Science and Information
I collected some blogposts I wrote about David Bohm and ordered them on different subjects. This page is about David Bohm on Science and Information. Links to all posts can be found on the page David Bohm Blogposts.
After spending a lot of time trying to understand the structure of the rheomode, the experiment of David Bohm with language, I suddenly stopped and asked myself ‘what again was the reason for him to do this experiment’?
He explains that in his book ‘Wholeness and the implicate order’, but because the book is way over my head in many chapters, I kind of lost the bigger picture.
But then I remembered an interview with him, where he says it in a way that somehow made it more clear again for me. It is an interview on YouTube, spread over 5 videos, that I uploaded some time ago in the post Information Exchange.
I was blown away by the whole interview, but I remembered I especially was impressed by the third one. I had the feeling that what he said there, was extremely important, although I did not understand it completely at that time.
So I listened to it again and tried to make more notes. In this post I will upload that video with a transcription (as good as possible) and at the bottom I want to describe my understanding of why he needed to adjust our language.
Interviewer: 50 years before the general societal condition, called the ecology crisis, they have seen the breakdown of the description of parts?
Bohm: Yes, it really began to be clear about 1930 or so, with Einstein and Podolsky it was ..
Interviewer: That was 1935.
Bohm: Yes 1935, but people had a feeling for it even before, without expressing it.
Interviewer: Why could physicists see this breakdown of the description in parts, 50 years before general society?
Bohm: Well, they where working in a rather restricted area where the evidence was such as to bring it out. Because the area was limited, it was possible to focus more on the problem.
But the whole social problem is far more complex, it is so complex that people could always say, maybe it is not that way.
Interviewer: But isn’t it still surprising that you’re able to go from physics into more general problems?
Bohm: Not to me, you see that is the sign of the wholeness. That was the medieval view that everything was an analogy to everything. The human being was a microcosm of the macrocosmos, so that he had implicitly in him the possibility of understanding.
The general view before our modern times was more favorable to wholeness. In Europe as well as in the East.
Interviewer: Niels Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is the mainstream interpretation, differs from yours.
Bohm: Yes, well, I wouln’t … I would say … in some sense I would say it is the mainstream, but I don’t think a great many physicists really understand it very well, because it very subtle.
Originally I was very much in favor of the Bohr interpretation, which seemed at that time the best. It is very subtle and hard to explain.
But basicly it emhasisis this wholeness of the observing instrument and what is observed, that they are one whole and they are one phenomenon.
And many of the lines of what he said would be along the lines I have just talked about, that it why it attracted me. I won’t go into more detail about it, because it is very difficult.
But the one thing I did not quite agree with, was that this whole was completely, there was no way of making a concept of this whole.
And that meant that you could not make it intelligible, the mathematics could only refere to the probable results of experiments, but not discuss what was actually happening.
So I developed later in 1951 or there about, another interpretation where I said that the electron is a particle for example and than it has a quantum field represented mathematically by its wavefunction. And this field and the particle are together and they … the properties, the quantum properties of the electron.
It is a new kind of field. We now classicly have many fields like the electromagnetic field. The electromagnetic field for example… like it spread through space. The elecric field makes radiowaves radiating through space.
The quantum field is different, it has some similarities but it is different, because the effect of the quantum field depends only on the form and not on the intensity.
If you think of a waterwave, it is spreading out, the core … the more it spreads out the less the core …
Now the quantum field would be capable of, sometimes, of spreading out the electron of far away move with the same energy of move close. This would be the kind of information of a discrete quantum process.
Interviewer: So you have a field that does not drop off?
Bohm: The field drops off, but its effect does not. The effect only depends on the form, not on the intensity.
Interviewer: That is weird!
Bohm: That is not so weird. In fact it is very common, but we generally don’t pay attention to it.
If you take for example a radio wave. Its effect calls up. Now imagine a ship, guided by radar on an automatic pilot. The guidance does not depend on the intensity of the wave. It depends only on the form, we may say, that carries information.
The word information has two words ‘in’ and ‘form’. To put form in.
