— David Bohm —

We begin with a dedication to this great writer who lived from 1917 to 1992 from his co-author and friend F. David Peat, who wrote Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm. What follows is from the Introduction with permission from David Peat. Peat was a friend and colleague of Bohm for more than twenty years. Together they wrote an excellent and profound book, Science, Order, and Creativity.

On the afternoon of October 27, 1992, David Bohm was at Birkbeck College, the University of London, putting the finishing touches on a book that would sum up his lifelong struggle to create an alternative quantum theory. At six-fifteen he telephoned his wife, Saral, to let her know he was about to leave. "You know, it's tantalizing," he said. "I feel I'm on the edge of something."' An hour later, just as his taxi pulled up outside his home, Bohm suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Those last words, with their sense of bordering on the unknown, exemplify the thrust of Bohm's life. The man Einstein once spoke of as his intellectual successor was always seeking to go beyond, to transcend, to ask that next question. He had the courage to pursue truth no matter where it took him, yet he was guided by a strong moral sense. Still, there were many paradoxes to Bohm's life. Once a confirmed Marxist who scrupulously avoided any taint of mysticism, he later devoted much of his time and energy to the Indian philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Once inspired by the American Dream, he later stood trial for contempt of the U.S. Congress. At Princeton, the same year he seemed set for a Nobel prize; he was suddenly assailed as a "juvenile deviationist" of science whose work should be ignored by the scientific establishment.

Nonetheless, his scientific achievements were more than enough to assure his reputation. In California, during the war years, he developed the theory of the plasma-the fourth state of matter, in addition to the solid, liquid, and gaseous states. At Princeton he applied this theory to the way electrons move in a metal and set the stage for much of subsequent solid-state physics.

His textbook on quantum theory, written while still at Princeton, became a classic for its clarity, always relying on physical argument and philosophical principles to explain the quantum world, rather than falling back on abstract mathematical formulae. Later, at Bristol University in England, Bohm and his student Yakir Aharonov demonstrated a new and important way in which the quantum world transcends that of classical mechanics. The two physicists showed that an electron is affected by the presence of an electrical field even when, according to classical physics, it is totally shielded from that field. This effect, they argued, is central to quantum mechanics, implying that even quite distant objects can affect quantum processes. These nonlocal correlations have nothing to do with traditional forms of interaction (such as by fields or the exchange of particles); rather, they demand new concepts that go beyond the ideas of separation and distance. The prestigious scientific journal Nature editorialized that Aharanov and Bohm's work was worthy of a Nobel prize.

Bohm had also reformulated the paradox proposed by Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen (EPR) that attempted to retain "independent elements of reality" within the quantum world. In Bohm's version the meaning of this paradox became clearer and helped blaze the trail for what would later become an experimental test.

This experimental test was proposed by physicist John Bell in his famous theorem. But Bell himself had been led to develop this theorem after encountering Bohm's hidden variables version of quantum theory-in Bohm's 1952 papers, Bell later said, he had seen "the impossible done." Throughout the later decades of his life, Bohm sought a new order in physics. He proposed that the reality we see about us (the explicate order) is no more than the surface appearance of something far deeper (the implicate order). According to Bohm, the ground of the cosmos is not elementary particles but pure process, a flowing movement of the whole. Within this implicate order, Bohm believed, one could resolve the Cartesian split between mind and matter, or between brain and consciousness.

Bohm's notion of an implicate order extended his reputation outside the bounds of physics and drew the interest of writers, artists, psychologists, and philosophers. It was to this audience that Bohm directed much of his later work, lecturing and writing on the essential wholeness of nature and experience, deploring the fragmentation of our modern world, discussing the nature of creativity, and exploring the nature of thought and the structuring processes of the psyche.

So deeply have his ideas permeated the general culture that they are becoming part of the shared way we look at the world. Their influence can be found in areas as diverse as education, psychology, art, and literary criticism, appearing even in novels. Bohm became something of a guru to those seeking renewal through education and psychotherapy, or seeking to build new communities or understand the internal dynamics of society.

In spite of his considerable scientific reputation, Bohm did not always see eye to eye with his contemporaries. The major controversy of his life lay in his rejection of the conventional interpretation of quantum theory. After his contact with Einstein, Bohm proposed an alternative theory in which electrons are guided along paths by what he called the quantum potential. This "hidden variable" theory so offended the scientific establishment that it was met with not only rejection but sheer silence, which gave Bohm considerable pain. Although he went on to develop the theory further, moving away from strict determinism into something far more subtle, his work remained tainted as that of a scientific maverick .

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Bohm went ever deeper into the quantum theory, seeking to develop a theory of prespace that would make connections to Einstein's relativity. It was during this period that Bohm moved away from his earlier materialistic position. Attempting to remove the distinction between mind and matter; he proposed that information, like matter and energy, is one of the basic principles of nature; it is not a subjective assessment but an objective activity in the world. The more broadly his ideas ranged, however, the more rigid and hidebound the scientific community became.

At the end of his life, Bohm remained a scientific rebel. He rejected the current fashion of seeking closure in some "grand unified theory," in favor of a vision of nature's inexhaustibility, of a world of infinite levels. Bohm's world was holistic, as holistic as the unanalyzable interconnections of the quantum or his unified vision of matter and mind. Holism extended, he believed, into human psychology and society itself. He dreamed of developing a group mind, and spent his last years organizing dialogue circles in its pursuit.

Bohm lived for the transcendental; his dreams were of the light that penetrates. From early childhood he learned to escape into the world of the mind and the imagination. Yet his life was accompanied by great personal pain and periods of crippling depression. He never achieved wholeness in his own personal life, and the fruits of that life, which are still with us, were gained only at great sacrifice.

