An Interview with David Bohm, English Part 3



Interviewer: .. of the atom is 50 years before the general societal condition, called the ecology crisis, you’ve seen the breakdown of the description of parts?

Bohm: Yes, it really began to be clear about 1930 or so, with Einstein Rosen Podolsky it was already implicit ..

Interviewer: That was 1935.

Bohm: Yes 1935, but people had a feeling about it 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. Where as the whole social problem is far more complex, it is so complex that people could always say, maybe it’s 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. There was a medieval view that I think, you see there was much more wholeness then, there was a medieval view that everything was an analogy to everything. The human being was a microcosm of the cosmos, so that he had implicitly in him the possibility of understanding it. 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 wouldn’t, I would say in some sense it’s 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 basically it emphasises 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 didn’t quite agree with, was that he said 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, you could only, the mathematics could only refer to the probable results of experiments, but not discuss what is actually happening.

So I developed later in 1951 or thereabouts, another interpretation where I said that the electron is a particle for example and then it has a quantum field represented mathematically by its wave function. And this field and the particle are together and they count for the properties, the quantum properties of the electron. It’s a new kind of field.

We know classically we have many fields like the electric magnetic field. The magnetic field for example you see .. showing how it spreads through space. The electric field. The electromagnetic field makes radio waves 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 water wave, it is spreading out, the cork is bobbing, the more it spreads out the less the cork bobs. Now the quantum field would be capable of, sometimes, of spreading out and then the electron would far away move with the same energy as if it were close. This would be a kind of explanation of this discreet quantum process.

Interviewer: So you have a field that doesn’t drop off when you go to ..

Bohm: The field drops off, but its effect does not. The effect depends only on the form, not on the intensity.

Interviewer: That is weird!

Bohm: That’s not so weird. In fact it is very common, but we generally don’t pay attention to it. If you take for example a radiowave. Its effect falls of. 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, which carries, we may say carries information. The word information has the two words ‘in’ and ‘form’. To put form in.

Interviewer: So it’s like if you have a television set and you go far away from the antenna, the place where they put out the broadcast, it doesn’t mean that you don’t get the broadcast, you just need a bigger receiver.

Bohm: A sensitive receiver, that’s all. So as long as it is received, it’s essential the same program. What happens is, that the form of the radio wave puts form into the currency .. the receiver. The energy comes from the receiver, not from the radio wave. The radio wave is not pushing the ship around mechanically. The ship is moving under its own energy and responding with the form. The radio wave is giving shape and form to its motion.

This goes back to an old idea of Aristotle who was saying that there can be a formative cause as well. 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 generally don’t 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 experiences of the last few centuries, has us focused 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 that the electron responds with this form. That explains not only the interference, it explains that the electron acts like a wave, it explains this non local business and so on. It explains the superconductivity as the electrons move by the common pool of information, just as the ballet dancers do, and so on.

So that means we have quite a different principle of explanation because this wave function which operates through form is closer to life and mind you see. The basic quality of mind, is that it responds to form and not to substance. And therefore the electron has a mindlike quality though it may not be conscious, almost certain not consciousness as we know. Consciousness might depend on a much higher organisation of this mindlike quality. So we could say that mindlike fields could arise, which we don’t know, in the human being, 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’m saying it is both. But information contributes fundamentally to the qualities of substance.

Interviewer: If you would have said things like this to Niels Bohr, how would he have responded?

Bohm: I don’t know. He might have accepted it and he might not. We did have some talks when I was here at the institute but I didn’t have these ideas, I didn’t have this idea about information.

Interviewer: But if we try to compare the way that you see quantum mechanics with your field that has an effect that doesn’t go off with distance with the interpretation of Niels Bohr.

Bohm: Well, Niels Bohr would say that there’s no way to discuss this at all, that there’s nothing but a phenomenon which is a whole even including the two distant particles. We can only discuss the mathematics as giving the probability that certain results will be obtained. Now I’m trying to say this gives an intelligible explanation. It requires you to accept new principles and you would have to say this wave field will perhaps have a more subtle substantial basis which we don’t know that would carry it.

Interviewer: But basically what you’re doing is that you are interpreting quantum physics, the physics of atoms, in another way than the mainstream.

Bohm: Yes.

Interviewer: And than you, and there are certain technical points where people like Niels Bohr would disagree because he would feel that you enter discussions that human beings really cannot answer.

Bohm: I’m not sure why, you see his whole, Niels Bohr’s discussion is extreme ..

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 4 - Part 5


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