David Bohm about Einstein and Bohr

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You see, Einstein and Bohr, two of the leading theoretical physicists of this century, they began very close friends and very interested in physics, having a tremendous amount in common, but they disagreed really on a philosophical point, which was, you see, what is the criterion for truth in science, what sort of theory would you allow.

Now Einstein wanted to say that eventually we’ll get an idea, which was an unambiguous correspondence with reality, that would be an object of reality, which the observer wouldn’t play a very big part. He would be there but not fundamentally and important.

Now Bohr developed a view in which the observer played a key part as they were inseparable, the observer and the observed. And to Einstein that seemed inadmissible as a scientific theory. He called Bohr’s view a tranquilizer philosophy. And Bohr felt that Einstein had developed similar ideas in Relativity Theory and he was now turning against him, you see, in a reactionary way.

But they talked about it and talked, for many, many years. And they came up with arguments and counter-arguments and gradually they had nothing to say to each other. Each one asserted his position and defended it against the other. They got nowhere and after a while they probably got tired of going on with it and they sort of drifted apart.

At one stage, you see Einstein lived in Princeton and he worked at the institute for grand study,  and one time Bohr was invited there and they never met, you see. So there was this mathematician Herman Weyl, who thought really they ought to meet, and he arranged a party where he invited both these men and their students.

At that party each one gathered at the opposite ends of the room with their students and they didn’t meet because they really had nothing to say to each other. Since two people have two fundamentally different sets of values about what constitutes the truth, then they can’t really meet.

When they did met in the past, they argued about the scientific content, but that was not really the point at issue, you see. Their argument was not meeting their real disagreement.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

William Straub

I was googling for correspondence between Weyl and Bohr today and I found your site for the first time. Much of what you have written is insightful, thoughtful and informative, but it also reveals a beautiful mind. Please keep writing!

Question: what do you think of Penrose?



So glad you like my blog. And I sure intend to keep writing, although at the moment it is more a sort of rearranging of David Bohm’s words. I am completely fascinated by his thoughts.

About Penrose, I don’t know much about him. The world of physics is in many ways, way over my head. It is only that somehow, when David Bohm talks about that line where physics and consciousness meet, that I seem to understand it (well sort of) but when he goes to deep into physics I am lost, as well as when he goes to deep into consciousness.

But I came across Roger Penrose when I followed a live streaming online of the conference ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness’ that was held in Stockholm a few weeks ago, which was very interesting (although again way over my head) so I intend to search for it on YouTube or so, to watch it again. He came across as very openminded.



I Do not doubt the grandiloquence and beauty of Bhom’s thought. However, Bohm like Plato creates a beautiful myth. There is nothing reprehensible in this. But we must be clear! the greeks condemned the Ionian philosophy (and thinkers like Demócrito) for the “superiority” of Plato ideas. Who knows that discoveries were lost for this? the Ionians approached to the scientific method like no other Greek philosophical school. This is the danger of mixing myth and reality!

Sorry for gramatical errors, spanish is my native language!!. This is a excellent blog!!


Jessie Henshaw

The article is great, offering a better way to approach the confusing debates between Einstein and Bohr. Thanks. I do sympathize more with Einstein, as Bohr is clearly attributing “reality” to something that humans defined, and **explicitly** for the lack of information about the systems being studied. That extreme conjecture could, seem to come from

For ‘reality’ to make any sense at all it would need to be thought of as “what our minds don’t determine”. That would include what our minds focus their attention on, things we look at trying to understand, but would not include the things we define for ourselves in our minds as “what we see”. Theorists don’t like that, but the wiser view is that of non-theorists who understand what we see in our minds is a subjective cultural construct, and not permanent in nature.

I don’t exactly side with Einstein, though, and for the same reason Erik, correctly I think, criticizes Bohr. Defining nature with our mental concepts, as made of platonic ideals, as led by the foundational thinking of both Plato and still present in all of modern physics today, is a basic mistake. Theories are really tools of our invention we productively use for exploring reality, and are better thought of as questions to use rather as representations of the world.

The Ionians were the first scientists, taking the naturalist perspective on the productivity of nature (physic they called it) and the way nature changes forms by growth and development. Growth and development are complex system organizational processes, that for evident causes, as you study them, really cannot be specified in rules and equations,.

It seems that aspect of Ionian science was removed from modern science by the philosophers who insisted that science consist only of definable variables and relationships, i.e. abstract concepts, and so presumed was a limitation on the forms of nature too. It wasn’t of course, and nature has kept on changing form by growth and development quite uninhibited. A was of course more of a self-confining choice for science, keeping science from studying how and why all change begins with developmental processes.


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