main problem plaguing humanity today. In propagating his vision of Wholeness, he hoped to begin the transformation of that condition into something else. Like Jung in his field of Psychology, Wholeness was the centre of Bohm's vision of both the way the Universe worked and his aspiration for the human race. This visionary focus informed everything he did. It was also what caused him to suffer derision at the hands of the Scientific Community. But for Bohm a Science which was not interested in the wider social, philosophical and metaphysical implications of its discoveries was no Science at all. In this he was joined by his early mentor Einstein, who also occupied himself with the bigger questions surrounding Science. But both were in a minority...

Bohm tried to answer the problems of our society by moving beyond the realms of Quantum Physics into the study of Consciousness. As well as Piaget, he also became fascinated by the cognitive processes at play in our minds. His view was the reverse of the standard one in play today. Rather than Consciousness being a byproduct of material processes, an 'emission' from our brains, he saw it as something we shared with the Cosmos, an intimate unfolding of something latent in everything. Just as we were made up of dense Light Energy, we were also made up of concentrations of Consciousness. As he explored the processes of human thought, many of which we never question, he made bold conclusions, suggesting that the meaning we gave things became part of their essence. He called this 'Soma-significance', using as an example a piece of printed paper. As a material object it is one thing, but the significance we give it through the cognitive experience of reading gives it an extra, multidimensional meaning which becomes an integral part of our encounter with it. Thus for Bohm Matter and Consciousness were intricately interwoven, the significance of our world as we encounter it being as much as part of us as we are of it. These speculations on Light went even further, as Bohm explored the way in which all the information in the Universe was enfolded and encoded in Light. Thus everything - the Implicate Order, Consciousness, Light and experience - all became moulded into one holistic vision in which everything is dependent upon everything else, like some vast symphony of notes. To read Bohm's speculations is to allow one's mind to explode with ideas and see the Universe in an entirely new way - and all of it is grounded in Science, not Revelation...

Bohm's interest in Consciousness drew him into one of his most productive and controversial relationships, that with the Indian Theosophist and Mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Bohm became interested in Krishnamurti's ideas on 'Emptiness' and 'the End of Thought' in which the Mind was so at One with itself and the Universe that it was completely clear, able to respond purely with the flow of the Cosmos. The two became great friends and recorded a whole series of remarkable conversations for posterity in which the discussed ideas and grappled with the problems of life and society. Alas, Bohm's association with Krishanmurti simply further embarrassed his Scientist friends, who felt he was wasting his time with a quack guru, but for Bohm the relationship was a crucial one, although it soured in the end when he discovered the gap between Krishnamurti's ideas and his actual practice. Krishnamurti ended up dropping Bohm when he felt that his friend could not ever reach the heights of Consciousness he had reached. Once again this hurt Bohm, but it didn't stop him pursuing his own vision. This was what was so remarkable about the man. If one watches clips of him speaking, one encounters a highly intelligent, visionary and deeply humane person who also appears profoundly shy, nervous and vulnerable, and yet in spite of all the setbacks he encountered - exile from America for being a Communist, derision from his colleagues for challenging scientific orthodoxy and being interested in Mysticism and rejection from figures like Krishnamurti - he never gave up on what he felt was the Truth. This frail, gentle man had something in him which would not surrender his integrity in return for ease and success.

The last major way in which Bohm tried to offer a way forward for the human race was creating something called a Bohmian Dialogue. Realising that the chief problem with human communication was dogmatism and refusal to listen, he proposed a new way of trying to engage in dialogue, something he also tried to suggest to the Scientific Community. He wanted to create 'an unbroken flow of thought' in which, rather than impose boundaries on ideologies (eg 'I am a Christian, you are an Atheist, he is a Marxist etc') they are allowed to interact and flow together so as to pollenate and enlarge one another. Too often, he pointed out, the existence of one idea leads to the belief that all others have to be wrong and eliminated. His frustration with Science was a reflection of this. He found its refusal to acknowledge other disciplines impossible and cited the famous story of Einstein and Bohr, who used to be profound friends, at a party in which they and their students refused to speak to each other because they had fallen out over their two great theories: Relativity and Quantum. Bohm argued that had they spoken and listened, had they seen each other's view as part of a greater one, they may have progressed. Instead they remained in deadlock because one of them had to be 'right'. Apply this to almost any other situation in any other area of society and you can see what Bohm was getting at. Is it so different to the Arab-Israeli conlfict? Or that between the US and Iran? Conflict depends on drawing boundaries and relying upon the absolute rightness of one's view at the expense of all others.

