2. Bohmian Rhapsody

There is no reason to divide the world into parts.

David Bohm

David Bohm

For ages, religions had a monopoly in explaining the world. Religious books and traditions offered a sound ground to build a Ancient philosophers and scientists challenged the authority of the churches in a serious way. 

Reason and logic were believed to be able to explain what the universe is and what our place here is.worldview.

Reason and logic cannot explain the universe. 

In the 17th century, the mechanistic worldview took a strong hold due to new theories in physics and biology. Many people believed that the laws of nature would soon be revealed and the world could be understood and explained. This did not happen.

At the beginning of the 20th century, two revolutionary theories shook the foundations of the mechanistic worldview. First, Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity in 1905 and at the same time, Max Planck and Niels Bohr with their colleagues started to develop ideas that were to become the body of quantum theory.

According to quantum physics, atoms are not solid matter, as people had for centuries believed. Particles are energy and fields, and they are so connected to each other that it is not possible to say that they are separate.

The new ideas were literally inexplicable. They were weird, abstract and against the senses and common sense.

Many philosophers gave up the ideology of one-truth-suits-all and scientists began to concentrate more on details than understanding the whole.

David Bohm was among the few who were puzzled by the contradiction between quantum physics and relativity theory. Both of them simply cannot be true.

In quantum physics, mechanical cause-and-effect phenomena do not hold in the particle level and therefore there is no way to predict what is happening at the subatomic level. Albert Einstein opposed this and expressed it in his famous sentence: "I am convinced that God does not play dice with the world".

The invisible link

The leading physicists could not find a common view of what existence is about. Bohm could not understand why his colleagues were happy if they could explain or predict the results in their experiments.

The new physics is against common sense.

Bohm was interested in general philosophical questions related to physics. He especially tried to understand the meaning of the point raised by quantum physics that energy is found to be existent as discrete units. Yet they are not divisible.

Bohm explained in an interview in 1978: "If two things interact by means of an energy that cannot be divided, that link is indivisible. Therefore, fundamentally, the entire universe is indivisible and in particular, it means that the thing observed and the apparatus which observes it cannot be really separated. In fact, whenever you observe, the thing observed is changed."

The act of observation changes the thing observed.

This means that the thing observed is changed or transformed by the very act of observation. Bohm had noticed this in his own thinking. Through observing his thoughts in detail changed the whole train of thought.

To Bohm, physics is not limited to physical and measurable phenomena only, he felt that there was a parallel between consciousness and matter. They are alike. The movement we see outside is essential to what we feel inside.

Consciousness and matter are alike.

Most scientists were very pragmatically oriented and they were not very interested in deeper questions. Bohm mentions some exceptions. Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and William James were among the few that inspired him to go deeper and further. But meeting Krishnamurti made him raise the bar and move the focus beyond consciousness.

The long and winding road

David Bohm was born in America on 20th December 1917. He studied physics at Pennsylvania State University and graduated in 1939.

His talents were noticed and he was subsequently asked by Robert J. Oppenheimer to join the top-secret Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, leading to the development of the atom bomb. The state authorities, however, rejected Bohm's participation because he sympathized with communistic ideas.

According to Bohm's biography Infinite Potential, the theoretical calculations he made of the collision of protons and deuterons proved to be very useful in the project.

After the war, Bohm moved to Princeton University where he befriended and worked with Albert Einstein. Besides science, Einstein was also interested in human and social issues.

Young Bohm's interest in communism produced the biggest trauma of his life. He was exiled from his home country because he refused to testify against his colleagues in the McCarthy trials in May 1949. The following year he was charged for refusing to answer questions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Later Bohm was cleared of all charges, but Princeton University refused to renew his contract, in spite of strong support from Professor Einstein.

For one decade the humiliated, frustrated and depressed physicist studied, taught and wrote. After four years in Brazil, Bohm got a post in Israel after Einstein had recommended him. After two years he moved to Bristol and then to the Birkbeck College of London University, where for 25 academic years from 1961 to 1987 he was the professor of theoretical physics and continued working until his death in October 1992.

He had just finished his book The Undivided Universe (with Basil J. Hiley) and about to start writing a new one was about the mind with Paavo Pylkkänen.

Bohm worked with many renowned physicists but made his own path trying to understand if the contradiction between quantum theory and relativity theory could be solved. Albert Einstein was very supportive, but Bohm also found the ideas of Niels Bohr inspiring, because in them there was a serious attempt to understand the nature and structure of reality.

