Language and the Rheomode

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

Describing Personal Development

For some time now, I am trying to describe my view on human development. But so far I could not get it done in a way that made much sense.

I really had a hard time finding the right words to say what I meant to say. I kept trying but until now, most of the posts just stayed drafted.

In the meantime I got really fascinated by David Bohm.

I saw some videos where he was interviewed and heard him say some things about mind and matter that were really very interesting.

But at that moment I was not exactly thinking about him in relation to development. More in relation to consciousness and how mind and matter might interact. And about his ideas about dialogue, which are also very interesting.

But again and again I was pulled back to writing about development. No matter how interesting consciousness and dialogue are, my main interest was and stayed with development. I just had to find the right words to write about that.

Then, in my search for words, I came across David Bohm again. I found out that he had been experimenting with language at some point in his life.

It was in a book called ‘Wholeness and the Implicate order’.

Now that title, as interesting as it sounds, seemed to suggest that the book was way over my head. It was an attempt of Bohm to describe what happens on the quantum level.

He says that our western language is not really capable of describing what happens there, because it is to static. So he proposes a new way of using our language.

It is not a new language, but more a new mode. And it is meant to describe the world as an ongoing movement.

He calls it the ‘rheomode’, ‘rheo’ from the Greek verb meaning ‘to flow’. And ‘mode’ because it is not a new language, but more a new way of using it.

Reading this was the reason for me to get the book. I really got curious to read his experiment because it seemed exactly that what I was looking for.

And it was!

Even though much of the book was indeed way over my head, it was really so exciting to read about his experiments with language and how he used it to describe processes.

In the next few blogposts I want to write down my understanding of what he did. Not sure if my understanding is correct, and also not sure if I get coherent blogposts done, but at least I can give it a try.


An Experiment with Language and Thought

In my previous post I made a start with describing an experiment by David Bohm that he did with language.

The reason for this experiment was that he wanted to describe what is going on, on the quantum level of our world. Others said that it is only possible to describe that with mathematics, but he thought there had to be a way to describe it with language.

But our western language is not suitable for that. Our western language is too static and too fragmented to give a description of what is going on there.

So he proposes a new mode to use our language.

It was not his intention to come up with a totally new language, but more to make changes that make our existing language less static and fragmented.

We say, ‘One elementary particle acts on another’, but each particle is only an abstraction of a relatively invariant form of movement in the whole field of the universe. So it would be more appropriate to say, ‘Elementary particles are on-going movements that are mutually dependent because ultimately they merge and interpenetrate’.

He gives some examples and one of them is his proposal to use ‘observation is going on’, instead of  ‘an observer is looking at an object’.

That way it is not the ordinary subject-verb-object that is common in our language, but a focus just on the verb.

The verb describes actions and movements which flow into each other and merge, without sharp separations or breaks. Moreover, since movements are in general always themselves changing, they have in them no permanent pattern of fixed form.

So the essence of this language would be to give the verb a primary role. And for the sake of convenience he gives this language a name, the rheomode (‘rheo’ is from a Greek verb, meaning ‘to flow’).

He then goes on with the form of the rheomode. That mainly focusses on some words that will go through a certain development. He uses words that already have a meaning that is suitable in this context, and he uses them to make his point.

The first word he uses is ‘relevance’.

In my next post I want to go through the process where he uses the word in an ongoing movement, from action into focus into generalisation.


Meaning and Context

In the previous posts I tried to describe an experiment with language and thought. It is an experiment in David Bohm’s book ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ called ‘The Rheomode’.

In that book he proposes a new mode to use language, and in these posts I want to talk about my understanding of that experiment.

In the post Describing Personal Development I wrote about my search for words to describe personal human development. My view on that development is mainly based upon the cycle of the zodiac, but so far I could not find the right words.

But reading about the experiment of Bohm, I got the feeling that he kind of found a solution for that. That he found a way to describe a process which seemed exactly what I was looking for.

In the post An Experiment with Language and thought I wrote about the reason for his search for such a language. It was because of his desire to describe what was going on in the quantum world.

He searched for a language that was dynamic instead of static.

Now in this post I want to describe the form that he proposes. He starts with one word that he uses as an example. But it is not just any word. It is a word that is very important in his whole approach.

Relevant or irrelevant

To discover whether something is relevant or irrelevant, is one of the main points in his experiment. To show what he means, he starts with the word ‘relevant’ itself.

The word ‘relevant’ derives from a verb ‘to relevate’, which means ‘to lift’ (as in ‘elevate’). In essence, ‘to relevate’ means ‘to lift into attention’, so that the content thus lifted stands out ‘in relief’. When a content lifted into attention is coherent or fitting with the context of interest, i.e. when it has some bearing on the context of some relationship to it, then one says that this content is relevant; and of course, when it does not fit in this way, it is said to be irrelevant.

