David Bohm (1917-1992)

David Joseph Bohm lived from 20 December 1917 to 27 October 1992. He was an American theoretical physicist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, philosophy of mind, and neuro-psychology. He is considered to be one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century. He was a good friend of Einstein.


David Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Jewish parents. His father owned a local furniture store. Bohm graduated from Pennsylvania State College in 1939. After attending the California Institute of Technology in 1940, he acquired a doctorate in theoretical physics at the University of California, Berkeley under Robert Oppenheimer.

He believed that the traditional interpretation of quantum mechanics – with its basis in uncertainty was not complete. He introduced the idea of an “implicate order,” which created much controversy. He tried to open the door to a much deeper theory of the nature of reality, and in the process he hoped that one could find the missing pieces of the quantum mechanics puzzle, for which Albert Einstein had spent decades searching.

Bohm was also a very courageous human being. He was eventually forced to give up his U.S. citizenship and leave America because of McCarthy’s anti-communist persecutions. As a result, he spent years in exile, moving around, before he finally settled down at Birkbeck College in England.

As he grew older and more philosophical, he started another collaboration that lasted for many years, with the Indian mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Together, they explored the nature of consciousness and human transformation, of reality and transcendence. Physics alone was for Bohm never enough to describe the nature of our existence.

He continued his work in quantum physics past his retirement in 1987, writing the posthumously published “The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory (1993)”, in collaboration with his long-time friend Basil Hiley. He died of a heart failure in Hendon, London, on 27 October 1992. Bohm was 74 years old.

From the Wikipedia:

“Bohm advanced the view that the old Cartesian model of reality (that there were two interacting kinds of substance – mental and physical) was limited, in the light of developments in quantum physics. He developed in detail a mathematical and physical theory of implicate and explicate order to complement it. He also believed that the working of the brain, at the cellular level, obeyed the mathematics of some quantum effects, and postulated that thought was distributed and non-localised in the way that quantum entities do not readily fit into our conventional model of space and time.

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. In this his epistemology mirrored his ontological viewpoint. Due to his youthful Communist affiliations, Bohm was targeted during the McCarthy era, leading him to leave the United States. He pursued his scientific career in several countries, becoming first a Brazilian, then a British, citizen.”

Miscellaneous Quotes:

  • Some time ago there was an anthropologist who lived for a long while with a North American tribe. It was a small group of about this size. The hunter-gatherers have typically lived in groups of twenty to forty. Agricultural group units are much larger. Now, from time to time that tribe met like this in a circle. They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose. They made no decisions. There was no leader. And everybody could participate. There may have been wise men or wise women who were listened to a bit more – the older ones – but everybody could talk. The meeting went on, until it finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and the group dispersed. Yet after that, everybody seemed to know what to do, because they understood each other so well. Then they could get together in smaller groups and do something or decide things. (On Dialogue, p.6)
  • “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….” D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p.ix
  • “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?”  D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p. ix
  • “…awakening…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 beings 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.”   D. Bohm, _Unfolding Meaning_, p. 175
  • “Indeed, 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.”  D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness_, p. x
  • “If [man] 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 a border then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.” D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p. xi
  • “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.”  D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p.xiv
  • “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.” D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness_, p. 11
  • “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, to they’ll start with these real things as if they just suddenly got there by themselves, or evolved in nature by themselves. That’s [a] mistake that thought makes. It produces a result, and then it says, I didn’t do it; it’s there by itself, and I must correct it. But if thought is constantly making this result and then saying, ‘I’ve got to stop it’, this is absurd. Because thought is caught up in this absurdity, it is producing all sorts of negative consequences, then treating them as independent and saying, I must stop them.” D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness_, p. 14
  • “[Thought] seems to have some inertia, a tendency to continue. It seems to have a necessity that we keep on doing it. However … 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.” D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness_, p. 15
  • “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.” D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness, p. 25
  • “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 principle source of insecurity came to be the operation of thought itself.”  D. Bohm & Mark Edwards, _Changing Consciousness_, p. 84
  • “…it is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today. Moreover, it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated.”  David Bohm & David Peat, _Science Order, and Creativity_, p 240
  • “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.” David Bohm & David Peat, _Science Order, and Creativity_, p. 241
  • “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.” David Bohm & David Peat, _Science Order, and Creativity_, p.247

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