Wednesday, 15 October 2008
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: DAVID BOHM: PART ONE
"In considering the relationship between the finite and the infinite, we are led to observe that the whole field of the finite is inherently limited, in that it has no independent existence. It has the appearance of independent existence, but that appearance is merely the result of an abstraction of our thought. We can see this dependent nature of the finite from the fact that every finite thing is transient." - David Bohm
Having ranted at length about the failings of Religion and Reason, perhaps it would be good to turn to something more constructive - like finding someone who might have tried to point the way to some kind of reconciliation of the two, thereby coming up with a potential vision of the future.
Well there is someone: Quantum Scientist David Bohm.
Before I start on the ideas of this remarkable man, I should clarify a few things about my last post. Although I have spoken negatively about the great historic movements of the past, I do so out of a desire not to dismiss them but to see where we have gone wrong and, therefore, where we might go right. All history is the story of the human effort to come to terms with life on this planet. We try these big ideas because, at least at first, they seem like good ones. One only has to look at the energy and excitement of early Christian or Muslim writers to see the inspiration the birth of their new religions gave them. Similarly the pioneers of the Enlightenment set out not to enslave the world or denigrate the inner life but to refashion it along more humane and just lines. All these processes were crucial parts of the long and painful evolution of our Consciousness on this planet. We are doing our best. If it keeps turning out wrong, well that is part of the cyclic process of development. Our natures are enormously complex, which is why I am suggesting that this time, before we embark on a new Grand Project, we turn inwards first and genuinely try to understand who were are...
Everyone would agree at the moment that in the present state of things, Religion and Science are at daggers drawn with each other. And not just Religion and Science, pretty much everything else! Everyone is very loud about the rightness of their own way, while seemingly utterly blind to where their own has gone wrong. Worse, on every side hostility to another point of view goes hand in hand with a shocking ignorance of another other. The Religion vs Science argument is a perfect example of this, with neither side taking the time to look beyond the most bone-headed expression of the other. Tragically, neither side can see the value and merit of the other, or the appeal. A value system based on an idea of the inner and another on the outer don't seem to see how much they need what the other has to offer. Thus we end up with religious people looking stupid by denying the palpably obvious and scientific people laughing at peoples' need for meaning and a sense of dignity. So we get nowhere.
This is why David Bohm is so fascinating, because he sought a means to rise above these divisions. Not only that, but he regarded them as deadly. The fragmentation of the world, its division into hostile camps miltarily, racially, politically, religiously and intellectually was, in his view, catastrophic as instead of working together to solve problems we were tearing each other apart, apparently unable to hold a position without utterly dismissing the validity of another. Even more interesting, Bohm was not only a great scientist, acknowledged by none other than Einstein as such, but also a great thinker, deeply committed to engaging with the problems of the world and interested in issues of Consciousness, Spirituality and Mysticism. A rigourous scientist, he counted as his friends and mentors not only Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman but also Jiddu Krishnamurti and the Dalai Lama. In amongst all this, Bohm felt that human Consciousness was the key to everything. Rather than being utterly separate from the physical world or the byproduct of chemical reactions, he believed it was the glue which held everything together.
Bohm was born in the 1920s in America. He showed immense early promise in maths and physics when a child and was fascinated by science and science fiction. He was part of the Manhattan Project, lead by Oppenheimer, which saw America drop the first nuclear bomb, believing at the time that it might be the means to bring an end to world conflicts. He since recognised that he was wrong. A lifelong Marxist who was interested in ideas which might bring us to coexist in a more humane and harmonious way, he fell foul of the MacCarthy trials of the 50s and was forced to leave the country, never to return (Oppenheimer himself is thought to have been instrumental in informing upon him). As his career as a scientist progressed, he became more and more fascinated by the findings of Quantum Science, seeing in it a radical challenge to the prevailing Mechanistic view of the Universe that had begun with Newton. For Bohm, that model for understanding the Cosmos and our place in it was gone. Relativity and Quantum Theory had demonstrated that the true nature of Reality was fundamentally different from that with which we had been operating with since Newton and Descartes. Not only did he see this as a major revolution in Science, but he hoped that it would lead to a similar revolution in human Consciousness and how we lived together. For Bohm, how we saw the Universe was simultaneous with how we saw each other. Just as Newton had changed everything with his discoveries, leading to the intellectual and spiritual transformations I have been ranting about, so, he believed, the new discoveries of Quantum Science might transform us again...
So what were these new discoveries that posed such a challenge to the Mechanistic Newtonian/Descartian view outlined in the last post? Since Einstein's famous equation E=MC2, it has been established that all Matter is Energy. Matter itself is just very densely packed energy. Thus the whole Cosmos is one infinite field of energy grouped into differing levels of dense and less dense Matter. Hence the equation Energy = Mass x the Speed of Light Squared. Moreover, the Speed of Light is the only constant in the Universe. Everything else exists relative to it. Thus Einstein's equation is saying that all the Energy in the Universe is equal to the Mass of all the Matter in it multiplied by the Speed of Light squared. Now that's a HELL of a lot of Energy and it explains why we can create a nuclear explosion by splitting a single atom. Have a think about that. It means that every atom in your body contains enough Energy to create a nuclear conflagration. That's quite something to ponder upon! What mechanism is it that keeps all that Energy locked safely inside Matter?
The Speed of Light issue is even more interesting. After he had come up with his Theory of Relativity, Einstein said that 'past, present and future are stubbornly persistent illusions'. What did he mean by this? Very simply, as the Speed of Light is the one Absolute in the Universe, everything that happens in the phenomenal world does so in relation to it. In other words, everything is relative to light. If we could move faster than we do, if we could catch up with Light, then we would experience Time and Space in a completely different way. If we matched the Speed of Light, we wouldn't experience them at all -hence the darkness of Black Holes, the density of which means they absorb even Light, thus obliterating Time and Space within them. If we could move SLOWER than we do, we would experience Time and Space differently again. It would become stretched. Our specific speed or vibration in relation to Light thus determines our whole experience of the Universe. We aren't experiencing Reality, only a Reality, one entirely governed by our relationship with Light.
Ergo Time and Space are relative. In an objective sense, they don't really exist. They only exist in a subjective sense, as 'stubbornly persistent illusions'. At the same time, extraordinarily, everything is dependent upon everything else. The phenomenal world is like it is because of its relationship with Light. Take Light away and it ceases to exist, or at least Time and Space would cease to exist which is the same thing... More than that, Einstein posited that the logical extension of this theory was that Time and Space were not separate entities. In fact they are the same, both aspects of each other emerging out of Light. We hear the term 'Time-Space Continuum' bandied about on Sci-Fi programmes all the time without thinking about what it means. Well, now we do. Suddenly "And God said 'Let there be Light'" doesn't sound like such a stupid proposition after all...
Pretty mind-blowing stuff... Gives you a funny feeling just thinking about it, doesn't it? We can barely imagine what things might look like if we moved closer to the Speed of Light or, indeed, if we moved much slower. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognise that this strikes at the very foundations of how we have seen the world over the last few centuries. The Scientific Method becomes largely redundant, as everything we are examining only exists in a relative sense. Any ideas of linear, mechanistic approaches to the Cosmos start to become a bit wobbly. So where does that leave us?
And if that wasn't enough, there was more. These ideas of Einstein's come under the title Relativity Theory. Quantum Science was about to discover even more bizarre things about the Universe and the way it works...