Then he goes on with an example (from Lewis Caroll’s book ‘Through the Looking Glass’) that makes clear what he means.

With that example he wants to show that relevance is more important than truth. Because to ask whether something is true or false, it first has to be relevant.  And in his example it is clearly not.

…this watch doesn’t run, even though I used the best butter…

Bohm’s point here is that thought and language are treated as realities on the same level as their context. But to see relevance, is an act of perception of a very high order. It can not be found by some set of rules.

Cleary, the act of apprehending relevance or irrelevance cannot be reduced to a technique or a method, determined by some set of rules. Rather, this is an art, both in the sense of requiring creative perception and in the sense that this perception has to develop further in a kind of skill (as in the work of the artisan).

Context at the moment of expression

So if something is relevant or irrelevant can only be clear at the moment of expression. If the context changes, the statement might become irrelevant.

But in our language the relevance is discussed in a structure where nouns are seen as basic. So the form of the language has a tendency toward fragmentation.

And although we can overcome fragmentation in our language by using it in a more poetic way, Bohm suggests that it might be possible to do so in a more coherent and effective way.

So his proposal is to give the verb, instead of the noun, a primary role.

Meaning or process

So far, he talked mainly about the meaning of the word ‘relevant’. When he goes on, he uses that word to explain his use of verbs and how he adds prefixes in a certain order.

That order is important. It is important to follow a certain path in the thought process. So in my next post I want to describe my understanding of that thought process.


Understand, Divide and Order

This is the fourth post about the rheomode, a language experiment of David Bohm.

The first post was about why I was so excited to find out about the experiment, the second post about the reason why Bohm was searching for such a language and the third post was about the introduction of the rheomode.

In this post I want to go into the form of the rheomode. The form (as I understand it) is made of two basic components, the meaning and the process.

In my previous post I went into the meaning of the word ‘relevance’ and said that in this post I was going into the process of that word. But before I do that, I can better expand the meaning of a few other words he uses.

So apart from ‘relevance’ (which got the root form ‘to levate‘) he also uses the following words:

  • Understand
  • Divide
  • Order

It are rather well known words, but he expands their meaning at bit. I want to quote Bohm here about the meaning of each word, before I go over to the process of the words.


Let us consider the Latin verb ‘videre’, meaning ‘to see’, which is used in English in such forms as ‘video’. We then introduce the root verbal form ‘to vidate‘.

This does not mean merely ‘to see’ in the visual sense, but we shall take it to refer to every aspect of perception including even the act of understanding, which is the apprehension of a totality, that includes sense perception, intellect, feeling, etc. (e.g. in the common language ‘to understand’ and ‘to see’ may be used interchangeably).


Let us now go on to consider the verb ‘to divide’. We shall take this to be a combination of the verb ‘videre’ and the prefix ‘di’, meaning ‘separate’. So, ‘to divide’ is to be considered as meaning ‘to see as separate’. We thus introduce the verb ‘to di-vidate‘.


In the understanding of the true meaning of the divisions of thought and language established for our convenience the notion of order plays a key role. To discuss this notion in the rheomode, let us then introduce the verbal root form ‘to ordinate‘.

Verbs as the root form

So the following verbs are used to show the root form of the rheomode:

  • To Levate
  • To Vidate
  • To Dividate
  • To Ordinate

Bohm uses them to show a certain process that can be followed with each word.

First the search for a word that gives a meaning as broad and deep as possible. Then the search for a way to make it dynamic, so look for the verb as the root form.

And finally he starts with the process. He goes to highlight the word, focus, observe if it is relevant in the context and makes a generalization.

That process is explained in a very extensive way, and I will try to go into that in my next post.


A Path for each Thought Process

This post is the heart of the rheomode, the experiment on language structure by David Bohm.

The four previous posts were an attempt to describe the why and the what. In this post I want to describe the how of that experiment.

Bohm uses the words that I mentioned in my previous post (relevance, understanding, divide, order) to show how he wants the process of observation and thinking to go.

I want to go through the process by using all those words, but I want to do it as compact as possible in this post.

In following posts I can expand some more about Bohm’s reasoning. But if I do that here, it might become to cluttered for one post.

By putting it all in one post I want to give an overall idea of the path Bohm follows. But somehow it can not be done with just one word, because the meaning of these four words is essential for the process.

1. Starting with the verb

The verb means a spontaneous and unrestricted act. It also means an unrestricted breadth and depth of meaning that is not fixed within static limits.

And there is no division between the content (meaning) of the word and the total function of which it gives rise. So it is not only ‘thinking about’ but more an ‘engaging in’.

