David Bohm

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The entire universe must, on a very accurate level, be regarded as a single indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as idealisations permissible only on a classical level of accuracy of description. This means that the view of the world being analogous to a huge machine, the predominant view from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, is now shown to be only approximately correct. The underlying structure of matter, however, is not mechanical. This means that the term "quantum mechanics" is very much a misnomer. It should, perhaps, be called "quantum nonmechanics".
~ Quantum Theory (1951)

David Joseph Bohm (20 December 191727 October 1992) was an American-British scientist who has been described as one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century and who contributed unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind.

Bohm advanced the view that quantum physics meant that the old Cartesian model of reality – that there are two kinds of substance, the mental and the physical, that somehow interact – was too limited. To complement it, he developed a mathematical and physical theory of "implicate" and "explicate" order. He also believed that the brain, at the cellular level, works according to the mathematics of some quantum effects, and postulated that thought is distributed and non-localised just as quantum entities are. Bohm warned of the dangers of rampant reason and technology, advocating instead the need for genuine supportive dialogue, which he claimed could broaden and unify conflicting and troublesome divisions in the social world.


  • There is no reason why an extraphysical general principle is necessarily to be avoided, since such principles could conceivably serve as useful working hypotheses. For the history of scientific research is full of examples in which it was very fruitful indeed to assume that certain objects or elements might be real, long before any procedures were known which would permit them to be observed directly.
    • (January 15 1952). "A Suggested Interpretation of the Quantum Theory in Terms of "Hidden" Variables. II". Physical Review 35 (2): 188.
  • Of course, we must avoid postulating a new element for each new phenomenon. But an equally serious mistake is to admit into the theory only those elements which can now be observed. For the purpose of a theory is not only to correlate the results of observations that we already know how to make, but also to suggest the need for new kinds of observations and to predict their results. In fact, the better a theory is able to suggest the need for new kinds of observations and to predict their results correctly, the more confidence we have that this theory is likely to be good representation of the actual properties of matter and not simply an empirical system especially chosen in such a way as to correlate a group of already known facts.
    • (January 15 1952). "A Suggested Interpretation of the Quantum Theory in Terms of "Hidden" Variables. II". Physical Review 35 (2): 189.
  • We have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent "elementary parts" of the world are the fundamental reality, and that the various systems are merely particular contingent forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather, we say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality, and that relatively independent behaving parts are merely particular and contingent forms within this whole.
    • "On the Intuitive Understanding of Nonlocality as Implied by Quantum Theory", Foundations of Physics Vol 5 (1975)
  • The weekend began with the expectation that there would be a series of lectures and informative discussions with emphasis on content. It gradually emerged that something more important was actually involved — the awakening of the process of dialogue itself as a free flow of meaning among all the participants. In the beginning, people were expressing fixed positions, which they were tending to defend, but later it became clear that to maintain the feeling of friendship in the group was much more important than to hold any position. Such friendship has an impersonal quality in the sense that its establishment does not depend on a close personal relationship between participants. A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change. In this development the group has no pre-established purpose, though at each moment a purpose that is free to change may reveal itself. The group thus begins to engage in a new dynamic relationship in which no speaker is excluded, and in which no particular content is excluded. Thus far we have only begun to explore the possibilities of dialogue in the sense indicated here, but going further along these lines would open up the possibility of transforming not only the relationship between people, but even more, the very nature of consciousness in which these relationships arise.
    • Unfolding Meaning: a weekend of dialogue with David Bohm (1985)
  • The point about dialectic is the ultimate identity of the universal and the individual. The individual is universal and the universal is the individual. The word "individual" means undivided, so we could say that very few individuals have ever existed. We could call them dividuals. Individuality is only possible if it unfolds from wholeness. ... Ego-centeredness is not individuality at all.
    • Dialogue with Renée Weber, first published in the journal Re-vision (1983); later published in Dialogues with Scientists and Sages : The Search for Unity (1986) by Renée Weber, p. 30
  • Deep down the consciousness of mankind is one. This is a virtual certainty because even in the vacuum matter is one; and if we don't see this, it's because we are blinding ourselves to it.
    • Statement of 1986, as quoted in Towards a Theory of Transpersonal Decision-Making in Human-Systems (2007) by Joseph Riggio, p. 66
  • Consciousness is much more of the implicate order than is matter . . . Yet at a deeper level [matter and consciousness] are actually inseparable and interwoven , just as in the computer game the player and the screen are united by participation.
    • Statement of 1987, as quoted in Towards a Theory of Transpersonal Decision-Making in Human-Systems (2007) by Joseph Riggio, p. 66
  • The ability to perceive or think differently is more important than the knowledge gained.
    • As quoted in New Scientist (February 1993), p. 42
  • During the past few decades, modern technology, with radio, TV, air travel, and satellites, has woven a network of communication which puts each part of the world in to almost instant contact with all the other parts. Yet, in spite of this world-wide system of linkages, there is, at this very moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale...
    • "On Dialogue"
  • Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven't really paid much attention to thought as a process. we have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. Why does thought require attention? Every thinking requires attention, really. If we ran machines withinout paying attention to them, they would break down. Our thought, too, is a process, and it requires attention, otherwise its going to go wrong.
    • "On Dialogue"
  • We probed into the nature of space and time, and of the universal, both with regard to external nature and with regard to mind. But then, we went on to consider the general disorder and confusion that pervades the consciousness of mankind. It is here that I encountered what I feel to be Krishnamurti's major discovery. What he was seriously proposing is that all this disorder, which is the root cause of such widespread sorrow and misery, and which prevents human beings from properly working together, has its root in the fact that we are ignorant of the general nature of our own processes of thought. Or to put it differently it may be said that we do not see what is actually happening, when we are engaged in the activity of thinking.
  • 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.

Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980)

  • I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment...
  • Then there is the further question of what is the relationship of thinking to reality. As careful attention shows, thought itself is in an actual process of movement. That is to say, one can feel a sense of flow in the stream of consciousness not dissimilar to the sense of flow in the movement of matter in general. May not thought itself thus be a part of reality as a whole? But then, what could it mean for one part of reality to 'know' another, and to what extent would this be possible?
  • Man's general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.
  • My suggestion is that at each state the proper order of operation of the mind requires an overall grasp of what is generally known, not only in formal logical, mathematical terms, but also intuitively, in images, feelings, poetic usage of language, etc. (Perhaps we could say that this is what is involved in harmony between the 'left brain' and the 'right brain'). This kind of overall way of thinking is not only a fertile source of new theoretical ideas: it is needed for the human mind to function in a generally harmonious way, which could in turn help to make possible an orderly and stable society.
  • The quantum theory, as it is now constituted, presents us with a very great challenge, if we are at all interested in such a venture, for in quantum physics there is no consistent notion at all of what the reality may be that underlies the universal constitution and structure of matter. Thus, if we try to use the prevailing world view based on the notions of particles, we discover that the 'particles' (such as electrons) can also manifest as waves, that they move discontinuously, that there are no laws at all that apply in detail to the actual movements of individual particles and that only statistical predictions can be made about large aggregates of such particles. If on the other hand we apply the world view in which the world is regarded as a continuous field, we find that this field must also be discontinuous, as well as particle-like, and that it is as undermined in its actual behaviour as is required in the particle view of relation as a whole.
  • In relativity, movement is continuous, causally determinate and well defined, while in quantum mechanics it is discontinuous, not causally determinate and not well defined. Each theory is committed to its own notions of essentially static and fragmentary modes of existence (relativity to that of separate events, connectable by signals, and quantum mechanics to a well-defined quantum state). One thus sees that a new kind of theory is needed which drops these basic commitments and at most recovers some essential features of the older theories as abstract forms derived from a deeper reality in which what prevails in unbroken wholeness.
  • The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people who live in it. Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it.

