He was raised mainly by his father, a furniture-store owner and assistant of the local rabbi. Despite being raised in a Jewish family, he became an agnostic in his teenage years. He then transferred to the theoretical physics group directed by Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, where he obtained his doctorate. He was active in communist and communist-backed organizations, including the Young Communist League , the Campus Committee to Fight Conscription, and the Committee for Peace Mobilization. During his time at the Radiation Laboratory, Bohm was in a relationship with the future Betty Friedan and also helped to organize a local chapter of the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians , a small labor union affiliated to the Congress of Industrial Organizations CIO. During the war, Bohm remained at Berkeley, where he taught physics and conducted research in plasma , the synchrotron and the synchrocyclotron.

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Returning to it now, it is a pleasure to be reminded of the scope and continuing relevance of this remarkable man, who was without doubt one of the most original thinkers of our time. Here he talks about his insight into the essential unbroken wholeness of the universe: the timeless order which lies behind physical phenomena, and the importance of the imagination for giving a meaningful understanding of reality.

Download this article PDF David Bohm — has been described as one of the most significant thinkers of the twentieth century. Finding Cartesian duality limited, he believed that the same principles which underlie the behaviour of matter also operate in the realms of consciousness, society and culture.

In he published his seminal work Wholeness and the Implicate Order [3] in which he suggested that all the phenomena that appear in the world — whether they be fundamental particles or thoughts in the mind — emerge out of a deeper order of reality, their character varying according to the context see the video right or below for a good exposition on this.

In his final years, he worked with his colleague at Birkbeck College in London, Basil Hiley, to put mathematical flesh on the bones of his insights, and their joint work The Undivided Universe [4] was published posthumously in Duration minutes Alongside this major work, Bohm made many important contributions to physics.

Coming back to it after thirty years, it is remarkable to see how fresh and relevant the ideas are, despite the huge developments which have taken place in science. Some things are perhaps even more relevant — his critique of the role of mathematics, for instance, given the way that algorithms have gained control over so many areas of our contemporary lives, and his insight that physical laws may be subject to change and evolution.

Click image to enlarge Unbroken Wholeness Jane: Can we begin by talking about the idea of unity, which is the central principle with which Beshara Magazine is concerned. My understanding of your work is that you start with the concept of unity — wholeness — and explain how particular phenomena emerge from it, rather than deriving unity from the parts. Can you say something about how you came up with this idea? David: If we go back to Newtonian concepts, Descartes, etc. That worked quite well for a long time.

But in more modern physics, like relativity and quantum theory, it is clear that if you attempt to define these point particles, you cannot do it in the classical way; we cannot regard them as independent separate things, like billiard balls, which interact with each other only in the exterior.

One idea for getting around the problem in relativity is to try and make them into extended points, but there is no consistent way of doing that because the theory dictates that they cannot be rigid. The other idea is to imagine them as dimensionless points, but that leads to other problems. With quantum mechanics, there are all sorts of new properties which do not cohere very well with relativity, but lead you to unbroken wholeness in another way.

You have the notion of quantum jumps of energy that are said to be discrete and unanalysable — in other words, the basic energy comes in the form of quanta — and the idea is that everything is connected by those. Therefore in the final analysis, it is again all one unbroken whole. Secondly, there is the phenomenon of wave-particle duality: that an electron going through two slits behaves like a wave, and yet it arrives at the detector like a particle.

So it appears to have a nature that depends upon its context, and this again suggests that the particle does not have its own separate nature entirely, but is internally related to the whole, or at least to its environment.

And a third thing is quantum non-locality, in which under certain conditions you can find a close connection between things which are physically distant. This violates classical ideas, and provides another way in which a system of particles unites into a whole which has an objective feature of wholeness, meaning that it is not reducible to actions of parts.

It was clear to me that there are problems in bringing relativity and quantum theory together because relativity demands strict causality, strict continuity and strict locality, whereas in quantum mechanics the behaviour of individual particles is basically unpredictable, and there are also these issues of discontinuity and non-locality.

So the basic concepts of the two theories do not cohere, although there are certain mathematical algorithms and experiments that make them work together. Therefore, it seemed to me that in order to bring them together you would have to say that the common ground is undivided wholeness. Jane: So in your view, all the things that we see in the world might look as though they are separate and independent of each other, but they are actually manifestations of a deeper reality.

What we see is like the tip of an iceberg. David: In my theory of the implicate order, the whole generates the particulars, rather than saying that the particulars are collected to make the whole. We must be aware, however, that our concept of the whole is always going to be limited, so when we are thinking about what the implicate order is, we need to open up our ideas about it and consider it as a particular again.

So we need a two-way movement between the general and the particular. The root meaning of general is that it is generated, so from that point of view, we can say that the whole generates the particulars, but it is also generated. Michael: If the particulars emerge out of the generative background, then they must always have been implicit within it?