In discussions with these superheroes of physics, Bohm noticed that they were not ready to question their own convictions. In doing so they were very human, thinking that they themselves were right and their opponent was wrong.

This is true in all of us, Bohm was later to notice.

From fragments to wholeness

Bohm showed his hand already in his first book on quantum theory in 1951. It was simply called Quantum Theory. Bohm writes that "there is no reason to divide the world into different parts. One should start from the supposition that the whole universe is an undivided whole and is in perpetual change".

There is no reason to divide the world into different parts.

The same basic idea was refined into a theory and published in 1980 in the book Wholeness and the Implicate Order. According to this theory, reality consists of two kinds of orders. One is the explicate order, known to us from classical physics, and the other is the essential part which Bohm calls the implicate order.

In the last years of his life, Bohm tried to figure out how to help people see the 'actual' world. We think of and see the world as consisting of separate particles and fields, but according to the quantum view everything is fundamentally connected to everything and thus cannot be seen as independent of its surroundings.

Living situation reveals the true nature of things.

It has taken years before for these discoveries to begin affecting our way of seeing reality. Our human way of emphasizing details leads to wrong interpretations and conflicts in all areas of life. The true nature of things can be revealed only when they are examined in a living situation.

We are not whole, because we have divided the world into parts that we see as separate and slowly changing. In science and politics, this fragmentation and inertia is very clearly seen. It exists in all areas of our lives.

This mechanistic and fragmentary way of seeing life is powered by not only our education and long traditions, but also by our daily perceptions, which emphasize the idea of individual existence.

There is no separation

Quantum physics challenged this belief but very few were interested in checking their own views because our own identity feels real and obvious.

Physics challenged our traditional worldview in two domains. First, Einstein with his relativity theory crushed the belief of time and space as absolute. Then, quantum theory showed that the secret of matter will never be exposed by exploring matter because there is no solid matter at the particle level.

These findings reveal a bigger mistake in our worldview than the one that says that the earth is the centre of the universe. They failed to change our view of ourselves.

Nor did they lead to a unified and shared idea of what reality is. On the contrary, they divided physicists into cliques. Some believed and trusted in quantum mechanics while others thought there was something missing. Einstein belonged to the latter group and, as mentioned, his criticism was especially focused on the unpredictability of particle phenomena.

Bohm tried to find a compromise, supported by Einstein. The majority of physicists showed no interest and many of them thought that Bohm was wasting his time.

Our reality is a perception.

One possible solution could be found by investigating not what reality is but how our perception makes the images of reality. After all, our reality is a perception.

In describing reality, mechanistic theories suppose that the observer and the observed are two different things: there is somebody looking at something. They affect each other but the essential question is, do we assume them to be separate or not.

In quantum physics "different" objects are two sides of the same coin, not separate but one movement affecting each other. When we throw a coin, its sides don't move separately.

Assumptions affect what we see.

This revelation led to suspicion of the concept of objective reality. Perhaps theories trying to describe the outside phenomena tell us more about the assumptions people make in investigating the world than they describe the actuality.

Bohm felt that scientists closed their eyes and could not see how profoundly the basis of scientific enquiry was shaken by the new physics. If there is no objective reality, all our concepts and theories are just suppositions, more or less fantasy and imagination.

Active role in the whole

There is one more step to take which is crucial in many ways. If we ask the meaning of everything and question our place in the universe we can come to two possible conclusions.

We create our inner world.

The first view is that we are passive observers interpreting the world. The second is that we are actively involved in the whole, creating our own world. The latter option changed Bohm's attitude to life and inspired him to explore consciousness, awareness, mind, language, observation, and meanings in a radical way.

In his book Science, Order and Creativity published in 1987, Bohm doubts that science can solve the fundamental questions. It is no wonder then that all his life he had to face misunderstanding, underestimation and even hostility from his fellow scientists. He was a thorn in their flesh.

Bohm starts from the assumption that the world is an undivided wholeness and its fundamental order is implicate. The world we see with our senses and instruments is only an unfolded part of an enfolded wholeness.

A fundamental change in paradigm would transform not only our thinking but also our actions in our daily life. The individualistic approach cherished by us has produced self-centred behaviour, where self-interest is more important than the common good.

Our assumptions are fundamentally unsustainable.

Science, philosophies, politics, and religions have not produced the means to help us out of this trap because their basic assumptions are fundamentally unsustainable.

Bohm searched, found and showed us the missing link, the reason for our collective illusion that we all live with.

The solution is simple: to see the world as it is. To do that we must change our worldview. That is not an easy task.