To Levate: The spontaneous and unrestricted act of lifting into attention any content whatsoever, which includes the lifting into attention of the question of whether this content fits a broader context or not, as well as that of lifting into attention the very function of calling attention which is initiated by the verb itself.

To Vidate: Call attention to a spontaneous and unrestricted act of perception of any sort whatsoever, including perception of whether what is seen fit or does not fit ‘what is’, as well as perception even of the very attention calling function of the word itself.

To Dividate: Calls attention to the spontaneous act of seeing things as separate, in any form whatsoever, including the act of seeing whether or not the perception fits ‘what is’, and even that of seeing how the attention-calling function of this word has a form of inherent division in it.

To Ordinate: Call attention to a spontaneous and unrestricted act of ordering of any sort whatsoever, including the ordering involved in seeing whether any particular order fits or does not fit some observed context, and even the ordering which arises in the attention-calling function itself.

2. Call to attention again

Here is emphasized that ‘re’ signifies ‘again’, being on another occasion. This part is more about focus and thinking.

To Re-levate:  A certain content lift into attention again, for a particular context, as indicated by thought and language.

To Re-vidate: Perceive a given content again, as indicated by a word of thought.

To Re-dividate: Through thought perceive a given content again in terms of a particular kind of separation or division.

To Re-ordinate: Call attention again in a given order, by means of language and thought.

3. Is it Relevant?

It requires an act of perception to see in each case whether the content ‘lifted again’ fits the observed context or not.

Re-levant: In those cases in which this act of perception reveals as a fit, we say: ‘to re-levate is re-levant’.

Re-Vidant: If the content is seen to fit the indicated context, than we say ‘to re-vidate is re-vidant’.

Re-Dividant: If to do this is seen to fit the indicated context, we say that  ‘to re-dividate is re-dividant’.

Re-Ordinant: If this order is seen to fit that which is observed in the context under discussion, we say that ‘to re-ordiante is re-ordinant’.

4. Is it Irrelevant?

If the content ‘lifted again’ does not fit the context we say it is a mistaken or illusory perception.

Irre-levant: In those cases in which perception reveals non-fitting, we say ‘to re-levate is irre-levant’.

Irre-vidant: If the content is not seen to fit the indicated context, then we of course we say ‘to re-vidate is irre-vidant’.

Irre-Dividant: If it is seen not to fit, we say that to ‘re-dividate is irre-dividant’.

Irre-Ordinant: If it is seen not to fit, we say that ‘to re-ordinat is irre-ordiant’.

5. Continuing state of Relevance

We see that adjectives have been built from the verb as a root form. Nouns can also be constructed in this way, and they will signify not separate objects but, rather, continuing states of activity of the particular form indicated by the verbs.

Re-levation: Thus, the noun ‘re-levation’ means a continuing state of lifting a given content into attention.

Re-vidation: ‘Re-vidation’ is then a continuing state of perceiving a certain content.

Re-dividation: ‘Re-dividation’ is a continuing state of seeing a certain content in the form of separation or division.

Re-ordination: The noun ‘re-ordination’ then describes a continuing state of calling attention to a certain order.

6. Continuing state of Irrelevance

When some content is irrelevant, it should normally sooner or later be dropped. If this does not happen, then one is not watchful or alert.

Irre-levation: To go on with re-levation when to do so is irre-levant will, however, be called ‘irre-levation’. In essence, irre-levation implies that there is not proper attention.

Irre-vidation: ‘Irre-vidation’ is a continuing state of being caught in illusion or delusion, with regard to a certain content. Evidently (as with irre-levation) irre-vidation implies a failure of attention, and to attend to this failure of attention is to end irre-vidation.

Irre-dividation: ‘Irre-dividation’ is a continuing state of seeing separation where, in the ordinary language , we would say that separation is irrelevant. ‘Irre-dividation’ is clearly essentially the same as fragmentation.

Irre-ordination: A persistent state of re-ordination in an irre-ordinant context will then be called ‘irre-ordination.

7. Generalized totality

And finally there is the noun that signifies a generalized and unrestricted totality.

Levation: The noun form ‘levation’, signifies a sort of generalized and unrestricted totality of act of lifting into attention.

Vidation: The noun ‘vidation’ means an unrestricted and generalized totality of acts of perception.

Dividation: The noun ‘dividation’ means an unrestricted and generalized totality of acts of seeing things as separate.

Ordination: Finally, the noun ‘ordination’ means, of course, an unrestricted and generalized totality of act of ordening.

A compact overview

In this post I left, as much as possible, Bohm’s words intact. But to get a compact and understandable post, I had to order it differently.

In the next post I want to go a bit further into each phase, but here I wanted to have a compact as possible overview.


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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