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The Spirit of Dialogue

“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.

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Looking for Meaning in All the Wrong Places

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.”

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Bohm and Donald Schumacher

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 created distance between Bohm 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.

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Bohm In Brazil

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.

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Wholeness and Fragmentation

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.

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Dialogue and Outcomes

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.

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Where is The Implicate?

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).

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Little sensations

In an earlier posting we saw how Bohm believed that the laws of physics were contained within his physical body. On occasion he experienced this directly. Once when working on an equation he felt a strong sensation within his body and, as he continued to work, a counter sensation. These sensations appeared to correspond directly to the mathematics he was writing down. Bohm spoke to Einstein about this who told him that when working on his field equations he would squeeze a hard rubber ball and note the sensations in his arm. When thinking Bohm also had the habit of tossing a group of coins from one hand to another. This annoyed Robert Chambers who occupied an office separated by a lightweight partition from Bohm’s. Month after month he had to put up with the sound of Bohm’s pacing up and down and the jingling of coins.

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Order Between and Beyond

After we had finished writing Science, Order and Creativity, Bohm and I felt we should begin work on a new book. At that time Bohm had been thinking about such ideas as “the space between”, rather than the “space beyond”, or of ideas of outer space and extending space. But what about the space between events? Connected to this was the notion of a “space between”. Ideas tend to get polarized and broken into categories—romanticism and classicism, reason and imagination, holism versus reductionism, mind and body, conscious and unconscious, Darwinism and Lamarckism, Deconstruction and Structuralism. But what about investigating a creative space that lies between these extremes? We began work, exploring these “orders between” but then began to feel that an Order Between could involve some sort of compromise, a weaking of a position, an avoidance of confrontation. And so we began to think of an “order beyond”. We continued our discussions in London and at the Bailey farms. I made many notes but by now Bohm’s health had deteriorated and his depression had worsened. We did meet but progress on the manuscript slowed. In addition because of his heart condition we did not go on our usual long walks to discuss ideas. Then in 1992 Bohm died with the manuscript incomplete. The publisher Routledge wanted to bring out a new edition of Science, Order and Creativity so I combined some of our working notes into a new last chapter entitled “The Order between and Beyond”.

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Bohm at Oxford

Bohm had been invited to become a fellow of one of the Oxford Collages and so together we took a trip to Oxford. We walked around the college and ended up in the impressive dining room. The walls were lined with paintings of past masters and fellows in their gowns. Bohm looked at these paintings and remarked “too much history”. That was it. Oxford collages were not for him. Being in Oxford was also the opportunity for Bohm to meet Anthony Storr, a psychiatrist and author of “The Act of Creation” which explored the lives of a number of creativity people including Virginia Woolf. Storr explained how many highly creative people suffered from mental instability and while talking about Woolf Bohm remarked to me, “yes, that’s right, that’s me.”

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