Bohm sought to overcome this with his idea of Dialogue in which he sought to create an environment in which people with differing views could air their opinions in a non-confrontational way. In essence it was how Plato conducted his philosophy and owed a lot to Hegel's idea of Thesis and Antithesis leading to Synthesis, but Bohm wanted to try and formalise it, thus creating a template which might influence how everything was done. Ideas were to be allowed to flow and play, mixing into something greater than each individual one. He set up groups all over the world and laid down guidelines for mediators.

Did it work? Well, in a mass sense, not so far, although he found the processes he officiated on productive. Bohm would have argued that this was an indication of how we were stuck in old ways of thinking. An idealist, Bohm was relying upon his own belief in human nature as something which could be generous and rational. Alas, the human race has continued to demonstrate that it likes the defining energy of conflict, violence, entrenched view and short-term, tribal thinking. Does this make Bohm into a fool? I hardly think so. He always pointed out that the proof of his thesis about the problem with our present era's ways of thinking was demonstrated by the spiralling violence, conflict and self-destructive energy in the world. If our modern vision was so good and enlightened and so superior to those of the past, then why were we making such an acceleratedly bad job of everything? Perhaps it is we who are the fools rather than he.

Bohm died in the nineties of a stroke on the way home from work. His wife found him in a taxi unconscious. Not long after he was dead, in spite of being rushed to hospital. He was buried in Waltham Abbey in the UK, the country which he had made his home since his short time in Israel. Before he set out on that last journey home he was putting the finishing touches to a new book and had told Sarah that he felt he was really 'on to something big'. To my knowledge, the book was never published.

These three posts are in sense a tribute to a beautiful man, one of life's unlikely heroes whose hopes and dreams for the human race went beyond his own personal comfort and fame. Bohm offered the human race a possible way of looking at the world which might still help us to extricate ourselves from the potentially catastrophic situation we are in now. This Winged Horse found him deeply inspirational. He was a prophet of a kind and one deeply concerned that we should find a new Consciousness to lead us out of the mess we are in. His vision of Wholeness, so unfashionable these days, showed a mind so wide-ranging and prepared to entertain infinite possibilities it is sometimes hard to keep up with him in his writing. Its a vision I share. Its a vision we need. I hope someone is listening!


Pegasus said...

Some extracts from an interview by David Bohm with philosopher Renee Weber:

"WEBER: Speaking of mysticism, there is an important idea that I would like to discuss and understand and that is the idea of light. That is especially important to me because you are a physicist. Light has been used as THE privileged metaphor in the language of mysticism and experimental religions, going back to the Greeks and the east. In all these, light is the symbol for our union with the divine. They talk about light without shadow, an all-suffusing light, and it comes up as the central metaphor in near-death experiences. Do you have any hypothesis as to why light has been singled out as the privileged metaphor?

BOHM: If you want to relate it to modern physics (light and more generally anything moving at the speed of light, which is called the null-velocity, meaning null distance), the connection might be as follows. As an object approaches the speed of light, according to relativity, its internal space and time change so that the clocks slow down relative to other speeds, and the distance is shortened. You would find that the two ends of the light ray would have no time between them and no distance, so they would represent immediate contact (this was pointed out by G N Lewis, a physical chemist, in the 1920s). You could say that from this point of view of present field theory, the fundamental fields are those of very high energy i which mass can be neglected, which would essentially be moving at the speed of light. Mass is a phenomenon of connecting light rays which go back and forth, sort of freezing them into a pattern.

So matter, as it were, is condensed or frozen light. Light is not merely electromagnetic waves but in a sense other kinds of waves that go at that speed. Therefore all matter is a condensation of light into patterns moving back and forth at average speeds which are less than the speed of light. Even Einstein had some hint of that idea. You could say that when we come to light we are coming to the fundamental activity in which existence has its ground, or at least coming close to it."

Earlier Weber asks Bohm:

"WEBER: What you have been saying sounds like mysticism - that we are grounded in something infinite. How does it differ from what the great mystics have said?"

Bohm replies:

"BOHM: I don't know that there's necessarily any difference."

And yet elsewhere there is this exchange:

"WEBER: Is the super-implicate order a euphemism for God?
BOHM: I don't know what the meaning of the question is since the super-implicate order is in turn part of a still greater implicate order. It's not a euphemism for God because its limited.
WEBER: Then let's shift the question to the ultimate super super-implicate order.
BOHM: But we can't grasp that in thought. We're not saying that any of this is another word for God. I would put it another way: people had insight in the past about a form of intelligence that had organised the universe and they personalised it and called it God. A similar insight can prevail again today without personalising it and without calling it a personal God."


And an interview conducted with him at the Niels Borh Institute in Copenhagen in the 80s:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

kuroh tzu said...

Bohm remains very underrated indeed. I'm in the middle of digging deeper into his ideas, trying to push them further, together with Krishnamurti's findings.
Big up!

María Adoración García López said...