A remembrance of David Bohm by Gary David

In the mid 1980s I attended a seminar in Berkley, California given by David Bohm. It really was a Bohmian Dialogue with the whole group. I had read many things written by Bohm and found his ideas in meaning-resonance with J.S. Bois whom I had worked with since 1964. That afternoon, I was to learn that Bohm was familiar with the work of Alfred Korzybski and L.L. Whyte (two of the principal authors featured on this web site). In fact, Bohm presented Korzybki's model of abstracting, and took to heart the major premises of Korzybski's general semantics: 1) The map is not the territory; 2) the map does not represent all of the territory; 3) an ideal map would contain the map of the map, the map of the map of the map, endlessly. In other words, the map is self-reflexive.

It was quite an extraordinary afternoon experiencing David's openness and gentle ways. He took each person's contribution as worthy of consideration. During one break, he and I talked of the fundamental importance of Korzybski's basic insights, the importance of keeping the abstracting process infinitely moving (not coming to closed conclusions in important matters), and treating "problems" as postulates as proposed by Lancelot Law Whyte.

Bohm's contributions will ripple through the episteme for a long time to come, not only in his written works, but in the many lives he touched, including mine.

Achieving the unity of diversity

Kieran Comerford looks at David Bohm

David Bohm came to the attention of the general public in 1980 with the publication of his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order. This proposed that behind the supposedly 'real' world that we see around us which he called 'the explicate order' lies an unmanifest world called 'the implicate order' which is multi-dimensional. We only experience the three dimensions of space and one dimension of time in the explicate order and the other dimensions are 'implicate', folded in on themselves or enfolded. This book brought Bohm into the mainstream of philosophical thought and established him as a physicist from the traditional scientific community who was prepared to engage in a more open dialogue on the nature of reality and the shortcomings of the traditional scientific approach.

Born in 1917, he was educated at Pennsylvania State College and obtained his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, on 'Neutron-Proton Scattering'. He taught at Princeton and in Brazil and Israel before becoming Professor of Physics at Birbeck College, part of the University of London. He worked on the behaviour of plasma in magnetic fields and on the design of early particle accelerators such as the cyclotron and synchro-cyclotron. His textbook on quantum mechanics Causality and Chance in Modern Physics (1957) which he wrote while at Princeton, became a classic and he was highly respected for his approach which relied on philosophical principles more than on advanced mathematics.

In 1960 while working at Bristol University in England he introduced the Bohm-Aharonov effect. Working with his student, Yakir Aharonov he demonstrated a new and important way in which the quantum world transcends that of classical mechanics. Bohm and Aharonov showed that a shielded line of magnetic force is able to affect electrons that pass around it, an effect predicted by quantum mechanics but impossible in classical physics. They argued that the effect has nothing to do with traditional forms of interaction such as by fields or the exchange of particles and is in fact non-local, implying that even quite distant objects can affect quantum processes. This had implications for the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox which showed that changing the spin of one particle could affect the spin of another particle instantly and over any distance. Bohm's reformulation helped explain the meaning of this paradox and focussed attention on the concept of an underlying energy field beyond space and time.

His Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) introduced for the first time his revolutionary views on consciousness. His enquiries into the nature of human consciousness were first stimulated by his attempts to explain the paradoxes in quantum mechanics and later by his contact with the Indian philosopher-sage Jiddu Krishnamurti which happened serendipitously. His wife had found a book in a library which she thought was about quantum mechanics. In fact it was a book by Krishnamurti and, as a result, Bohm and he became friends. Of their friendship Bohm was quoted as saying: 'We are friends and have a close relationship, formed around questions of mutual interest that we've explored together for many years'.

Bohm describes the world around us as multi-dimensional. The things we perceive are the explicate order, the three-dimensional world of objects in space and time. These are made of dense matter, which, although it can be described by physics, cannot be adequately explained. Most of physics operates on this basis, presenting ideas in mathematical terms which are not easily understood and subject to different interpretations. The implicate order provides a deeper level of meaning. What is going on in the implicate order is mostly enfolded or unmanifest. What we see is only a small part of the whole.

The implicate order is a theory which deals with the whole, like the concept of a unified field, but it also says that the connections of the whole have nothing to do with locality in space and time. Instead they are explained by the quality of enfoldment. This distinguishes between that which is manifest and that which is unmanifest. There is a constant movement of unfolding or manifesting and enfolding or becoming unmanifest again.

The implicate order does not look at particles in space and time as do Newton and Einstein's field theories but instead considers the background or vacuum state which Bohm calls 'the holomovement'. All that is manifest is basically floating in the holomovement. Matter can be regarded as a cloud of more dense concentration within the holomovement. However, the holomovement or vacuum state is ignored by conventional physics because it cannot be detected by instruments, since it is beyond space and time, but it is generally agreed that it is a source of infinite energy.

Bohm went on to consider the question of consciousness by looking at the relationship between wholeness and sub-wholes. If matter is just ripple on the surface of the holomovement where does that leave individual consciousness? Do we exist independently of each other at all or is the concept of individuality just 'maya', an illusion. Here Bohm takes on a mystical dimension and, like the great Indian sages, he says that it depends on the level at which you operate. This gets us close to the unity versus duality concept much debated in spiritual circles. Is God a divine figure sitting in Heaven and looking down on us (as taught by the traditional Christian churches) or are we all part of God possessing a higher consciousness element (the Self) which is universal. Bohm says that the whole is enriched by introducing diversity and achieving the unity of diversity. Each of us is different but at another level we are the same. The individual is universal and the universe is individual, 'individual' meaning undivided. Individuality is only possible if it manifests or unfolds out of wholeness.


Modified: 11:15 9 Aug 2006
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