David: Yes. They emerge from it, and then they develop and so on, and eventually they are enfolded back into it. The background — the general, the implicate order, however you want to speak about it — is basically unlimited, so one cannot capture it finally and define it. David: It is a dynamic process of particularising and creating the particulars. But it is important to realise that there is no real division between the implicate and the explicate.

The undefinable creates the definable, and that in turn, falls back into the undefinable. But at the same time, the explicit is within the implicit and not the other way round. We can see this in vision. We have the vision from out of the corner of the eye, which is vague but catches movement very nicely, and we have vision in the centre which is very sharp. If the centre is damaged, you can still use the other part, but if the periphery is damaged, then the centre has no meaning.

So this kind of thing also holds for the mind; there is the generative background emerging into the well-defined focus, on which we may concentrate our attention. But we also have to give our attention to the general, to the generator, and this means developing undirected attention. Proton—proton collision event in the Great Hadron Collider at CERN, in which four high energy electrons green lines and red towers are observed. According to Bohm, the behaviour of these fundamental particles will only be properly understood when they are seen as emerging from a deeper implicate order of reality.

Jane: So you think that whilst the whole may be undefinable and unknown, there are nevertheless ways in which we can have access to it?

David: One of the things I want to distinguish in all my work is the difference between the subtle and the manifest. The manifest is what can be held in the hand, in the eye or in the head; this is the explicate order. The other side of this is the subtle. Infinity does not really mean more and more space, or more and more time — these are rather crude conceptions of it — but rather, it means more and more subtlety.

The nature of the implicate order is that it is subtle, and within it there are many different levels of subtlety. These deeper things could be like vibrations that we can sense, as we might sense more and more subtle feelings, pointing to something out of which ideas and images emerge.

Take for example all the experience of ourselves that we have at the ordinary level, in which I include all the various kinds of thoughts, images and sensations with which we identify. Now ordinarily we say, tacitly, that that is me. But that is really only an explicit image of something much more subtle and enfolded. When you look at yourself in the mirror and try to shave, at first you cannot do it because things are the wrong way round.

So you have to learn how to deal with a mirror image. Then when it finds something close to what it wants, it homes in on it.

When we look at what we call ourselves, we are looking at a rather explicate image of something which is very, very different, and there has to be a searching movement to feel out what is happening. Then the image becomes valuable as a reflection of the deeper reality. But otherwise, the image can become a source of confusion and we begin to value it too highly; it becomes ego, and we have worship of the self-image, etc.

I think that science can be looked at in this way too. We get all sorts of explicit images — things that happen — but we have to look deeper to find out what underlies them. If you try to deal directly with them at their own level, then things become incoherent. You can do it up to a point, but the method is limited.

David: Yes, but the same can be said more fundamentally about our notions of space and time. That whole order has to be seen as limited; it does not stand by itself. We have a tacit thought that everything that exists exists in time and space, and this is very deep in our culture. But this may not cohere with what we are finding now in physics and many other areas. Jane: The question of time seems particularly relevant at the moment, and is a particular source of confusion.

David: One point about any theory that people develop about time is that it always presumes some timeless principles, and without these it would not really have anything to say. So in some way, people cannot escape from the question of what is timeless; they merely put it aside and get on with their work on time.

You can make progress in this way, but there is a limit to how far you can get. Time is a mystery from a scientific point of view. The past is gone and the future has not yet happened, and the present as the point between past and future immediately ceases to exist — or it is possible to question whether it ever existed at all. But how can you make a relationship with something that has already gone, which is not? And how can the basics of necessity be found in such a relationship?

The problem with thought is that it always has to make a static abstraction in order to explain things, so it will never be able to grasp process totally, although it may give some insight, some way of looking at it.

The central problem, I think, is that we put necessity in the order of time, and this is what scientific laws are meant to express. David: Necessity means that it cannot be otherwise.

Contingency means that it can be otherwise. The division between the two is crucial for any way of thinking — although of course they are not ultimately divided: they are two aspects. Now, another way of saying this is that necessity is what cannot be turned aside. In ancient Greek philosophy, they did not talk about laws but about a regular order which appears in nature.

But as I just pointed out, we cannot really understand time in this way because there is so much paradox. You can say, as Einstein did, that all time is there in every moment — but then there are other problems. For instance, it implies that in some sense our experience of time and movement, and so on, is an illusion, and people have not really managed to formulate anything coherent about this. The nearest they can get to it is to say that our memory is part of the process, and that each successive moment has a separate memory.

Necessity is meant to hold for all time — but here we have only one moment. But if we say that all time is there in that one moment, then we have the problem of succession. Jane: Do you think you can solve this within the framework that you have developed? Our theory says that the whole — that is, the implicate order — is an order beyond time, and that time emerges from it.

One moment forms, and then another moment, and then another, and so on. And if they form in a similar way, then we have a succession with some similarity — and also, some difference because nothing remains totally constant. The general rules that we use to talk about succession are also grounded in the implicate order, just as the moments themselves are grounded in it.

So although they are constant, they are only relatively so.


Wholeness, Timelessness and Unfolding Meaning



David Bohm



Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue with David Bohm


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