In 1987 David Bohm wrote the following paragraph to be read at the memorial service for a lifelong friend and classmate at Penn State University. The piece was later read at Bohm’s own memorial service at Birkbeck College. And in June 2008, David Peat convened the “Legacy of David Bohm” meeting in Pari by reading these same words: “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 the energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies.” (Source: The Inner Path of Knowledge Creation by Joseph Jaworski) Double rainbow 🌈 image credit: Jena Axelrod.
“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.”
We all find that the groups to which we belong function really well sometimes … and then there are those other times, the ones when it’s hard to see through the clashes or to avoid the landmines. Why do those clashes happen? How do we mend the tears in the fabric of our groups or societal world once they have been torn? Bohm thought about that a lot. Why is it that inevitably we seem to get into such societal muddles? He worried – or as David Peat describes it he agonized – over the state of the world in conflict, feeling that as a scientist he had responsibility to help find the way to patch the world back together. The idea of wholeness became his mantra, his life search, whether in physics or in society. In the realm of physics, Bohm had discovered the essential role that wholeness plays in the universe. His mind’s eye pictured what this wholeness was like. In a vast space were many bubbles of light, each connected to the other and each reflecting back the image of the whole. So each was individual but each also contained the whole which had been reflected to him and which was then within him and re-reflected back out to all others.
What would it be like to have a meeting without specified outcomes to be achieved? Why would we meet if there weren’t something specific to be accomplished. How would we operate with no agenda to follow? In contrast to our Western ideas about how to “meet,” David Bohm was quite specific in his intention for the “free space” of Dialogue: “…In dialogue, insofar as we have no purpose and no agenda and we don’t have to do anything, we don’t really need to have an authority or a hierarchy. Rather, we need a place where there is no authority, no hierarchy, where there is no special purpose—sort of an empty place, where we can let anything be talked about.” (1) Rather than serving a function in relation to the goals of an organization, Bohm intended Dialogue to be an examination of the hidden assumptions blocking our awareness of active information transmitted through the holomovement. Those hidden assumptions show up in our day-to-day world as the beliefs and cultural patterns so deeply embedded within our psyches that we don’t realize they are there. Yet, they drive our behavior in ways that cause broken relationships, societal fragmentation and incoherence.
Where is that mythical territory David Bohm called The Implicate? If we were to draw a map would it be upward or downward from our home base location in The Explicate? North or south of us? In his theory of the Undivided Universe, Bohm posited that the whole of reality is a nesting of increasingly subtle layers. Our most immediate and familiar layer is what he called “explicate.” Beyond it were the layers of the “implicate,” the “super-implicate” and perhaps many more layers, each progressively more subtle, more general, and more powerful. The explicate is our perception of the material world, a vast variety of separate and distinct “things” outside of us and outside of each other (1) which is best described through Newtonian physics. In his words, “Clearly the manifest world of common sense experience refined where necessary with the aid of the concepts and laws of classical physics is basically in an explicate order.” (2) Behind the explicate world is the implicate, the layer or order which holds the patterns that give form to our perceptions. He gave examples of the implicate and explicate. Think of a seed. Within it lies the essential pattern (implicate level) of a particular species of plant which will guide its growth into form (explicate level). Another example: The television set acts as a receiver of broadcasted image patterns (implicate level) which are displayed on the TV screen (explicate level).
From Birkbeck College Bohm would take a short walk to Goodge Street tube station and then take the Northern Line to his home in Edgware. His home was cosy and welcoming, and cared for by his wife Saral. In his younger days as a student, and later as a researcher in Berkeley and Princeton, Bohm must have clearly been able to look after himself, but here in Edgware he seemed very impractical. For example Saral would make tea and then put it in a small saucepan with milk and tell David that when she was out he should light the gas, heat the pan and then pour it into a cup! On one occasion Saral had purchased a kettle, but the plug was not attached. Bohm took the plug and kettle into Birkbeck and while he talked about physics Basil Hiley took out a screwdriver and attached the plug. Bohm looked on in amazement and said “how did you do that?” One thing I noticed about Bohm’s living room was the large number of books. Bohm remarked that he had hardly read any of them. People sent him books and articles they had written but Bohm simply did not have time to read them all.
