An Introduction to David Bohm

David Bohm, who was best known as a theoretical physicist who worked in quantum theory, was not trying to find an ultimate, final theory of reality. Bohm referred to one of his most profound theories, the Implicate Order, a theory which may have laid the foundation for the next revolution in science, as ‘merely a concept’ and as an ‘appearance’:

“Even the Implicate Order is merely a concept. So, even that should turn out to be an appearance. But we say, by bringing in deeper, more penetrating appearances we understand better. And that is all. We are never going to be able to grasp the whole [through concepts].”

While Bohm made many original contributions to quantum theory and other areas of science his greater interest was in a meditation that transformed the mind. Bohm referred to the theory of the Implicate Order as a kind of bridge:

“I think that meditation would even bring us out of all [the difficulties] we’ve been talking about. You see, the point is that we have been talking about something which is a kind of bridge. This whole construction of the Implicate Order is a kind of bridge. We can put it in our ordinary language but its implication leads somewhere beyond. At the same time, however, if you don’t cross the bridge and leave it behind, you know, you’re always on the bridge. No use being there … aside from its utility in understanding matter, the bridge or pier would help us to loosen our way of considering consciousness so that it doesn’t hold so rigidly.”

But it wasn’t studying concepts that Bohm called for, even though that could be of assistance in some ways. Instead Bohm said we must leave thought behind:

“The actuality of this 3n-dimensional consciousness could not be attained by studying physics with our three-dimensional consciousness. It might form a bridge or pier of some sort that moves us a certain way but, some where we’ve got to leave thought behind, and come to this emptiness of this manifest thought altogether and of the conditioning of the nonmanifest mind by the seeds of manifest thought. In other words meditation actually transforms the mind. It transforms consciousness.”

Bohm went on to propose that thought is the source of disorder and the source of humanity’s problems. Bohm’s contributions to science are monumental but his inquiries into and proposals about the processes that generate human activity are so important that they may be the best guidance humanity has to divert itself from the self-destructive path it is on. Bohm epitomized his work on thought in the following statement:

“We could say that practically all the problems of the human race are due to the fact that thought is not proprioceptive.”

Bohm’s work on perception and proprioception was born of his exhaustive capacity to consider the totality of factors informing one’s activity. Bohm saw science as primarily an endeavour of perception and finding new ways to extend perception into more subtle domains. Bohm referred to thought as a static by-product of this perceptive process and Bohm considered perception fundamental. In regards to proprioception consider the following discourse by Bohm:

“But in fact you can get evidence that thoughts and feelings move as a processes on their own; they are not being run by “me.” They are not being produced by the me, and they are not being experienced by the me.

There is, however, some self-reference built into this whole system. There is what is called proprioception, or “self-perception”. Physically, a person is aware immediately that he has moved a part of his body. If some outside force suddenly moved your arm, you could tell that that is different from having moved it yourself. The nerves are built so as to be able to know that. … So there is proprioception in the body – the distinction between actions which originate in the body, and those which originate outside, is perceived as a functional difference. In this light, the notion that there is a self as a kind of centre, in the body as a centre of activity, is natural. Animals obviously have it too, and they can make that distinction. We can therefore say that this notion of “I” cannot be entirely wrong, or it probably would never have arisen.

The question is: how does this natural, useful distinction turn into the contradictions of the ego? Something that was correct and useful has somehow developed in way which has gone wrong. Thought lacks proprioception, and we have got to learn, somehow, to observe thought. In the case of observing the body, you can tell that observation is somehow taking place – even when there is no sense of a distinct observer.

Is it possible for thought similarly to observe itself, to see what it is doing, perhaps by awakening some other sense of what thought is, possibly through attention? In that way, thought may become proprioceptive. It will know what it is doing and it will not create a mess.”

Bohm’s greatest influence was the Eastern teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti. In regards to Krishnamurti Bohm stated that:

“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.”

Bohm felt that Krishnamurti had unique perceptions into the common ground of humankind. Bohm himself had notions of this common ground that his numerous inquiries had pointed him to. The quarter of a century Bohm spent with Krishnamurti left a legacy of dialogues of which the importance of should not be underestimated. Since meeting Krishnamurti in the early 60’s Bohm was forever changed and this was reflected in all of his work there forth. Sadly some people who are followers of Bohm have tried to ignore his association with Krishnamurti and vice versa.

Wholeness permeated Bohm’s work as undivided wholeness was what Bohm felt to be the actual state of affairs and any notion of separate parts was a significant abstraction. It was thought that had the ability to fragment and break up things that were whole into imagined parts. But when thought didn’t see it was doing this and it took the fragments to be realities. The underlying wholeness would go unperceived on account of non-investigation. Bohm defined illusions as persistently false appearances and a lack of direct perception into the process generating the appearance was what allowed the appearance to be constantly recreated. The ultimate illusion for Bohm was the ego process. Bohm called for sustained attention to the process of thought as the way to see through this illusion.

From this very limited, brief introduction it is hoped that a glimpse of Bohm’s strong originality and uniqueness was offered. To refer to Bohm as just a Maverick scientist would be far too limiting. Bohm never separated philosophy from Science anyway as all scientific activity had underlying philosophical assumptions tethered to it. Bohm went beyond science and explored the vary source of his being along with the processes of perception and thought. Bohm called for something beyond any activity of thought and knowledge. Bohm questioned if he would even go into science again as the partial rationality of science continues to be used by the culture that is polluted by the incoherence of thought. Bohm’s work is exceptionally relevant to virtually all the crises humanity is presently facing for he appears to have gotten to the common source of those crises.