You only need a sensitive receiver. As long as it is received, it is essential the same program. What happens is, that the form of the radiowave puts form into the currence, forming the receiver.
The energy comes from the receiver, not from the radiowave. The radiowave is not pushing the ship around mechanically. The ship is moving under its own energy and responding to the form.
The radiowave is giving shape and form to its motion.
This goes back to an old idea of Aristotle who says there can be a formative cause. Now this is very common, we have it not only in radio. The computer has a form which is carried out in the process of … machinery.
You can have DNA, the form of the DNA determines, is carried to the RNA and determines the making of proteins. It is in all human experience. People do not push and pull each other around, except when they are violent.
They depend on the soud of waves to communicate, people move around because of that.
The point is that this is the most common form of experience and the mechanic business of pushing and pulling is more limited, but our experiences of the last few centuries, has us focussed on that as the main point. And saying we can always explain the other things through that.
But I am saying ‘maybe form is fundamental and the electron responds to this form’.
That explains not only the interference, it explains that the electron acts like a wave, it explains this not local business, it explains the superconductivity as the electrons move by the common pool of information, just as the balletdancers do.
So that means we have quite a different principle of explanation, this wavefunction which operates through form is closer to life then mind …The basic quality of mind, is that it responds to form and not to substance.
And therefor the electron has a mindlike quality. Not conscious as we know. Consciousness might depend on much higher organisations of this mindlike quality. Many mindlike fields could arise, which we don’t know, in human beings, in life and animals.
Interviewer: So what you are saying is that the physical universe is really more about information than about substance?
Bohm: Well, I am saying it is both. But information contributes fundamentally to the quality of substance.
So far this video. I was planning to write here about my understanding of what Bohm said. But I am having a lot of problems to save this post, so I want to go into that in my next post.
In my previous post Making a Concept of the Whole, I uploaded a video of David Bohm where he talks about finding a way to make quantum physics intelligible.
After the transcription, I was going to add my understanding of what he said there, but got a lot of problems with uploading that post.
At this moment I can not change anything in that post, so I can not highlight what struck me most. Now I will do that here in this post.
- Similarity between quantum physics and society
- It must be possible to make a concept of the whole
- Effect in the quantum field depends on the form, not on the intensity
- Mechanical in quantum, versus information in society
Bohm says a few times in the interview that the difference with his interpretation of quantum physics and that of others is very subtle, but at the same time essential.
It is very clear that he has a lot of trouble explaining it and the main reason for that is in my opinion that it is so obvious and common, that we are hardly able to see it.
I will try to seperate as much as possible what he said and hope that it makes more clear what he actually says.
Similarity between quantum physics and society
Bohm is comparing the view of quantum physics with society and the interviewer asks him if that is not strange.
But he thinks there is very much similarity, problems in society can only be solved if they are seen as a whole. Not by a fragmentary approach.
And the same goes for what is happening in the quantum world. Like there has to be an emphasis on wholeness in observing a phenomenon.
It is not just an observer and a phenomenon that is being observed. There is an interaction going on, or as Bohm says (somewhere else) ‘observation is going on’. This is where his experiment with language, called the rheomode, comes in.
It must be possible to make a concept of the whole
Then the interviewer asks how his view differs from the mainstream view in quantum mechanics. Bohm says there is actually not that much difference, but his main point is that he thinks that there has to be a way to make the experiments intelligible.
According to others, the only way to explain it is by mathematics. And because mathematics is to abstract, it can only refer to the results of the experiments, but what happens can not be discussed.
Another thing he says (not this video, but the next) is that he thinks it is important to make it all accessible to more people, also in other fields. He thinks it is important to show the connection between different experiments.
Effect in the quantum field depends on the form, not the intensity
What he says here is really very important I think. He takes some time to explain it all, but it is indeed very subtle.
He says that any effect depends on the form, not on the intensity. When the interviewer says that he finds that weird, Bohm says that it is not so weird. He says that it is very common.
In fact it is so common, that we do not pay attention to it.
Then he gives the example of a ship guided by radar and on an automatic pilot. The guidance does not depend on the intensity of the wave. It depends on the form that carries information.
