David Bohm Video Interview with Transcription

Part 1



Interviewer: And now in 20 min you are going to have a dialogue with the scientists here at the Niels Bohr institute. It’s been some decades since your ideas have been presented here hasn’t it?

Bohm: Yes, well I came here in 1957 for one month in the summer and then again in ‘58. Now at that time I was just moving from Israel to England and we spend a month here at the institute. We talked about physics mostly at that time.

Interviewer: Do you find that the kind of ideas that you present are easily understood in an environment like the Bohr institute.

Bohm: Well, I haven’t tried the Bohr institute yet, I just came. But I think that scientists find it harder, in some ways, than many other people you see, then some other people. Because there is still a strong commitment, perhaps partly unconscious, to the old atomistic worldview.

Interviewer: So what you’re saying is that science has shown us something that scientists do not want to see?

Bohm: Well, they have become so used to the way of seeing it, that they don’t want to change, you see they feel uncomfortable about changing. And they feel there’s no reason to change, they say we’re doing so well now, why should we change. In one sense it looks as if we’re doing very well, you see, but if you look at the broader view, it looks very dangerous.

Interviewer: Now many people are talking about this new worldview that’s coming up these years. Do you see a new worldview coming up in the western world?

Bohm: Well, in a certain part of the western world, yes. I think a world view in which there’s more focus on wholeness and process rather that on analysis and to parts and more static constituents.

Interviewer: But does that come up because we want it, or because that we’re forced to take on it?

Bohm: Well probably both, I mean, I think a certain fraction of the people want it. Perhaps they’re tired of the old one, they don’t feel it’s working. And also there is some evidence for it, I think especially in physics and probably in other sciences as well. The evidence in physics comes partly from relativity and partly from quantum theory. Perhaps more from quantum theory than from relativity.

Interviewer: And what kind of evidence is that?

Bohm: Well, in relativity we have the notion of the universal field which is dynamic, flowing and according to Einstein particles should eventually emerge out of this as singularities or very strong regions, stable pulses of field, which gradually emerge, the fields gradually emerge with other particles. So we have an unbroken universe which is in constant flow, dynamically, and even the very notions of space and time have become relative, which were previously absolute. And it may even go on to singularities like a black hole, the supposed beginning of the universe, where the present laws would break down all together. All concepts that we know. So that’s a very revolutionary view compared with what we had, say, a century ago.

And then there’s quantum theory, which perhaps is more revolutionary. It’s hard to explain that in a short time, but there are 3 main features I’d say. One is the notion that a quantum process is in some sense indivisible, that it is one whole, which cannot, it can be broken but then it becomes an entirely different process, so each process is a whole, otherwise it can’t be what it is, and all the quantum processes of movement are linked as it where in one whole.

Now the second point is the wave particle duality, the discovery that, say electrons, which are classically particles, can behave statistically like waves in a more precise experiment, and light, which is classically a wave, can behave like a particle in a more precise experiment. So it seems we have this 2 aspects which depend on how the system is treated, context dependent, which is quite different from the classical idea that whether it’s a wave or a particle is intrinsic.

Now the third point is what’s non-locality. That we find that in certain conditions there’s apparently an immediate connection of distant particles. It’s rather hard to explain, we can use it for signals but still it seems to be there. It’s connected with the experiment of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen and has been checked by, you they’ve been tested by Bell’s theorem aspects experiment. It seems pretty well established, right. Both theoretically and experimentally.

Again all of these you see combined to the notion that the universe is a kind of indivisible whole, rather than an analysed into constituent elements which interact has separately existent.

Interviewer: But how much can you tell about this indivisible whole?

Bohm: Well, we can tell quite a bit in the sense that all the laws of quantum mechanics are concerned with it you see. I mean you can tell, well I don’t know what you want to know, but I mean all the laws you compute, the properties of all sorts of things. For example, take superconductivity. At high temperature the electrons will generally scatter of obstacles and metals. And therefore there will be a resistance for the current flow would stop unless it’s maintained by a voltage. At very low temperatures and certain metals the current flow is indefinitely without scattering and that is as a quantum effect.

Now as far as, if you analyse it, you can see that it’s due to the fact that the electrons are a sort of locked, held together in summary by these non-local interactions. So that if there is an obstacle they go around and reform rather than scatter. It’s rather than a ballet dance, that people going around and reform as in a crowd each person is following his own personal purpose and they all scatter, they all get into each others way.

Interviewer: So this unity also creates a kind of ordering of things?

