Meditation Blog : April 2005 Archives

David Bohm on Thought

Recently I wrote an introductory entry about the American physicist David Bohm, a friend of both Einstein and J. Krishnamurti, and an accomplished scientist and philosopher in his own right. Here I want to further discuss his ideas on thought, fragmentation, and wholeness, as detailed in his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order."

Two of my favorite voices on such matters are J. Krishnamurti and Toni Packer, but neither of them present an overarching framework or theory for their ideas (which makes it harder for Krishnamurti's work to be accepted within an academic setting). As a working physicist and professor, at universities such as Princeton and the University of London, Bohm had the academic focus and bent to present an overall framework for his ideas. For a few entries, I'd like to explore some of this framework.

A key focus in Bohm's work was to understand thought more clearly. In his view, thought, when misapplied, lies at the root of the division and conflict that fragments humanity within and without. Bohm has a more expansive or systemic view of thought than we commonly consider (see also, his book "Thought as a System"), so let's look at how he defines it:

What is the process of thought? Thought is, in essence, the active response of memory in every phase of life. We include in thought the intellectual, emotional, sensuous, muscular and physical responses of memory. These are all aspects of one indissoluble process. To treat them separately makes for fragmentation and confusion. All these are one process of response of memory to each actual situation, which response in turn leads to a further contribution to memory, thus conditioning the next thought. [Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. 64.]

The main point here is that thought, as Bohm terms it, is more than simple ideation. It includes the whole movement of memory in its pervasive workings throughout the body and brain. He continues:

One of the earliest and most primitive forms of thought is, for example, just the memory of pleasure or pain, in conjunction with a visual, auditory, or olfactory image that may be evoked by an object or a situation. It is common in our culture to regard memories involving image content as separate from those involving feeling. It is clear, however, that the whole meaning of such a memory is just the conjunction of the image with its feeling, which (along with the intellectual content and the physical reaction) constitutes the totality of the judgment as to whether what is remembered is good or bad, desirable or not, etc. [Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. 64.]

Bohm follows with another essential point, which is that thought is a material process (albeit a subtle one) that operates in a conditioned, mechanical manner; the assumption that thought is ethereal or insubstantial is an incorrect one:

It is clear that thought considered in this way as the response of memory, is basically mechanical in its order of operation. Either it is a repetition of some previously existent structure drawn from memory, or else it is some combination arrangement and organization of these memories into further structures of ideas, concepts, categories, etc. These combinations may possess a certain kind of novelty resulting from the fortuitous interplay of elements of memory, but it is clear that such novelty is still essentially mechanical (like the new combinations appearing in a kaleidoscope).... Now, there is a great deal of evidence indicating that thought is basically a material process. For example, it has been observed in a wide variety of contexts that thought is inseparable from electrical and chemical activity in the brain and nervous system, and from concomitant tensions and movements of muscles. [Wholeness and the Implicate Order, pp. 64-66.]

So, this is our starting point, examining not just the content of thought, but the structure and process of thinking itself. We'll elaborate further on Bohm's theories in a subsequent entry.

April 29, 2005 | Science | Permalink

Blog Heaven

Thanks to Beliefnet for including the Meditation Blog in Blog Heaven — a new section of Beliefnet's web site. Blog Heaven compiles the latest posts from "the best blogs about religion and spirituality."

Charles W. Bell, a columnist at the New York Daily News, writes more:

Beliefnet, one of the powerhouses in online spirituality, notes that the Web can overwhelm surfers, especially when it comes to spiritual blogs. There are so many it's impossible to keep up.

To help seekers, Beliefnet rounded up some of its favorite blogs (short for Web logs), and its picks reflect the staggering options out there.

Beliefnet suggested a visit to The Revealer, which is run out of New York University's Center for Religion and Media. It is a gold mine of information on what is new, with commentaries and links to other blogs.

But among its many other recommendations are sites for progressive Christians (The Village Gate), nonbelievers (The Raving Atheist), conservative evangelicals (Evangelical Outpost) and things kosher (Kosher Blog).

April 24, 2005 | Various | Permalink

David Bohm and Wholeness

A recent New York Times article asked the question, "Who is the next Einstein?" Some of the notable scientists interviewed were aptly skeptical of the query:

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist and best-selling author, who is often so mentioned, has said that such comparisons have less to do with his own achievements than the media's need for heroes.

I mention the article as a way of introduction to David Bohm (1917-1992), for it's reported that Einstein once privately called Bohm his "intellectual successor." At the time, Bohm was a colleague and friend of Einstein's at Princeton. The two were working on refining a theory of quantum mechanics, with Einstein saying, "If anyone can do it, then it will be Bohm."

In later years, Bohm encountered the writings of J. Krishnamurti. He was struck by the way Krishnamurti's observations echoed his own investigations into quantum mechanics. Bohm sought out Krishnamurti and the two became close, participating in regular conversations and dialogues of inquiry over the years.

Bohm's friend and biographer, F. David Peat, said of Bohm:

Certainly he did say that the two most important encounters in his life were with Einstein and Krishnamurti. He felt something similar between the two men — the great, enormous energy that both of them had, and the intensity, and the honesty. And with each of them he had a deep friendship, but at an impersonal rather than a personal level. I think both men were quite important to him, but certainly with Krishnamurti the dialogues they had went very, very deep.

Though he was one of the most important physicists of the twentieth century, Bohm's ideas were not always well-received by his colleagues. In turn, Bohm criticized the mainstream course of physics, asserting that it was more concerned with discrete mathematical solutions than a broad-based understanding. Einstein concurred, he wrote to Bohm in a letter, "If this is the way things are going, then there's no point in my doing physics anymore."