The word information has two words, ‘in’ and ‘form’. To put form in.
But you need a sensitive receiver. And then the form of the radiowave ‘forms’ the receiver. The energy does not come from the radiowave. The radiowave is not pushing the ship around mechanically.
The ship moves under its own energy, responding to the form.
So if I understand it correctly, this form where Bohm is reffering to many times, is not energy. There is energy, but apart from that, there is information.
But they are not the same.
This information has a certain form. And it does not add to the energy, but it does have an effect. It contributes fundamentally to the quality of substance.
So not everything is energy. Apart from matter/energy there is something else.
And that is information. Information that does not have an intensity but a form.
Mechanical in quantum versus information in society
This took for me the longest to understand and I am not sure if I do now. But if I understand it right, the main difference between the quantum world and the ordinary world, is the characteristic of information.
And according to Bohm, the electron has the same characteristic as information. It responds to form and not to substance. And so do our mind and consciousness.
Now Bohm says in our day to day world, that is just common sense. Most of what happens is because of the exchange of information. It is what our whole world is based upon.
But our experiments in the last few centuries, are focussed on the mechanic part. And wants to explain all things through that.
The importance of information
So I think what Bohm says here is very important. If I would have to pin down what it all comes down to, I would say that it is that information plays a crucial role, but although it is not actually seen seperate, it is different from energy.
In the previous part he talked about why it is important to distinguish information from energy.
How information plays a major role in our day to day life (although hard to seperate from energy), but has no role in quantum mechanics.
In this part of the interview he elaborates more on the analogy of the quantum world with society.
Bohm: Very subtle, it is very hard to exactly pin it down. I think he (Niels Bohr?) would say that there is no point to this sort of speculation, he would regard it as a kind of speculation, which was not tied to an experimental fact.
But I feel that it is important to be able to make it intelligible and also to show the connection between this and also the whole range of experiments in other fields.
Interviewer: But in effect there is no difference at all between your view and the classical view of quantum mechanics, the Niels Bohr view of quantum mechanics, in its experimental predictions.
Bohm: No, they will give the same experimental predictions, but I think experimental predictions is only one of the functions of a theory. It enables you to understand what is going one, to make it intelligible.
Interviewer: But then when the general audience is presented with your views of the universe, it is often based on your interpretation of quantum mechanics, do you think the general audience acknowledges that it is some kind of minority kind of interpretation.
Bohm: Well, I don’t know, I it hard for me to know. But I think the other interpretation, the reason it is not generally known, is that it is not intelligible. It is so abstract and difficult that they really can’t understand what it says.
I think this interpretation will make the whole thing more accessible to more people and also maybe show the connection between different fields in some sense.
Interviewer: But in a way, what people from the Niels Bohr Copenhagen interpretation school would say is that you are reviving a classical world view.
Bohm: I would say it is not classical. With this idea with active information is quite foreign to classical physics. I would say that the thing that makes classical physics is not just the form of Newtons law, but what you say about the forces, if you say that they are this character of information it changes it.
I am going to introduce an entirely non classical concept which is the activity of information. That it contributes fundamentally to the properties of substance.
Now the fact that you still think of a particle doesn’t say that it is classical you see.
Interviewer: But in some senses your view is more classical than the Bohr view.
Bohm: More like the classical yes, it looks more like the classical but it also quite different.
Interviewer: So could you say that it is the classical world view but with information added.
Bohm: Well some other things as well, which I haven’t gone into, but I think that when you have changed the concept so much, it wouldn’t be right to call it classical.
I think the main point, it is hard to say, the main point would be whether we would take the wave function as the whole description or not. See I add this particle and say the wave function as the meaning of information that acts on the particle.
Interviewer: Maybe you should explain the wave function.
Bohm: Yes, this wavefunction is a mathematical representation of the field of information. In the case of one particle it is like a wave, but it is a wave that acts according to its form and not according to its intensity.
With many particles it is more complex.
Interviewer: And in the Bohr interpretation of atomic physics, he would say that the wave function is just something that we made up to describe…
Bohm: We make it up… well, it is something… Bohr called it an algorithm for calculating experimental results in the phenomenon.
