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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


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