Meaning and Information (1989)

  • In society, the basic carrier of meaning is culture, which is indeed just shared meaning.
  • ...if somebody sees a different meaning to society or to life, that will change society. Every revolution has come from somebody seeing a different meaning in human society.
  • The power of meaning is that it completely organizes being.
  • We have various ways of dealing with biological misinformation. The best way is by the immune system which recognizes it and gets rid of it, but we have no such system in society. Misinformation accumulates and society gradually decays. You see, the older the society gets, the more chance it has to accumulate all sorts of misinformation and the more it starts to fall a part. The society is blocked because misinformation is held rigidly.
  • The fear of uncertainty is our basic trouble. Uncertainty is the very nature of meaning and the very nature of being, for meaning is always context-dependent. We do not know the context that might come, and this is why we can never be certain that our meanings will be correct and give us security. So if you cannot live with this fact of uncertainty, some distortion is taking place already.

Changing Consciousness (1991)

Full title: Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political and Environmental Crises Facing our World.
  • For both the rich and the poor, life is dominated by an ever growing current of problems, most of which seem to have no real and lasting solution. Clearly we have not touched the deeper causes of our troubles. It is the main point of this book that the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself, the very thing of which our civilization is most proud, and therefore the one thing that is "hidden" because of our failure seriously to engage with its actual working in our own individual lives and in the life of society.
  • Suppose you have two religions. Thought defines religion — the thought about the nature of God and various questions like that. Such thought is very important because it is about God, who is supposed to be supreme. The thought about what is of supreme value must have the highest force. So if you disagree about that, the emotional impact can be very great, and you will then have no way to settle it. Two different beliefs about God will thus produce intense fragmentation — similarly with thoughts about the nature of society, which is also very important, or with ideologies such as communism and capitalism, or with different beliefs about your family or about your money. Whatever it is that is very important to you, fragmentation in your thought about it is going to be very powerful in its effects.
  • Difference exist because thought develops like a stream that happens to go one way here and another way there. Once it develops it produces real physical results that people are looking at, but they don't see where these results are coming from — that's one of the basic features of fragmentation. When they have produced these divisions they see that real things have happened, so they'll start with these real things as if they just suddenly got there by themselves, or evolved in nature by themselves.
  • We often find that we cannot easily give up the tendency to hold rigidly to patterns of thought built up over a long time. We are then caught up in what may be called absolute necessity. This kind of thought leaves no room at all intellectually for any other possibility, while emotionally and physically, it means we take a stance in our feelings, in our bodies, and indeed, in our whole culture, of holding back or resisting. This stance implies that under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow ourselves to give up certain things or change them.
  • If I am right in saying that thought is the ultimate origin or source, it follows that if we don't do anything about thought, we won't get anywhere. We may momentarily relieve the population problem, the ecological problem, and so on, but they will come back in another way.
  • Of course, one of the main legitimate functions of thought has always been to help provide security, guaranteeing shelter and food for instance. However, this function went wrong when the principal source of insecurity came to be the operation of thought itself.
  • Culture is shared meaning. Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture.

Thought as a System (1992)

