Dialogue as Creating Something New Together

Finally I started reading the book On Dialogue by David Bohm.

I was not sure at first that I wanted to buy the book, as there is so much to find online. Like this Proposal for Dialogue.

But although I am fine with reading bits and pieces online, or borrow a book at the library, in this case I just want to own as much of Bohm’s books as possible.

I am reading and re-reading his books all the time at the moment. That, as well as books and articles about him.

So I started with the very first chapter in the book On Dialogue. That chapter is called On Communication, an essay he already wrote in the 70s.

And reading that chapter made me realise his huge, huge insight in things.

The chapter is very short, but contains really so much valuable and brilliant insight already. First he talks about communication in general, what it means and how it is used.

Then about a special kind of communication that is dialogue and how it differs from ordinary communication. And how the artist and scientist also have a dialogue. The artist with his material and the scientist with nature.

And finally he talks about the importance of free communication and the blocks to dialogue. And the importance of the sensitivity to similarity and differences.

The Meaning of Communication

First he gives his understanding of the meaning of communication, which he says is ‘to convey information or knowledge from one person to another as accurate as possible’.

Which is of great importance in the work field. One person giving a set of directions to another person.

So the essence of communication is ‘to make something common’.

The Meaning of Dialogue

Dialogue is a special kind of communication. In his later work, and so I think further on in the book, Bohm explains his view on dialogue very extensive. But here in this early essay, he compares it with communication.

If communication is ‘to make something common’, dialogue is ‘making something IN common’. Or as he says ‘creating something new together’.

That is, if the dialogue is held as he thinks it should. Because in most cases there is a HUGE problem in the exchange in meaning between people.

He says meanings are similar but not identical.

When one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what she meant to say and what the other person understood.

Which can be a real problem if people get to focus on just their own meaning.

But if done right, it can also lead to something new.

On considering this difference, she may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to her own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content that is common to both participants.

Which needs an open mind.

Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions.

The Artist and Dialogue

Then he goes on with how we communicate with ‘things’, as he says that is what we do with everything in the world, not just with people.

An artist is not just ‘expressing himself’, not just ‘pushing outward what is already formed inside of him’.

Rather, what usually happens is that the first thing the artist does is only similar in certain ways to what he may have in mind. As in a conversation between two people, he sees the similarity and the difference, and from this perception something further emerges in his next action. Thus, something new is continually created that is common to the artist and the material on which he is working.

The Scientist and Dialogue

The same goes for the scientist who has a dialogue with nature. An idea is tested by observation.

When it is found that what is observed is only similar to what she had in mind and not identical, then from a consideration of the similarities and the differences she gets a new idea which is in turn tested. And so it goes, with the continual emergence of something new that is common to the thought of scientists and what is observed in nature.

Free Communication and Blocks to Dialogue

It is important to communicate freely, but that is really very difficult. We think we are listening to the other, but that the other is not really listening to us. We see that the other is blocked to certain questions, we see that they are avoiding the confrontation of contradictions in certain ideas.

But we are not aware of that same block with ourself.

The very nature of such a block is, however, that it is a kind of insensitivity or anesthesia about ones own contradictions. Evidently then, what is crucial is to be aware of the nature of ones own blocks. If one is alert and attentive, one can see for example that whenever certain questions arise, there are fleeting sensations of fear, which push the person away from consideration of these questions, and of pleasure, which attract his thoughts.

This subtle fear and pleasure are very important things to notice. They prevent us from listening to the whole of what is said. So we have to give full attention to these blocks.

Sensitivity to Similarity and Difference

Also the sensitivity to similarity and difference seems to be very important. Something as an opening to other views or other systems. Not the importance to impose one view upon another but to listen to the response. The real importance is in the building. The gradual building of what emerges during the exchange.

And that is only the first chapter of the book. Not more than five pages. I already know I love the next chapter about dialogue, because I read a lot about it lately and think it is brilliant.

But also the other chapters (like about collective thought, paradox, proprioception, observer and observed) seem very interesting.


Photo © Tristan Savatier – http://www.loupiote.com/ – Used by Permission


  1. hey, Anne. LTNS.
    I’m recently discharged from mandatory military duty, and registered for my final semester for under-graduate study.

    the quota site, doesn’t allow me to join through facebook, so I think, in my case, I need some invitation; maybe you can help me with this :)

    only after reading the first few lines of this post, I immediately printed out the writing of Bohm on Communication. as you well know, I’m an aficianado in the field.

    I’ll leave following comments, after getting through the article. with so enthusiazing work, what a weekend to have!

    friend from Corea,

  2. Hi Immanuel

    Good to hear your military time is over and that you are going to study again.

    How strange that you cannot register to Quora. I saw that I can sent an invite to my contacts on Gmail. Maybe you can sent an email to mindstructures[at]gmail.com so that I can sent you an invite. Lets see if that works.

    Looking forward to hear your thoughts on the article!


  3. thanks Anne. I’ll reach your mail no sooner.

    at first, I was going to write some comment here on the comment board, but there was more than what I first thought to write down, so I decided to write them on my blog. I’ve written it in English so you can come and check.
    here’s the address.


    thanks again for the article. it hs been a great apparatus for me.


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