Bohm: Yes, it can create a kind of ordering of things. But at the same time it explains, you can see that there are situations where we have this high degree of order and others where we don’t. That it’s possible within the mathematics to see that when something called the wave function, represented as a set up product of independent factors, and all the particles behave independently, but then in a more general situation they don’t. You can explain why we have so much independence in ordinary experience and yet why in a more careful probing we find order, new kinds of order.

So the classical level, the Newtonian level, is explained by quantum mechanics as a limiting case. Now the more, you have a whole, but the whole determines itself to behave somewhat like independent parts in many cases. So even whether it’s going to behave like parts is determined by the whole, right.

Interviewer: But what we can see is the parts rather than the whole.

Bohm: Well, in physics we see the parts because that’s the way we approached it the last few centuries. I don’t know if, you see, I think our perception is influenced by our way of thinking. So that we accept this mechanical way of looking at things. But if you went back a thousand or two thousand years, I don’t think people actually saw the particles as primary. The way we see depends on the way we think.

Interviewer: But is it a choice, do we have to choose between the whole and the parts?

Bohm: No, well you see, it’s a question or whether you have a holistic approach, which puts the whole as primary. In classical physics the parts are the primary concept and the whole is only an auxiliary concept which is convenient, you have many parts working together like a machine. But the parts are taken as the basic reality. And seeing we just subjectively we find it convenient to think about the whole. But in quantum mechanics I think there’s something else, that the whole is object and the parts are the result of analysis. But we have large areas where the whole behaves to some extent like independent parts.

Interviewer: So you’re saying it’s really us that make up the parts?


Part 2



Bohm: We actually make up everything, in the sense that all these theories are made up by us, but in these theories we place the parts, we may either place the parts as fundamental or the whole as fundamental. Now quantum mechanics is placing the whole as fundamental, that’s I think the most basic change it makes. Finally every theory is made up by us and we’re going to see if we can apply it coherently to reality. I think we could make an infinity of different kinds of theories and some of them would be more coherent than others. For example somebody mentally disturbed has another theory which we think is incoherent but to him it looks coherent, right. Because we can always ignore what is not working, we say we’ll solve that later.

Interviewer: Just just said that in reality we make it all up, not just the parts but also the whole. Could you explain that?

Bohm: Well, I think that that’s the question. What is the relationship of theory to reality. Now one view is that it reflects reality, that it corresponds to reality. Now I think that a view is only limited, like a map is said to correspond to a city. But there is nothing in the map that corresponds to anything in the city. But there is nothing in the map that corresponds to anything in the city, on the map you see dots and prints which is vaguely defined and the city is also vaguely defined. So what corresponds is certain abstractions that we abstract. But the map, the real test of the map is that it guides us correctly through the city. And if it is a wrong map we will find incoherence in our action, right. Now ..

Interviewer: But it’s not that you can compare this bit of the map, this bit of the city ..

Bohm: Well, only in a rough sense. That’s an abstraction. You can compare it, but it’s abstract. Therefore we make it all up, the question is how coherent is it when we try to make it work. That’s really the key. Now some theories are more coherent than others, but it’s often hard to tell. Because when we come to a theory as broad as a worldview, we find it very hard to detect incoherence because the worldview tends to state that things that don’t fit or are irrelevant or else says we’re gonna get them in order later, we haven’t solved that problem yet. So incoherence can easily be not noticed.

But if people are very, and also people would like not to have their worldviews questioned because they got used to them and feel comfortable with them. So therefore it’s very hard to question a worldview.

Interviewer: But in effect, that’s what you are doing?

Bohm: Yes.

Interviewer: And in effect you are questioning the whole western worldview?

Bohm: Yes, well I think all the worldviews have to be questioned. The eastern, the western. You see the west implicitly questioned the eastern worldview. Every worldview, I think, is limited. But I think the western worldviews limits have not been seen. And we need to go to a broader view, not necessary back to the eastern, though it may include some of the eastern. I think we need a kind of dialogue of these worldviews to go to something beyond.

Interviewer: Where do you see the limits of the western worldview?

Bohm: Well, just in the way that it focuses too much on analysis and it tends to lead to fragmentation. Now what I mean by fragmentation is not just division, distinction, because the parts and the whole are correlative concepts. A part is a part only because it’s part of the whole like a machine or a watch. Now a fragment is something you mean to break it up, to smash. So if you smash the watch you get fragments. Now the western view, it aims at getting the true parts of the universe, but in some ways perhaps it gets fragments. To some extent in physics it’s much more so, in fields like biology, psychology, sociology and so on.