Bohm's book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order" (1980), contains an overview of his theories on the nature of reality. In the introduction, he writes:

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. [Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. x.]

Where his fellow physicists were focusing on the pieces, smashing atoms into smaller and smaller particles, Bohm was interested in the whole. He believed that a deeper level of order existed, and that what we commonly view as separate has an underlying connection, which he termed the "implicate order." In an interview, Bohm's biographer Peat, a fellow physicist, elaborates:

Then there was his theory of the implicate order. The world we seem to live in — the world of classical objects, the world of Newtonian physics — Dave referred to as the "explicate order." He felt that what we take for reality is only one particular level or perception of order. And underneath that is what he called the "implicate order," the enfolded order in which things are folded together and deeply interconnected, and out of which the explicate order unfolds. The explicate is only, you could say, the froth on top of the milk and the implicate order is much deeper. It includes not only matter, but consciousness; it's only in the explicate order that we tend to break them apart, to see them as two separate things. Dave spent a great deal of time in the last decades of his life trying to find a mathematical expression for this vision of reality.

Considering the question of a "next Einstein" posed by the New York Times article, let's see what Bohm had to say in a similarly-themed passage from "Wholeness and the Implicate Order":

To develop new insight into fragmentation and wholeness requires a creative work even more difficult than that needed to make fundamental new discoveries in science, or great and original works of art. It might in this context be said that one who is similar to Einstein in creativity is not one who imitates Einstein's ideas, nor even one who applies these ideas in new ways, rather, it is the one who learns from Einstein and then goes on to do something original, which is able to assimilate what is valid in Einstein's work and yet goes beyond this in qualitatively new ways. [Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. 31.]

Bohm was certainly investigating these "new ways," and we'll explore more of his ideas in another entry.


Encyclopedia entry on David Bohm at Wikipedia

Interview with Bohm's biographer, F. David Peat

Interview with David Bohm

David Bohm's books at

"The Limits of Thought," a book containing dialogues between Bohm and J. Krishnamurti

"Infinite Potential," Peat's biography on Bohm

April 19, 2005 | Science | Permalink

A Sideways Look at Film

The first time I saw "Sideways" was in the theater, shortly after it was released last year. I enjoyed it a lot, thinking it almost pitch-perfect.
However, there was one part I found fault with — an intimate backporch scene in which Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen discuss their love of wine. When Giamatti's character, the struggling Miles, explains his passion for pinot noir, an underdog grape, his speech seemed to act as a too obvious metaphor for his character's life. Friends of mine had a similar response.

Watching the movie a second time last night, I was a little apprehensive when that scene arrived. Aware of my previous reaction, I tried to stay with the characters as they spoke, entering the scene in a fashion, rather than analyzing it from the outside. On this occasion the scene turned out to be plausible instead of hackneyed.

It seems that when we watch a film we're simultaneously thinking about it, reacting one way or another. We form opinions that solidify — it was a good film, or a bad one — and we identify with them, though they may be shaped by expectation, mood, or who we're with. To one degree or another, when watching a movie we suspend disbelief, becoming involved in a world constructed at twenty-four frames per second. But perhaps now and again, we can take a step back, and observe the process of watching itself — investigating how the mind experiences and responds to the moving image.

April 14, 2005 | Culture | Permalink

Worldy Baggage

From today's New York Times, can the director of a meditation center maintain his cool when an airline loses his luggage?

April 12, 2005 | Culture | Permalink

Meditation Is Observation

How do we understand meditation? The word is used in a variety of ways and can signify different things. To explain what we mean by meditation, let's try some different words.

To put it simply, one can say that meditation is observation. So what happens when we observe? In observation, the mind has shifted from thinking to awareness. When thinking is predominant, attention is absorbed internally within a stream of thoughts. Thought is a limited, material construct—a representation of reality. In awareness, attention is open, covalent with a changing, unfixed reality—the breeze on the skin, the sunlight reflecting on concrete, the pen in the hand.

Observation, or awareness, is the release of thinking. Thought is mental effort, tension. For example, in the shift from thinking to observation, we can notice the muscular tension in the face relaxing. Observation is a relaxed alertness that requires no effort. We may ask, "How do we switch from thinking to awareness?" There is no method, such a question comes from thought itself. As does the question, "How can I maintain this awareness permanently?" Observation can't be produced by thought, it is present when thinking is released.

In her book, "The Work of This Moment," Toni Packer has some eloquent words on the subject:

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks—images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody. This new mind that is no-mind is free of duality—there is no doer in it and nothing to be done.

The moment duality ceases, energy that has been tied up in conflict and division begins to function wholly, intelligently, caringly. The moment self-centeredness takes over the mind, energy is blocked and diverted in fearing and wanting; one is isolated in one's pleasures, pain, and sorrow. The moment this process is completely revealed in the light of impartial awareness, energy gathers and flows freely, undividedly, all-embracingly.

Awareness, insight, enlightenment, wholeness—whatever words one pay pick to label what cannot be caught in words—is not the effect of a cause. Activity does not destroy it and sitting does not create it. It isn't a product of anything—no technique, method, environment, tradition, posture, activity, or nonactivity can create it. It is there, uncreated, freely functioning in wisdom and love, when self-centered conditioning is clearly revealed in all its grossness and subtleness and defused in the light of understanding.

[The Work of This Moment, p.61.]

April 11, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink


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