An Interview with David Bohm, English Part 1
Interviewer: And now in 20 min you are going to have a dialogue with the scientists here at the Niels Bohr institute. It’s been some decades since your ideas have been presented here hasn’t it?
Bohm: Yes, well I came here in 1957 for one month in the summer and then again in ‘58. Now at that time I was just moving from Israel to England and we spend a month here at the institute. We talked about physics mostly at that time.
Interviewer: Do you find that the kind of ideas that you present are easily understood in an environment like the Bohr institute.
Bohm: Well, I haven’t tried the Bohr institute yet, I just came. But I think that scientists find it harder, in some ways, than many other people you see, then some other people. Because there is still a strong commitment, perhaps partly unconscious, to the old atomistic worldview.
Interviewer: So what you’re saying is that science has shown us something that scientists do not want to see?
Bohm: Well, they have become so used to the way of seeing it, that they don’t want to change, you see they feel uncomfortable about changing. And they feel there’s no reason to change, they say we’re doing so well now, why should we change. In one sense it looks as if we’re doing very well, you see, but if you look at the broader view, it looks very dangerous.
Interviewer: Now many people are talking about this new worldview that’s coming up these years. Do you see a new worldview coming up in the western world?
Bohm: Well, in a certain part of the western world, yes. I think a world view in which there’s more focus on wholeness and process rather that on analysis and to parts and more static constituents.
Interviewer: But does that come up because we want it, or because that we’re forced to take on it?
Bohm: Well probably both, I mean, I think a certain fraction of the people want it. Perhaps they’re tired of the old one, they don’t feel it’s working. And also there is some evidence for it, I think especially in physics and probably in other sciences as well. The evidence in physics comes partly from relativity and partly from quantum theory. Perhaps more from quantum theory than from relativity.
Interviewer: And what kind of evidence is that?
Bohm: Well, in relativity we have the notion of the universal field which is dynamic, flowing and according to Einstein particles should eventually emerge out of this as singularities or very strong regions, stable pulses of field, which gradually emerge, the fields gradually emerge with other particles. So we have an unbroken universe which is in constant flow, dynamically, and even the very notions of space and time have become relative, which were previously absolute. And it may even go on to singularities like a black hole, the supposed beginning of the universe, where the present laws would break down all together. All concepts that we know. So that’s a very revolutionary view compared with what we had, say, a century ago.
And then there’s quantum theory, which perhaps is more revolutionary. It’s hard to explain that in a short time, but there are 3 main features I’d say. One is the notion that a quantum process is in some sense indivisible, that it is one whole, which cannot, it can be broken but then it becomes an entirely different process, so each process is a whole, otherwise it can’t be what it is, and all the quantum processes of movement are linked as it where in one whole.
Now the second point is the wave particle duality, the discovery that, say electrons, which are classically particles, can behave statistically like waves in a more precise experiment, and light, which is classically a wave, can behave like a particle in a more precise experiment. So it seems we have this 2 aspects which depend on how the system is treated, context dependent, which is quite different from the classical idea that whether it’s a wave or a particle is intrinsic.
Now the third point is what’s non-locality. That we find that in certain conditions there’s apparently an immediate connection of distant particles. It’s rather hard to explain, we can use it for signals but still it seems to be there. It’s connected with the experiment of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen and has been checked by, you they’ve been tested by Bell’s theorem aspects experiment. It seems pretty well established, right. Both theoretically and experimentally.
Again all of these you see combined to the notion that the universe is a kind of indivisible whole, rather than an analysed into constituent elements which interact has separately existent.
Interviewer: But how much can you tell about this indivisible whole?
Bohm: Well, we can tell quite a bit in the sense that all the laws of quantum mechanics are concerned with it you see. I mean you can tell, well I don’t know what you want to know, but I mean all the laws you compute, the properties of all sorts of things. For example, take superconductivity. At high temperature the electrons will generally scatter of obstacles and metals. And therefore there will be a resistance for the current flow would stop unless it’s maintained by a voltage. At very low temperatures and certain metals the current flow is indefinitely without scattering and that is as a quantum effect.
Now as far as, if you analyse it, you can see that it’s due to the fact that the electrons are a sort of locked, held together in summary by these non-local interactions. So that if there is an obstacle they go around and reform rather than scatter. It’s rather than a ballet dance, that people going around and reform as in a crowd each person is following his own personal purpose and they all scatter, they all get into each others way.
Interviewer: So this unity also creates a kind of ordering of things?
Bohm: Yes, it can create a kind of ordering of things. But at the same time it explains, you can see that there are situations where we have this high degree of order and others where we don’t. That it’s possible within the mathematics to see that when something called the wavefunction, represented as a set up product of independent factors, and all the particles behave independently, but then in a more general situation they don’t. You can explain why we have so much independence in ordinary experience and yet why in a more careful probing we find order, new kinds of order.
So the classical level, the Newtonian level, is explained by quantum mechanics as a limiting case. Now the more, you have a whole, but the whole determines itself to behave somewhat like independent parts in many cases. So even whether it’s going to behave like parts is determined by the whole, right.
Interviewer: But what we can see is the parts rather than the whole.
Bohm: Well, in physics we see the parts because that’s the way we approached it the last few centuries. I don’t know if, you see, I think our perception is influenced by our way of thinking. So that we accept this mechanical way of looking at things. But if you went back a thousand or two thousand years, I don’t think people actually saw the particles as primary. The way we see depends on the way we think.
Interviewer: But is it a choice, do we have to choose between the whole and the parts?
Bohm: No, well you see, it’s a question or whether you have a holistic approach, which puts the whole as primary. In classical physics the parts are the primary concept and the whole is only an auxiliary concept which is convenient, you have many parts working together like a machine. But the parts are taken as the basic reality. And seeing we just subjectively we find it convenient to think about the whole. But in quantum mechanics I think there’s something else, that the whole is object and the parts are the result of analysis. But we have large areas where the whole behaves to some extend like independent parts.
Interviewer: So you’re saying it’s really us that make up the parts?