Now if you break it up falsely into fragments then you’re confused, you’re going to treat these separate when they’re not. And also you’re gonna unity what’s in the fragment when it’s not united. So it leads to confusion.

Interviewer: So in the west you confuse the part for the whole and vice versa.

Bohm: Yeah, you get confused about the part and the whole because you take a fragment as an independent whole.

Interviewer: But if you take the true whole, that includes everything. It would also include you and your perception of the whole.

Bohm: Yes.

Interviewer: So could you ever tell your way of perceiving the whole to anyone else?

Bohm: Well, we can have a dialogue and begin to exchange, I can’t tell you unless we’re talking together. We have to exchange our views on that. Now and then there comes the problem if we’re ready to listen to someone else’s worldview, seriously. Without resistance, without opposition. But I think the observer is an intrinsic part of the whole.

That’s what quantum mechanics is teaching us too in physics. That the observing instrument is just as much part of the whole and therefore because of the possibility of the non-local interactions in quantum mechanics, when an observation is made, the two systems are not really distinct. Therefore they participate in each other, you cannot therefore get an unambiguous meaning to the measurement.

The same happens between human beings. If somebody tries to measure somebody else, talk to him, there’s a mutual change which makes it impossible to get an unambiguous attribution of qualities.

Interviewer: It’s not possible to say what David Bohm would have said in another interview? Tomorrow at the same time.

Bohm: No. Because we’re participating together. So what I am is affected by what you’re doing and what you are and vice versa. That’s exactly the sort of thing that happens in quantum mechanical observations.

Interviewer: Okay, if I say then that when I think about the whole and the part, I end up understanding that if you understand the whole you’re not able to tell it to anyone else because then you step out of the whole and become a part.

Bohm: Well, I think there’s a kind of communication, and this is the point about having a different worldview, there is a kind of communication that does not begin by denying wholeness. If you say, here am I and there are you then we have already divided it. But perhaps we communicate in the spirit of the whole without assuming that division.

That means that I’m not trying to tell you what I think, you not trying to tell me, but rather together we’re trying to discover how we’re going to think together. Do you see the difference?

Interviewer: Indeed. Is that possible in ordinary language?

Bohm: Yes, I think it is. It depends on the attitude rather than the language. Our language is developed to emphasise the parts, but we can still use it differently. For example poetry uses language differently and it’s always possible to use language in new ways.

Interviewer: So the basic obstacle is the attitude of the people involved than the theoretical or verbal ..

Bohm: Yes, we could improve the language, maybe it someday it would improve in that regard. But we can proceed without that.

Interviewer: Now this attitude problem of discussing the wholeness, would then be coupled to the question of whether the new worldview is something that you’re forced to take on or something that you wish to take on?

Bohm: Well, I don’t think you’re forced ever to take on a worldview. If you take the medieval worldview, it probably seemed perfectly satisfying to those people. Whatever wasn’t fitting this, you said well we don’t quite understand it or the mystery of God or whatever you see.

There are things in our worldview we don’t understand. The favorite answer is to say science will explain it later. Now you can’t be forced to have a worldview, you can merely say that the evidence is such that you’re convinced and it seems coherent to you.

Interviewer: But the psychological attitude towards the new worldview could either be one of that you feel happy that you’re liberated or that you feel that your old worldview crumbles.

Bohm: Yes, you may want to cling on to your old worldview or you may feel happy that you’re free of it. I think that people become less satisfied with the old worldview today, generally speaking. They’re not satisfied with this fragmentary view because it has led to so many problems, so much incoherence in the human relationships and society and with the ecology and so on. You see for example this fragmentary view has led to treating the whole earth as fragments to be exploited, now that adds up in the whole to this destruction going on. So as long as we think that way, we’ll probably go on. People will take a fragmentary approach to repairing the ecology but it won’t work. Because that is the situation where the analysis into parts is not relevant, they’re not sufficiently independent to allow for such an analysis.

Interviewer: So really what you’ve seen…

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 were 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. Whereas 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 electromagnetic 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 radio wave. 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 radiowave puts form into the currency .. 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 with the form. The radiowave 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 balletdancers do, and so on.

So that means we have quite a different principle of explanation because this wavefunction 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 wavefield 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 4



Bohm: .. subtle, it is very hard to exactly pin him down. I think he would say that there’s no point to this sort of speculation, he would regard it as a kind of speculation, which was not tied to an experimental fact perhaps, I don’t know you see. But I feel that it is important to be able to make it intelligible and also to show the connection between this and 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, it is hard for me to know. But I think the other interpretation, the reason it is not generally known, is that it is not intelligible to them. 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 perhaps show the connection of 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’d say it is not classical. For example, this idea of active information is quite foreign to classical physics. I’d 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: It’s more like the classical yes, it looks more like the classical but it’s also quite different.

