An Interview with David Bohm, English Part 2


Bohm: We actually make up everything, in the sense that all these theories are made up by us, but in these theories we place the parts, we may either place the parts as fundamental or the whole as fundamental. Now quantum mechanics is placing the whole as fundamental, that’s I think the most basic change it makes. Finally every theory is made up by us and we’re going to see if we can apply it coherently to reality. I think we could make an infinity of different kinds of theories and some of them would be more coherent than others. For example somebody mentally disturbed has another theory which we think is incoherent but to him it looks coherent, right. Because we can always ignore what is not working, we say we’ll solve that later.

Interviewer: You just said that in reality we make it all up, not just the parts but also the whole. Could you explain that?

Bohm: Well, I think that that’s the question. What is the relationship of theory to reality. Now one view is that it reflects reality, that it corresponds to reality. Now I think that a view is only limited, like a map is said to correspond to a city. But there is nothing in the map that corresponds to anything in the city, on the map you see dots and prints which is vaguely defined and the city is also vaguely defined. So what corresponds is certain abstractions that we abstract. But the map, the real test of the map is that it guides us correctly through the city. And if it is a wrong map we will find incoherence in our action, right. Now ..

Interviewer: But it’s not that you can compare this bit of the map, this bit of the city ..

Bohm: Well, only in a rough sense. That’s an abstraction. You can compare it, but it’s abstract. Therefore we make it all up, the question is how coherent is it when we try to make it work. That’s really the key. Now some theories are more coherent than others, but it’s often hard to tell. Because when we come to a theory as broad as a worldview, we find it very hard to detect incoherence because the worldview tends to state that things that don’t fit or are irrelevant or else says we’re gonna get them in order later, we haven’t solved that problem yet. So incoherence can easily be not noticed.

But if people are very, and also people would like not to have their worldviews questioned because they got used to them and feel comfortable with them. So therefore it’s very hard to question a worldview.

Interviewer: But in effect, that’s what you are doing?

Bohm: Yes.

Interviewer: And in effect you are questioning the whole western worldview?

Bohm: Yes, well I think all the worldviews have to be questioned. The eastern, the western. You see the west implicitly questioned the eastern worldview. Every worldview, I think, is limited. But I think the western worldviews limits have not been seen. And we need to go to a broader view, not necessary back to the eastern, though it may include some of the eastern. I think we need a kind of dialogue of these worldviews to go to something beyond.

Interviewer: Where do you see the limits of the western worldview?

Bohm: Well, just in the way that it focuses too much on analysis and it tends to lead to fragmentation. Now what I mean by fragmentation is not just division, distinction, because the parts and the whole are correlative concepts. A part is a part only because it’s part of the whole like a machine or a watch. Now a fragment is something you mean to break it up, to smash. So if you smash the watch you get fragments. Now the western view, it aims at getting the true parts of the universe, but in some ways perhaps it gets fragments. To some extend in physics it’s much more so, in fields like biology, psychology, sociology and so on.

Now if you break it up falsely into fragments then you’re confused, you’re going to treat these separate when they’re not. And also you’re gonna unity what’s in the fragment when it’s not united. So it leads to confusion.

Interviewer: So in the west you confuse the part for the whole and vice versa.

Bohm: Yeah, you get confused about the part and the whole because you take a fragment as an independent whole.

Interviewer: But if you take the true whole, that includes everything. It would also include you and your perception of the whole.

Bohm: Yes.

Interviewer: So could you ever tell your way of perceiving the whole to anyone else?

Bohm: Well, we can have a dialogue and begin to exchange, I can’t tell you unless we’re talking together. We have to exchange our views on that. Now and then there comes the problem if we’re ready to listen to someone elses worldview, seriously. Without resistance, without opposition. But I think the observer is an intrinsic part of the whole.

That’s what quantum mechanics is teaching us too in physics. That the observing instrument is just as much part of the whole and therefore because of the possibility of the non-local interactions in quantum mechanics, when an observation is made, the two systems are not really distinct. Therefore they participate in each other, you cannot therefore get an unambiguous meaning to the measurement.

The same happens between human beings. If somebody tries to measure somebody else, talk to him, there’s a mutual change which makes it impossible to get an unambiguous attribution of qualities.

Interviewer: It’s not possible to say what David Bohm would have said in another interview? Tomorrow at the same time.

Bohm: No. Because we’re participating together. So what I am is affected by what you’re doing and what you are and vice versa. That’s exactly the sort of thing that happens in quantum mechanical observations.

Interviewer: Okay, if I say then that when I think about the whole and the part, I end up understanding that if you understand the whole you’re not able to tell it to anyone else because then you step out of the whole and become a part.

Bohm: Well, I think there’s a kind of communication, and this is the point about having a different worldview, there is a kind of communication that does not begin by denying wholeness. If you say, here am I and there are you then we have already divided it. But perhaps we communicate in the spirit of the whole without assuming that division.

That means that I’m not trying to tell you what I think, you not trying to tell me, but rather together we’re trying to discover how we’re going to think together. Do you see the difference?

Interviewer: Indeed. Is that possible in ordinary language?

Bohm: Yes, I think it is. It depends on the attitude rather than the language. Our language is developed to emphasise the parts, but we can still use it differently. For example poetry uses language differently and it’s always possible to use language in new ways.

Interviewer: So the basic obstacle is the attitude of the people involved than the theoretical or verbal ..

Bohm: Yes, we could improve the language, maybe it someday it would improve in that regard. But we can proceed without that.

Interviewer: Now this attitude problem of discussing the wholeness, would then be coupled to the question of whether the new worldview is something that you’re forced to take on or something that you wish to take on?

Bohm: Well, I don’t think you’re forced ever to take on a worldview. If you take the medieval worldview, it probably seemed perfectly satisfying to those people. Whatever wasn’t fitting this, you said well we don’t quite understand it or the mystery of God or whatever you see.

There are things in our worldview we don’t understand. The favorite answer is to say science will explain it later. Now you can’t be forced to have a worldview, you can merely say that the evidence is such that you’re convinced and it seems coherent to you.

Interviewer: But the psychological attitude towards the new worldview could either be one of that you feel happy that you’re liberated or that you feel that your old worldview crumbles.

Bohm: Yes, you may want to cling on to your old worldview or you may feel happy that you’re free of it. I think that people become less satisfied with the old worldview today, generally speaking. They’re not satisfied with this fragmentary view because it has led to so many problems, so much incoherence in the human relationships and society and with the ecology and so on. You see for example this fragmentary view has led to treating the whole earth as fragments to be exploited, now that adds up in the whole to this destruction going on. So as long as we think that way, we’ll probably go on. People will take a fragmentary approach to repairing the ecology but it won’t work. Because that is the situation where the analysis into parts is not relevant, they’re not sufficiently independent to allow for such an analysis.

Interviewer: So really what you’ve seen…

Part 1 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5



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