Science had broken down the world to the point where quantum theory could discuss the smallest particles of matter—the elementary particles. But in what domain did these particles exist? If matter could be broken down, what about space and time? Did there exist something below space, something out of which space itself was formed? Bohm believed there was and called this pre-space. With his colleague, Basil Hiley, he looked to create a theory of pre-space. Pre-space itself would be built out of what are called non-commuting algebras. In 2000 I held a meeting of artists and scientists in the October gallery, London. The meeting was informal with no fixed agenda, just the opportunity for people to meet and gather in small groups to talk. One afternoon Basil Hiley and I were talking about pre-space when the sculptor, Antony Gormley, joined us. Gormley was very interested in space as much of his work dealt with the inner space of the body. For a time he listened to us and then asked when we meant by algebra. We told him that the famous mathematician, David Hilbert, called it a “relation of relationships.” Gormley liked this. Back in his studio Gormley began work on a piece he was going to call Quantum Cloud. It consisted of a large number of straight metal rods, welded together. At first sight the sculpture looks like a jumble but, viewed from a certain angle, it has the appearance of a human figure.
Back in the 1980s I received a phone call from someone called Leroy Little Bear inviting me to a circle on the Blackfoot lands in Alberta. It was a meeting of the World Wide Indigenous Network run by Apela Colorado. I went to the meeting and over the next years had many meetings with Leroy as well as attending the Blackfoot Sun Dance. As it turned out Leroy had also read some of David Bohm’s writings and wanted to meet with him. As a result in 1992 he and I arranged a meeting at the Fetzer Institute in Michigan of Native Elders and Western scientists, and other Western thinkers. Most of the Native Elders were speakers of the Algonquian family of languages – Cree, Blackfoot, Mic Mac, etc. During the meeting Bohm learned of their strongly verb based languages. In turn, their world view was that of eternal flux and change. Thus a person’s name may change during their lifetime depending on their deeds. Likewise these languages did not lead to the formation of fixed categories. In English for example we put trout, salmon, pike etc into the category of “fish” but exclude eels and frogs. But for the Blackfoot they would refer to “processes in water” and rather than a category of “trees” there would be the sound the wind makes in the leaves. Bohm was amazed to learn of these languages, for they recalled his earlier experiments with the Rheomode in language. In addition he felt their world view was very much in harmony with his conception of the quantum theory. Bohm would have clearly liked to pursue these ideas but his health was increasingly compromised and he died several months later. At our next meeting of Native Elders an empty chair was left for Bohm’s spirit.
An explanation of the A-B effect, as it became know, would be quite technical so below I give only a brief overview of the physics involved. When Bohm moved to Israel he encountered two outstanding students, Yakir Aharonov and Gideon Carmi which he then took with him to Bristol University. Aharonov for his part was interested in what is known as the Vector Potential. Bohm encouraged him and so the two began to work together. The vector potential is a way of interrelating electrical and magnetic fields. According to orthodox physics this vector potential has no real, material existence but is simply a mathematical device for linking two sets of equations. Aharonov did not agree and believed that the vector potential had an actual existence. Working together Aharonov and Bohm proposed that the vector potential could exert an effect on an electron has it travels through a screen with two slits. This suggestion was of course rejected by main stream physics until an experimental physicist, Robert Chambers, devised an experiment that would illustrate the effect: the A-B effect. His result was at first rejected but subsequent experimentalists continued to show that this was a real effect and Aharonov and Bohm’s work was deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize. They were nominated on several occasions and I can remember Bohm being tense in the days leading up to the prize’s announcement. They never did get the prize and one explication involves an experimental physicist, Rory Siday, who had noticed a bizarre effect when working with an electron lens. Siday took his result to the great Max Born who became angry and said that no such effect existed. At the time Bohm and Aharonov did not know about this work and some speculate that the Nobel Prize was not awarded because of