Interviewer: So could you say that it’s the classical world view but with information added.

Bohm: Well some other things added 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 want to 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’s 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 make up to describe…

Bohm: We make it up, well it’s something that, 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.

Interviewer: And no more than that.

Bohm: And no more than that. Now, when Neumann said some things 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 you could see interrelated. But another view is to say they’re interrelated by information exchange. That’s crucial, without that the society would collapse. So I say that’s part of the reality of society.

Interviewer: Could you elaborate on your view if you take it to societal analogies. How is your world view, if you give it as a description of human affairs in society.

Bohm: Yes, well you see if you think of society, if you compare, you can have every individual try to follow his own pool of information and leading to chaos. Or you can 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 pools that are already there. I think it’s 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 which 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 hasn’t got very far. Because everything is divided into nations and religions and other kinds of groups which behave as if they were independent when they’re not. So people will have to give all that up and they might find that hard. To deal with the ecological problem, I think people will have to give a great deal of that up.

Interviewer: So you’re moving your emphasis from the person as individuals, the divided parts, to the information flow, the information field of society.

Bohm: Yes, that’s right. But I would say that each individual contains the whole information field of society in his own way.

Interviewer: How?

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. Books are part of society, or they wouldn’t exist. So I 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’s right or not. But finally he has to be part of society. We’ll 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, each with their own view 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, if he holds all the views then he holds the whole. He doesn’t 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, for 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, though not in all the detail.

Interviewer: And the hologram is ..

Part 5



Interviewer: .. the way of making pictures in three dimensions.

Bohm: In three dimensions where you don’t make a point to point correspondence between object and image, but where the waves, what you do is you take the waves from the whole into each region.

Interviewer: So you can make .. in three dimensions.

Bohm: Yes, and not only that, but each part of the image contains an image of the whole. But with less detail than the whole.

Interviewer: So you feel that the condition of each human individual is to be this fussy part of the hologram that contains the whole.

Bohm: Yes, but at the same time he’s a contributor to the whole. You see, we have to, that both views must be maintained.

Interviewer: But is this something that’s created through history or has it been there all the time?

Bohm: Oh, I think it’s build into the way we are. The groups were smaller in the past, that’s all you see. Originally there were small groups of twenty to forty hunter gatherer and then societies got larger. And as they got larger it became difficult to maintain a coherent whole. We had wars and many other conflicts and we now have this challenge of five billion people, we’ve got to make it a coherent whole or else we won’t survive.

Interviewer: So it’s an entirely new challenge.

Bohm: Yes, I don’t think it ever was before.

Interviewer: And your basic idea is that the architecture of human society is now such that there is an interaction between all the five million people at one time ..

Bohm: Five billion.

Interviewer:  Five billion, sorry. But there’s no actual understanding of ..

Bohm: Well, actually they are a whole but it’s incoherent. You see, they can not avoid being a whole. They’re exchanging. Every person is according to what the others are. If two people are enemies, each one makes the other, right. Is that clear?

Interviewer: Each makes the other an enemy?

Bohm: Well, what he is, you see, two enemies are very closely related. People who hate each other are extremely closely related, except that they are in an incoherent relationship. One that is very destructive, but you see hate is a very close relationship but it is destructive. Now it has to be turned to something else.

Interviewer: In this transition from seeing the world as parts to the world as a whole, that you think we all need to survive, there are going to be many difficulties. How do you see that transition?

Bohm: Well, I don’t see exactly how it’s going to happen. I think we are faced with this challenge as the danger of nuclear war, the danger of ecological destruction and many other dangers. The fact that our cities are becoming difficult to live in, cars will eventually clog them up. People are committed now to the view of growth, economic growth. But that is just what will destroy the planet.

If five billion people want to live at the present European American standard living, the Japanese and so on, then they will be like a swarm of locust descending on the planet. So somehow there has to be a change where we say that this desire for material goods has to be more limited, which means people have to find something else in life, if they want to survive. There will not even be material goods if we keep this up.

You get much more carbon dioxide, much more pollution, much more everything. So there is this challenge and I see a beginning of a movement, especially an ecological challenge, some movement has occurred on the nuclear challenge, because of Gorbachev, which is encouraging. So there is some movement in that way, the question is, will it be fast enough. If we had more time, I would be much more ..

