Communication, Dialogue and Thought

I collected some blogposts I wrote about David Bohm and ordered them on different subjects. This page is about David Bohm on Communication, Dialogue and Thought. Links to all posts can be found on the page David Bohm Blogposts.

Thought is about Becoming, not Being

A few weeks ago I got a book from the library that really fascinated me. And especially one chapter was so interesting that I wanted to write several blogposts about it.

But while doing that, I found out that this book was an older version. And there was a more recent version that had an extra chapter in it, that was not present in the version I was reading.

The title from that chapter sounded really interesting to me. It was called ‘The Order Between and Beyond’, and that really sounded like a subject related to this blog.

Related to the relationship between mind and matter, but especially about the opposition between potential and structure.

And suddenly the version from the library was not good enough anymore, and I just had to have the newer version. So I ordered it and while waiting for it to be delivered, I read some pages already online.

And there I found the name of a man that also (like David Peat, the co-writer of the book) had been working with David Bohm. His name was Basil Hiley and, of course, I immediately searched for some information about him.

I found a series of 13 videos where he was interviewed on his vision of quantum theory. My attention was most caught with video 11, which is the video I uploaded below.


Here (at about 1:50) Hiley is talking about a man called Grassmann:

He was saying that mathematics is not about material process of unfolding of space in time. He said mathematics is about thought.

Mathematics is about thought, not the content of thought, but the form in which we can hold the content of thought.

Now for a physicist that was mindblowing. Because I always believed that what we were doing was mathematics of the movement. Of material processes.

From those original ideas of Grassmann, mathematics is about thought. What is thought? Thought is about becoming, not being.

And therefore, really, we should be talking about becoming and not being. What we always do with Newtonian physics is talk about being. So being is secondary.

At this point I can’t exactly say what it should mean, but somehow I felt this difference between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ is essential.

And somehow has to do with the difference between, what Jean Carteret calls, ‘limitation’ and ‘infinity’, and what I translated with ‘structure’ and ‘potential’.

So Grassmann said that mathematics is ‘the form in which we can hold the content of thought’. I have to think a little further if that is about the same as the difference between the map and the territory…


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 end 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.


Our Incoherent View of the Whole

Coherence is a word that David Bohm used a lot. I noticed it in the video that I wrote about in my previous post.

It is a word with a meaning that is rather general. A word that you read without really noticing.

But the more I became aware of the word, the more I got the feeling it was very important, even essential in the way Bohm looked at the world.

In the interview he used it when he talked about the thought process. And in the same interview it also became clear that coherence was essential in learning.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised he used it also in his view on creativity. And in his view on art. And on dialogue. And on society. Maybe also on his writings on science, but because those writings are often way over my head, I can not be sure.

So I wanted to write a post about coherence. What it actually means and why it is so important, even seems to be at the core of his work.

To do that, I went back to his book On Creativity, to focus on where and how he exactly used the word coherence and in relation to what.

But while re-reading parts of the book, I noticed several things that I did not notice before. Things that I could not notice before, because at that time I did not have the information and knowledge that I have now.

Between reading the book for the first time and now, I read a lot from and about David Bohm. And I heard and watched him on tape and video.

Another part of that information came from another source. The book The Master and his Emissary, about the difference between the left and right hemisphere of our brain.

So when I read again in the book On Creativity, I noticed many things that I did not notice before because they are very subtle. Subtle but important at the same time.

One example is the following. It is the last chapter of the book, which is an interview with Bohm. He talks about thought and how our unconscious makes us do the opposite of what we want.

The interviewer asks how we can spread this new awareness among people, how we can make it understood and put into practice.

And Bohm gives the following, very puzzling, answer:

It would be a mistake to try to put it into practice. That is already a contradiction. As I said before, we have begun by doing one thing, we keep on doing it, and we try by means of a practice to overcome what we are already doing in the opposite direction. That is like somebody who is hitting himself with his right hand trying to stop it with his left hand. The basic difficulty is that our practice is unaware of the fact that it is producing all these problems.

I think this answer is very interesting for several reasons. The first is that it points to the difference between our right and left brain as talked about in the book The Master and his Emissary.

It is also about what Bohm calls self sustaining confusion, how we struggle to handle information that seems contradicting.

And most of all, it is his way of saying there is no coherence. There is no coherence because we can not see the bigger picture. We act upon our limited view of reality.

We have to look at the whole. But not just at the whole, it has to be a coherent whole.

People may have incoherent views of the whole, which could be very destructive. It is not enough to have holism, although that too is important. We must do justice to each of the parts, as well as understanding their relative independence, in order that there be freedom.

We can never have a coherent view of the whole, without understanding other views.


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 (found it also online) 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 of 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 their 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 one’s own contradictions. Evidently then, what is crucial is to be aware of the nature of one’s 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. It prevents 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.


Other groups of posts about David Bohm

David Bohm on Creativity

David Bohm on Confusion and Inner Conflict

David Bohm on Language and the Rheomode

David Bohm on Communication, Dialogue and Thought

David Bohm on Science and Information

David Bohm on Art and Aesthetics

David Bohm on the Individual and Meaning

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