The wave function is part of an algorithm. You know what an algorithm is?
Interviewer: A way of calculating.
Bohm: A way of calculating yes, and no more than that. Now, when Neumann said that something is a little bit different, that the wave function is a complete description of the quantum reality.
Now, it is not clear whether Bohr ever talked of a quantum reality, because he only talked about this whole phenomenon.
Interviewer: But then in your interpretation it is very important that the wave function is not just part of our description but part of …
Bohm: We regard it as part of the reality. We make an analogy to society. One view would be if we say society consists of a lot of people who are interrelated. You can say that they are interrelated by information exchange. You can say that is crucial, without that the society would collapse. So that is part of the reality of society.
Interviewer: Could you elaborate on your view if you take it to societal analogies. How would your world view, if you give it a description as human affairs in society.
Bohm: Yes, well you see if you think of society, if you compare if every individual would have his own pool of information and leading to chaos. Or you could have people trying to move together with a common pool.
Of course you can have the attempt to impose the pool, but that might lead to a conflict with the pool.
I think it is essential to have coherence and order and harmony, that the whole society moves together with a common pool of information. Like this ballet dancer. Which is not imposed. But what is established by exchange and dialogue.
Interviewer: Do you think that we are moving in that direction.
Bohm: I think potentially we are, we need to. And some people may be, but the general trend has not gone very far. Because everything is divided into nations and religions and other kinds of groups which behave as if they where independent as they are not.
So people will have to give that all up and they might find that hard. To deal with the ecological problem people will have to give a great deal of that up.
Interviewer: So you are moving the emphasis from the person as individuals, the divided part, to the information flow, the information field of society.
Bohm: Yes, that is right. But I would say that each individual contains the whole information field of society in his own way.
Bohm: Well, it is in his mind, in his brain. You see, everything you know comes from society practically. Both information and misinformation. It determines what you do.
Interviewer: But you have to read books to get the information.
Bohm: Yes, but that comes from society right. Books are part of society. So I would say that the individual is formed out of society, but together the individuals form society.
Now the individual needs to have freedom to look at all the information and determine in his own way whether it is right or not.
But finally he has to be part of society. We call it the culture if you like then. So the individual, now what we need for this is that is that we have so many different individuals each with his own view and different groups and that view and they are coming into clash.
We have got to be able to talk about it, to dialogue, to entertain each others view, to look at it, calmly. So that each one can look at all the views.
Each individual, when he holds all the views then he holds the whole. He does not necessary agree with them but out of that I think will emerge a common pool of information which would guide society.
Interviewer: And when you say that each individual himself or herself has the whole human experience or knowledge, how does it get in there?
Bohm: In many ways. It gets in there first of all by osmosis. They pick it up, implicitly, from family, from friends, from school, what you read, what you watch on television. Television is making this much more so right.
And also it might be build in, some instinct of information which is common. And there may all we know be hidden connections and which we don’t know but implicitly each person contains the whole.
It is like a hologram which contains the whole without all the details.
[Update: There is a transcription of the whole interview on the page David Bohm Video Interview with Transcription]
I think Bohm did a very good job in explaining his view on the analogy with society. If I understand it all correct, Bohm’s view on quantum physics includes information.
The very strange thing is that something that plays such a major role in our day to day experiences, does not play a role in those theoretical views of reality.
But as it got clear to me in the previous part of the interview, in the example with the ship, it is also very hard to distinguish that information from the energy that is influenced by that information.
But as Bohm makes very clear in this whole interview, it is essential to make that differentiation. And after that, to look at it as a whole again.
Besides that, he has a very interesting view on how the individual is very important in society. He only touches on that slightly, but I think his view on that is also very important.
In my next post I will highlight some of those points and see how they fit into my own understanding of the individual versus the collective.
The reason for that is that I think this video is extremely important. I think it gives a way out of a very old problem.
The problem of choice between Monism and Dualism.
It is a video of the physicist David Bohm. It is one of 5 videos that completes an interview with him from 1989 in the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen. The whole interview is also uploaded in the post Information Exchange.
