The Difference between Thinking and Thought

Recently I found a real treasure!

At least that is what I considered the video that I found of David Bohm.

It is a video where he talked about his life, recorded about two years before his death.

There is a part of this video on Youtube that is called David Bohm on perception which I found very interesting. Below the video I saw a comment from the interviewer that there was this whole interview available.

I clicked through and did not only find the video (a preview online, the whole can be downloaded) but also a transcription of that video.

Which I really love, because I have to read again and again what Bohm actually said at some points. During the interview he said many interesting things, but most are very subtle.

That is why I want to write some blogposts about what I found most interesting. This one will be about his differentiation between thinking and thought.

For me it was an interesting follow up after the posts I did some time ago about the Rheomode, the experiment that Bohm did with language.

Beginning of the interview

In the interview, before he gets to the part about thinking and thought, he already said some very interesting things. About his childhood and how he got to see everything as a flow instead of a fragmented reality. He talked about his interest in politics and how he got into physics.

Also about how our minds work regarding what we see as necessary and about perception as a dynamic process.

I will certainly go into that more detailed in other posts, but in this one I want to focus on his differentiation between thinking and thought.

First he talks about theories which can never give true knowledge, but give a way of looking at the real world.

Thinking is an active verb

Then, in an attempt to make himself more clear, Bohm makes a distinction between thinking and thought.

First he describes thinking.

Thinking is an active verb, think-ing. It means you are doing something. One thing you are doing is criticizing your thoughts, seeing whether they cohere. And if they don’t, you begin to change them and experiment with others. You get new intuitions, new insights.

Which is very different from thought.

Thought is a conditioning

Thought is not that active and Bohm calls it conditioning. In order to explain what he means he takes the example of Pavlov and his dogs.

The dogs would salivate when they saw food. He rang a bell and the dogs associated it with the food, so later, they began to salivate just by the sound of the bell. So, there is an elementary thought here, which was, whenever a bell rings. The first reflex was whenever food is there, salivation occurs. That may have been built in instinctively. The second reaction, which is conditioned, is, whenever the bell rings, salivation must occur.

So these are two steps in a process. The first step is called reflex. Something that is build in, a natural characteristic of humans as well as animals.

The second step is conditioning. Something that might not be build in itself, but because of a certain development (learning) it is still a very basic quality of, again, humans as well as (many) animals.

And, according to Bohm, thought is nothing more than a form of reflex and conditioning.

So, if you say, whenever this happens, I need to do this, whenever X happens, I need to do Y. Now with that, you don’t have to think. Immediately when X happens, you are already doing Y, right? It is a reflex. Now, that is the nature of thought. And one reflex leads to another.

You say, whenever I think this, I must conclude that. Whenever I conclude that, I must go to the next step, you see, it may be established by association, or by other ways, like reasoning, where you try to organize it logically, or by similarities – association in time is the simplest, association by similarity, or a connection by logic. But, once it is done, it is all the same, it is a reflex, you see, logic is a reflex.

He even calls logic a reflex. Logic in itself is not proof of reality. But according to Bohm, something else is.


He says that our thoughts have to be criticized, by watching for its coherence. Even if an argument seems logical, it does not always mean it is. We have to become sensitive to coherence and incoherence which is a perceptive process.

At this point I am trying to better understand what Bohm means with coherence. I do have a certain idea of what he means (a gradual building of perception and thinking) but am not sure yet if my understanding is indeed what he means.

Maybe that becomes more clear when I write some more posts about my favorite (by now) interview with David Bohm.

The difference between thinking and thought

Image: source


  1. Hi, just wanted to inform you that i recently discovered that the video is also available on YouTube, in 5 parts:

    While it is very interesting to make a distinction between thinking and thought, it is hard to do something with this in practice. Much depends on definitions, but “thinking”, which is already conditioned by the past, will not suffice to make jumps to more coherence.
    Observing non-judgmentally, direct perception, is the key to move towards coherence.