Interviewer: But it seems that in the past five years there has been quite a change e.g. on nuclear armaments.

Bohm: Yes, I think primarily the coming in of Gorbachev, that he has changed the whole atmosphere. If he can sustain that, that would be very good. And other people from the west could finally move with him.

Interviewer: So where you see the initiative these days is really in the east rather than in the west.

Bohm: For the moment, yes. There is some initiative in the west developing on the ecological question, it’s just very rudimentary. I don’t think people .. the magnitude of a change that is needed. Somebody said that we spend a trillion dollars a year throughout the world on armaments, that amount spend on the ecology would solve the problem. But if you spend a lot less than that, it probably won’t either it will slow it down.

Interviewer: What is the most important thing, money or consciousness?

Bohm: Consciousness. Because where the money is spend will also depend on consciousness. Whether we feel that we are part of this one world or that we all think that we are separate.

Interviewer: Now Niels Bohr had this notion of an open world and he was rather ridiculed when he published his open letter to the United Nations in 1950 about the necessity of human beings talking together .. How would you see that today?

Bohm: Well, I think he saw the necessity at that time but people weren’t ready for it. Perhaps he was influenced by that feeling of wholeness too, which was in his view. I think that people are more ready to listen to that now but the crisis is developing at a very fast rate.

Interviewer: So in a sense, what you’re saying is that Bohr was seeing something and nobody really understood and maybe because he didn’t dare to say it.

Bohm: Well, I think that they weren’t ready to listen. The people didn’t want this one world. They were frightened of it, they said we have so many enemies we want to take care of ourselves first and so on. And those attitudes still prevail but there’s a movement away. And not for people to listen.

Interviewer: Now if we take the tradition that you’re out of, of natural scientists that have been involved in discussing society, that is traditionally a tradition where spirituality and worldviews and religion are seen as enemies. If you take the left wing natural scientist tradition from before the second world war. How come that scientists today are interested in worldviews and spirituality?

Bohm: Well, some are. I don’t think a great many. Partly because the science itself has opened up that possibility in the way that I described. And partly because I think for just as with other people there is a gloring sense of the inadequacy of the old approach. It will not only not solve all the problems that are said, but also it creates a kind of empty life. If you could imagine that we are successful as the economy grew and grew and grew, what would we have at the end, people would be bored. In the 60s when there was prosperity, you had all these hippies. They found it had no meaning. If we had the kind of prosperity that people hoped for, I think the whole thing would collapse faster than ever.

Interviewer: But how are we going to become hippies, through prosperity or through poverty?

Bohm: Prosperity would make hippies, poverty might make people afraid to lose their jobs. But I think neither of those ways is going to work. A change of consciousness is needed. And the worldview is part of that.

Interviewer: And what is the most important way that this changing consciousness will come about, you think?

Bohm: I don’t know. I see many factors, it’s like a stream from many springs. Not only a worldview, but I think one of the most important factors would be to have dialogue of many different kinds of people. Not only east and west and north and south. For example a dialogue among scientists, I think scientists find it very hard to have a true dialogue because they’re so committed to their views. They should have dialogues among each other or with non-scientists or even religious.

Interviewer: And now in 20 min you are going to have a dialogue with the scientists here at the Nils Bohr institute. It’s been some decades since your ideas have been presented here hasn’t it?

Bohm: Yes, well I came here in 1957 for one month in the summer and then again in ‘58. Now at that time I was just moving from Israel to England and we spend a month here at the institute. We talked about physics mostly at that time.

Interviewer: Do you find that the kind of ideas that you present are easily understood in an environment like the Bohr institute.

Bohm: Well, I haven’t tried the Bohr institute yet, I just came. But I think that scientists find it harder, in some ways, than many other people you see, then some other people. Because there is still a strong commitment, perhaps partly unconscious, to the old atomistic worldview.

Interviewer: So what you’re saying is that science has shown us something that scientists do not want to see?

Bohm: Well, they have become so used to the way of seeing it, that they don’t want to change, you see they feel uncomfortable about changing. And they feel there’s no reason to change, they say we’re doing so well now, why should we change. In one sense it looks as if we’re doing very well, you see, but if you look at the broader view, it looks very dangerous.

Interviewer: Thank you.


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  1. Thank you very much for the transcription.
    I really appreciate it . It helps me in writing an essay on the opportunity to adopting a mixed approach between western science and eastern tradition for structuring a practice aimed at a embodying a healthful relational and spiritual life . Valerio

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