In the post Making a Concept of the Whole I already uploaded this video (part 3) again because I think he says some very important things there. In that post I transcribed as good as possible the video, and in the post Make the Quantum World Understandable I already highlighted what struck me most in that video.
But everytime I watch it again (and I did so many times), and every time I think about it, I can only come to one conclusion.
Bohm thinks that the very essense of our world is dualistic.
In this post, I first define the difference between Monism and Dualism (Wikipedia) and give my understanding of Bohm’s view. Then I upload the video again and extract the parts where I think Bohm says our world is dualistic in its very core.
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity, that the universe is really just one thing, despite its many appearances.
1. Materialism: only the physical is real, the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical.
2. Idealism: only the mind is real.
3. Neutral monism: both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy.
The term dualism was originally used in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Some examples of what can be seen as dualistic.
– Good and Evil
– Male and Female
– Yin and Yang
– Mind and Body
Dualism according to Bohm
Now I do not think that Bohm says that the core of our world is a dualism between Good and Evil, or Male and Female, or Yin and Yang. Maybe he thinks those are dualistic, but it is not what he is talking about here.
What does play a role in his view is the duality between Mind and Body, although not directly. Like many others he thinks that the core of our world might be energy.
But he does not think there is just energy. He says there is something else that is essential, but is not the same.
One can not be reduced to the other. It is something that is really so very common in our day to day life, but does not play a role in measurements. But it has a fundamental effect.
And that other important core element is information.
Here Bohm starts with explaining where his view differs from Niels Bohr, which is the mainstream.
But the one thing I did not agree with, was that this whole was completely, there was no way of making a concept of this whole, And that meant that you cold not make it intelligible, the mathematics could only refere to the probable results of experiments, but not discuss what was actually happening.
He says there are other fields like the electromagnetic field.
The quantum field is different, it has some similarities but it is different, because the effect of the quantum field depends only on the form and not on the intensity. The field drops off, but its effect does not. The effect only depends on the form, not on the intensity.
In the following part he gives an example which I had to listen to many times. It is something so common, but as he says also the very difference between day to day experiences and measurements in science where the effect of the information is left out the equation, while it is an essential part of that.
That is not so weird. In fact it is very common, but we generally don’t pay attention to it. If you take for example a radio wave. Its effect calls up. Now imagine a ship guided by radar on an automatic pilot. The guidance does not depend on the intensity of the wave. It depends only on the form, we may say, that carries information. The word information has two words, ‘in’ and ‘form’. To put form in. You only need a sensitive receiver. As long as it is received, it is essential the same program. What happens is, that the form of the radiowave puts form into the currence, forming the receiver. The energy comes from the reciever, not from the radiowave. The radiowave is not pushing the ship around mechanically. The ship is moving under its own energy and responding to the form. The radiowave is giving shape and form to its motion. It is all human experience. People do not push and pull each other around, except when they are violent. They depend on the sound of waves to communicate, people move around because of that. The point is, that this is the most common form of experience and the mechanic business of pushing and pulling is more limited, but our experience of the last few centuries, has us focussed on that as the main point. And saying, we can always explain the other things though that. But I am saying ‘maybe form is fundamental and the electron responds to this form’.
So by bringing in information, there would be a solution for many things that could not be well explained otherwise.
That explains not only the interference, it explains that the electron acts like a wave, it explains this non-local business, it explains the superconductivity as the electrons move by the common pool of information.
Here I think he is saying that the mind and consciousness are in the same range as information. Mind and consciousness react to information, they all have the same basic thing.
The basic quality of mind, is that it responds to form and not to substance. And therefore, the electron has a mindlike quality. Not conscious as we know. Consciousness might depend on much higher organisations of this mindlike quality.
Then the interviewer asks if that information (plus mind and consciousness) are the basic of our universe. So actually he asks if our world is monistic, as in only the mind is real. But Bohm says it is both.
Interviewer: So what you are saying is that the physical universe is really more about information than about substance.
Bohm: Well, I am saying it is both. But information contributes fundamentally to the quality of substance.