  • What I mean by 'thought' is the whole thing — thought, 'felt', the body, the whole society sharing thoughts — it's all one process. It is essential for me not to break that up, because it's all one process; somebody else's thought becomes my thought, and vice versa. Therefore it would be wrong and misleading to break it up into my thought, your thought, my feelings, these feelings, those feelings. I would say that thought makes what is often called in modern language a system. A system means a set of connected things or parts. But the way people commonly use the word nowadays it means something all of whose parts are mutually interdependent — not only for their mutual action, but for their meaning and for their existence. A corporation is organized as a system — it has this department, that department, that department... they don't have any meaning separately; they only can function together. And also the body is a system. Society is a system in some sense. And so on.
    Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thought and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society — as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times. Thought has been constantly evolving and we can't say when that system began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before.
    Now, I say that this system has a fault in it — a 'systematic fault'. It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem". But "my" thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I'm trying to look at, or a similar fault.
    Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates.
  • We started out saying the trouble is that the world is in chaos, but I think we end up by saying that thought is in chaos. That's each one of us. And that is the cause of the world's being in chaos. Then the chaos of the world comes back and adds to the chaos of thought.
  • ...thought is a very subtle set of reflexes which is potentially unlimited; you can add more and more and you can modify your reflexes. Suppose like a logician you say: 'All swans are white. This bird is a wan therefore this bird is white.' But then you modify this by saying, 'I've seen that some swans may not be white.' And so on. Even the whole logical process, once it's committed to memory, becomes a set of reflexes. There may be a perception of reason beyond the reflexes, but anything perceived becomes sooner or later a set of reflexes. And what's what I want to call 'thought' – which includes the emotion, the bodily state, the physical reaction and everything else.
  • One of the most powerful thoughts people have is the thought of necessity. It is much more than a thought. The word 'necessary' means 'it cannot be otherwise', and the Latin root means 'don't yield'. It suggests the emotional-physical stance of resisting, holding. That's the other side of the reflex system: when you say 'it cannot be otherwise', in effect your'e saying: 'It has got to be this way. I have to keep it this way'. You have a hold. Something that is necessary is a very powerful force which you can't turn aside. You may say 'I have to turn it aside.' Thus we establish an order of necessity, saying 'this turns aside for that, and this for that.'
  • …when an insight is put into words, what is it that puts it into words? Is it thought or is it the insight? I want to suggest that the insight itself will be an insight into the words which express it properly.
  • ...the attempt to deal with social problems by force is incoherent, because the problems all arise in thought. And violence will never solve the problem in thought.
  • ...if you have found the words which express the way you are actually thinking, the body will be affected.
  • There's nothing more ephemeral than thoughts; and yet thoughts can hold themselves by saying 'I must remain this way forever, with absolute necessity.' The point is to have the notion of a creative being, rather than of an identified being.
  • The perception of truth is an actual act which changes things; it’s not merely that it is the truth about something which is different.
  • ...we see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light – a process. Similarly, what we 'see' is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness, we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow.
  • We don't need the notion of an identity, of an all-important identity on to which we are going to hold, because that gets in the way of the need to change our reflexes. Once we identify with something, our reflexes are that way – it's very important, 'necessary'. And we will want to preserve that identity even thought it may involve ideas that are false.

On Dialogue (1996)

  • Communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able to freely listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions, and be ready to go on to something different, when this is called for.

Collaborations with others

  • Dialogue, as we are choosing to use the word, is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication between individuals, nations, and even different parts of the same organization. In our modern culture men and women are able to interact with one another in many ways: they can sing, dance, or play together with little difficulty, but their ability to talk together about subjects that matter deeply to them seems invariably to lead to dispute, division, and often to violence. In our view this condition points to a deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought.

Science Order, and Creativity (1987)

Co-author with F. David Peat
  • A key difference between a dialogue and an ordinary discussion is that, within the latter people usually hold relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their views as they try to convince others to change. At best this may produce agreement or compromise, but it does not give rise to anything creative.
  • What is essential here is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of common meaning.

Quotes of others about Bohm

  • In the early 1950s, [...] there were two important advances in the interpretation of quantum mechanics, both made by the American physicist David Bohm. Just as there were, it seems, two Bohrs, there were apparently two Bohms: a 1951 Bohm and a 1952 Bohm.
  • I can tell you one thing. David Bohm knows a lot more than just a little about physics.
  • Dave always arrives at the right conclusions, but his mathematics is terrible. I take it home and find all sorts of errors and then have to spend the night trying to develop the correct proof. But in the end, the result is always exactly the same as the one Dave saw directly.
  • 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.
    • F. David Peat, Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm (1997)
  • The universe according to Bohm actually has two faces, or more precisely, two orders. One is the explicate order, corresponding to the physical world as we know it in day-to-day reality, the other a deeper, more fundamental order which Bohm calls the implicate order. The implicate order is the vast holomovement. We see only the surface of this movement as it presents or "explicates" itself from moment to moment in time and space. What we see in the world — the explicate order — is no more than the surface of the implicate order as it unfolds. Time and space are themselves the modes or forms of the unfolding process. They are like the screen on the video game. The displays on the screen may seem to interact directly with each other but, in fact, their interaction merely reflects what the game computer is doing. The rules which govern the operation of the computer are, of course, different from those that govern the behavior of the figures displayed on the screen. Moreover, like the implicate order of Bohm's model, the computer might be capable of many operations that in no way apparent upon examination of the game itself as it progresses on the screen.
    • Synchronicity: Science, Myth, and The Trickster (1990) by Allan Combs & Mark Holland

See also

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