    1. This is EXACTLY what I was looking for to discern one from the other!!

      Thank you so much <3

      Love & Light Always <3

  2. Thanks for sharing. Yes, it is so much easier to watch it in parts on YouTube.

    And yes, I absolutely agree that it mainly depends on definitions. That ‘thinking’ might be just as much conditioned by the past as ‘thought’ is.

    But as I understand it, the main difference is awareness and criticizing those thoughts instead of just letting them take over.

    But maybe that is what you mean with observing non-judgmental and direct perception.

    Somehow I have the feeling that we mean the same thing to a large extend, but that at some point (maybe even a critical point) there is a difference in how we see things. Which I think is very interesting, but at the same time difficult to get my head around exactly what that is.

  3. :)

    You are probably right, maybe i am talking more from experience and from a more practical point of view, i guess, and that is where some of my remarks come from

    — I invite you to read my latest article on creativity, maybe that can give you a better idea of my position? :)

  4. Hi Annemieke,
    Your website is beautiful, I especially like this article on difference between thinking and thought. I feel bohm was one of the best researchers on these kind of topics. I would also suggest to see this very interesting video by vernon howard on this kind of topic. Let me know if you like it..

  5. Annemieke, I enjoyed reading your blog, and I am also a fan of David Bohm’s work. I was wondering whether you have come across the 3 Principles in your inquiry, as for me it completely changed how I see thought (and actually the world in general). And as a coach it revolutionised how I work with client to enable them to get different experiences. It is very simple (almost too so for many people) and very profound. if you haven’t come across it – check it out and the work of Sydney Banks. regards. Piers Thurston

    1. Hi Piers,
      I had also come across three principles a year ago and it defines the human experience in such a simple way…I guess once people grasp this understanding, they start looking in a different direction, which changes and help their lives, thank you…

  6. Hi Anamika,

    Read your blog, here are my few cents. Thought is a noun and thinking is a verb. Thinking could be thought less but a thought is always with an idea.

    Nevertheless, thoughts sometimes have guidance making it powerful and I have defined them as HiT (Hidaya(guidance) in thought) in my forthcoming research paper, as in the thought that HiT you.


  7. The odd thing about your own demise,
    Is that you don’t know you are dead.
    You might have known you were dying,
    But you never can know you have died.
    To know is to think and when you have died,
    You are incapable of thought.
    The machine has been switched off.
    No electrical pathways through the brain.
    It is my belief that you never know you are dead.
    You have reached oblivion and you are oblivious to it.
    You have gone, your existence has passed.

    1. Agree, that a dead can’t know his/her own death but this clarifies an Arabic verse in Quran “Qullun nafs soon zaikaul maut(death)” ie every living being will taste the death.Good point John.

  8. Thought responds very fast to events bringing in not only incoherent thinking but body response also. To bring in coherence one has to be aware of every moment of response by thought in order to carry out one’s self pledge of coherence (done through earlier thinking). But to be aware every second of responding thought, is the most difficult part. Most of our incoherent part of thought consists of useless time structure, as an escape from the fear of vacant mind, when we escape to do ” Time pass” and to get ” Occupied”

  9. Lovely post — also love Bohm. Perhaps if you explore the relationship between “ALLIGNMENT” and “coherence” you may find some deeper insight — as in the alignment of thought and fact ir thought and reality, as well as the alignment of thinking and thought, of what is perceived and what actually is. Happy to have discovered your post — looking forward to diving in deeper. Best! Leon

  10. Hi there,
    I wonder if someone might help me find where I must go to get permission to place ‘the Thinker’ on my upcoming novel – Credible 101
    Thank you for your help
    Oh yes .. the novel should be out by January 2019 – ebook and paperback

  11. ‘General Semantics’ of Alfred Korzybski may be a good first step to understand electro-collodial process which cause semantic reaction

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