Mind and Energy
So Bohm says information (mind) is just as important as substance/intensity (matter/energy). And one can not be reduced to the other. That means our world is not monistic.
It is not materialistic because that would mean that only the physical is real and the mental can be reduced to the physical. It is not idealistic because that would mean that only the mind is real. And it is also not something like neutral monism which means that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance.
So that can only mean that the world is dualistic. But not in the way that dualistic is often seen. At least not at the very basic level. It does not mean there is no such thing as the duality Good and Evil, Male and Female, Yin and Yang. But those maybe can be called ends of a spectrum or something like that.
I do think what Bohm is talking about here has something to do with the Mind and Body duality. But personally I think it would be better to speak of the duality between Mind and Energy here at this point. Or as Bohm calls it, between Information and Intensity/Substance. Where one can never be reduced to the other.
Well, actually I find almost everything he ever said very interesting.
But the recording made me realise something else. Last week I found an article online that said that his ‘complete lack of ego completely disguised the enormity of his intellect’, and this tape made that very clear.
Most of what he says is very subtle, and it is easily missed if you do not decide to really focus on what he says. He talks very fast and very gentle. And it is really hard to hear at times.
I uploaded the whole recording and transcribed as much as I could hear on the page David Bohm Audio Interview about Understanding in Science.
In this post I want to focus on a certain part of that recording.
The whole interview is about his view on science as a way of exploring the world. He gives a certain overview on how that exploring in science has developed over time.
He says that in that development, we now came to a point where experiments are essential. Which he thought was a very powerful method. And as I came to realise, he saw it at the same time as a very important way of testing any theory. He had an extremely scientific attitude.
But at the same time he felt that this attitude had its limits. It could only answer certain questions. And he always asked further. He always asked deeper questions. ‘A tremendous courage in looking at things honestly, whatever the consequences.’
And in the following part of the recording, he talks about what he sees as the main problem. A problem in science that is at the same time the main problem in thought, in language and as a result in the whole of our human existence.
‘Once you invested in this machine then you better use it’
Now then experiments were elaborated and this is a very powerful method, but at the same time dangerous because the experiments are developed on the basis of the theory and they are set up to answer the sort of questions that the theory asks, a certain theory asks. And then that people, theorists, once experimental equipment was very cheap and simple, it didn’t really matter because an other theory could be considered and you could try another experiment.
But now it takes years to produce a big machine and requires the cooperative work of many people and millions of dollars. So that people feel, once you invested in this machine then you’d better use it. So then theorists feel compelled to develop theories that will raise questions that can be answered by this particular equipment, which in turn will set up to answer questions through the previous theory. So the whole result now tends to, the experimental method now as it has developed, may tend to a conservative factor into physics whereas in the beginning it was very radical and revolutionary.
‘Your thought will only answer the questions which you ask’
Yes, I should say language, first of all you can’t discuss language apart from thought. That is language is only noises unless it is expressing thought. And I don’t think anybody could presume to say that he knows the structure of thought because he would get at least, not only it is unknown but he would get into a terrible tangle if he would try to assert that he knows the structure of thought, because then we would have to say that the very thought he was thinking that structure does he know that. You see, isn’t there a danger that he is projecting some idea which he has and calling it the objective structure of thought.
That is the same problem as with the machine. You see, the machines have been built up in such a way that they lead us to ask only certain questions. If you have a theory of the structure of thought, you will project it into your thought, say that’s what my thought is and than you will only ask the questions about thought that are in your theory. And your thought will only answer the questions which you ask.
Conservative Answers to Radical Questions
So these experiments, as important as they are, are mainly useful as the end of a development of understanding. An understanding that starts with insight, a mental image of the whole idea. As Bohm says, not only a visual image but also a feeling for it.
Followed by reasoning and calculation. And finally the experimental test. But tests that have to be based on the previous stages. Evolving along the way.
And not the tests from previous insights. Asking questions because the existing theory can answer it. Then you get, what Bohm said, a conservative answer to a radical question.
And the same goes for our own thought process. Without understanding of the whole process of thought, the answers will aways be limited.
Other groups of posts about David Bohm