“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 a common meaning.” David Bohm and David Peat, ‘Science, Order and Creativity’ When I came across this quote several years ago, I thought, yes, that’s it! Like Bohm and Peat I’d been deeply troubled by the feeling that something essential was missing; and that missing thing that was causing all the problems in the world. What made me aware of this were the brief moments in my life when the ‘feeling that something was missing’ was replaced with the ‘feeling that something was there!’ It was like finally hitting the mark after an incalculable number of tries! And all that I could say about those particular moments and what made them so remarkable, so entirely different from all the rest, was nothing more than an absence of conflict.
Where is meaning to be found? Bohm had a different answer than his peers in the field of theoretical physics. Bohm had excelled at math, yet he saw those around him clinging to mathematics in a way that seemed to avoid the central issue, that being to understand what the mathematical equations meant. Even though throughout his career he needed to use mathematics as a way of resolving technical aspects of his research, he always had a deep distrust that the math alone was trustworthy. Never, he thought, could a mathematical transaction be entirely free of unexamined assumptions, and the more complex the mathematics, the greater the susceptibility to potential error. His own way, much like his childhood days of fantastic flights to other planets, was to “feel out the answer and see it in his mind before setting down the necessary mathematical steps. His problem-solving ability was guided less by logic than by a combination of imagination and intuition.”
An American student, Donald Schumacher, read Bohm’s Special Theory of Relativity and was so impressed that he decided to join Bohm as a PhD student in the second half of the 1960s. Schumacher’s particular interest was in language. He had read Wittgenstein but could not persuade Bohm to read Process and Reality. However the two had very intense dialogues together in Bohm’s office. On the occasion that Hiley joined them he was somewhat swept away by the strength of their discussions. In particular Schumacher believed that their particular use of language had createddistance between Bohr and Einstein, who had once been so close. This lead to the co-authoring of a paper, The Failure of Communication between Bohr and Einstein which was not in fact published until after Bohm’s death. Schumacher was also interested in the effects of Indio-European languages on the nature of thought and how they could be a barrier on a deeper understanding of quantum theory – in particular their strong use of nouns which eventually led Bohm to develop his verb-based approach, the Rheomode.
While Bohm was in exile in Brazil he had his US passport confiscated and felt that he was being watched and followed. Following his death I therefore applied to the CIA for a report under the US Freedom of Information act. (The FBI would not have been involved in monitoring a US citizen outside his country.) The answer I received from the CIA was rather amusing. Firstly, they would not admit that such a document existed. But if it did, they wrote, then it would not be released on the grounds of national security. In fact, Bohm’s preoccupation in Brazil was not with American politics but which former Nazi sympathizers who were arriving from Germany to take positions in the university. In particular there was talk of creating an Institute of Theoretical Physics at Sao Paolo with Heisenberg as co-director. Bohm’s concern was they would let “the rest of the Nazi Vermin in,” and wrote to Einstein about his concerns.