The Individual and Meaning

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

The Importance of Individual Human Experience

David Bohm has some very interesting things to say about how he sees the future of our world. In the interview from the previous post, he says things that, at first sight, just look like common sense.

But if you look closer to what he says, I think it is rather revolutionary.

At a certain point the interviewer asks him to give his view on human relations in society and Bohm gives the following answer:

I think it is essential to have coherence and order and harmony, that the whole society moves together with a common pool of information, which is not imposed, but what is established by exchange and dialogue.

The emphasis is mine, because I think it is easy to get focused on the harmony and the dialogue. But personally I think the essence of what he says, to get to this whole pool of information, individual human experience plays a very important role. Further on in the interview he elaborates on that.

But first he says that the general trend has not gone very far yet in exchange and dialogue. Everything is still divided into nations and religions and other kind of groups that behave as if they were independent.

Then the interviewer asks if Bohm is moving the emphasis from the individual to the whole, on which Bohm answers some things that are very interesting.

I took them apart so that I can give my understanding of what he says. And besides that, I can place it in a certain order, which I think is important.

  • Each individual contains the whole.
  • Each their own or move together.
  • Impose leads to conflict.
  • The individual needs freedom.
  • Find out for themselves.
  • Calmly entertain each others views.
  • Look at all the views.
  • No need to agree with other views.
  • Holding all the views is holding the whole.
  • A common pool of information to guide society.

Each individual contains the whole

Bohm says that each individual already contains the whole information field of society. It is the whole information field, but each individual contains that information field in their own way.

But if each individual contains that whole information field of society, how does it get in there? Bohm says that most of it comes from society. Both information and misinformation. And both of them, information as well as misinformation, determine who you are and what you do. He says the information gets picked up by osmosis. That what you pick up from family, friends, from school, what you read, what you watch on television.

But it also might be build in, or there may be hidden connections we don’t know. But implicitly each person contains the whole.

My understanding: This ‘in their own way’ is an important distinction, I think. Because it is not something objective, not something that is the same for everyone. As mentioned in the posts The meaning of Values and Beneath the World of Logic, each individual has his own unique way to see the world.

Each their own, or move together

Here Bohm gives two different approaches to move further as humans.
1. Each individual with his own pool of information leading to chaos.
2. Or moving together with a common pool of information.

My understanding: So it is impossible for each individual to act upon his own understanding without coming into a conflict. Each individual may think his own way of understanding is the only way. But at some point it is different from others. And the result is chaos.

The alternative is moving together. But then those with the most power have to decide which way to go. And as becomes clear in the next point, that is not Bohm’s idea.

Impose leads to conflict

So it seems that moving together is a better option then the chaos of many individual views. But Bohm seems clear in his desire for moving together without imposing certain views upon others. He says there is an attempt to impose, but that might lead to a conflict with the pool.

My understanding: Bohm talks about a common pool of information. And here he mentions a conflict with that pool when certain views are imposed. If I understand what he means, then I think that is a very important observation.

If certain views are imposed upon others, no matter how well meant, the natural individual views get blurred. And as a result people just follow rules that go against their own self.

The individual needs freedom

‘The individual needs to have freedom to look at all the information and determine in his own way whether it is right or not.’

My understanding: I think there are 3 important things he says here. First there is the concept of the pool of information. I already went into that in the post Make the Quantum World Understandable, where according to Bohm information is a different concept then energy. Which I think is a very important distinction.

Second is that he says the individual has to find out for himself if certain information is right or not. I will go into that in the next point.

But there is the third point where he says that the individual needs freedom to look at all the information. I think this is an extremely important point. And I think that goes way beyond learning at school. It is about having access to mediums like the internet. But also a freedom from pressure to learn things that are not so much necessary then that it is distracting from what is important for the individual.

I think people have an inherent curiosity. They want to learn, they want to discover, they want to find out how things work, they want to improve skills. But they need freedom to do so. And not have to give all their time and energy learning things that are forced upon them, give stress and finally result in knowledge that is only useful in the eyes of others.

Find out for themselves

So then when the individual had the freedom to look at all the information, he now has to ‘determine in his own way whether it is right or not’.

My understanding: Another very important point I think. By looking at all the information, some information might cover his experiences and other information might not. To determine in his own way whether it is right or not, might seem a bit odd (how about scientific evidence) but as long as it is seen as personal experience combined with knowledge, and not some view that gets imposed on others, there is no harm in itself because it is just that, individual knowledge.

Calmly entertain each others views

‘We have got to be able to talk about it, to dialogue, to entertain each others view, to look at it, calmly’.

My understanding: The next few points seem to be the most characteristic for Bohm’s vision. They are at the heart of what he calls dialogue. Dialogue is not just discussion, it is not debate. It has a much more exploring and exchanging character. It requires an open mind, that is capable of putting aside our own prejudice. It needs to be able to see others as individuals.

Individuals that had different experiences.

Bohm calls it here even ‘entertain’ each others views. So that seems much more than just ‘listen’ to them. I think he means a more active attitude. Really think about them from several points of view. See what fits in with our own worldview and what does not. And search for possible explanations.

Look at all the views

‘So that each one can look at all the views’.

My understanding: That means that dialogues will have to be recorded in some way. That people are capable of looking at all of them, ordering them in different ways. And then see what patterns will emerge.

No need to agree with other views

‘He does not necessary agree with them’.

My understanding: Also a very important point I think. It requires a certain development to be able to consider other worldviews without necessary agreeing with them. We need to be able to step outside our own world, to be able to see others.

If we do not have to accept them, if there is no need to totally agree with them, it is much easier to do so. And it is essential to do so anyway, because there might always be certain aspects that fit in with our own vision. And not only fit in, but an addition that would not otherwise have become known.

Holding all the views is holding the whole

‘Each individual, when he holds all the views then he holds the whole’.

My understanding: I think what Bohm means here is that all views, no matter how absurd some of them seem to be, have some degree of truth in them. And each of them is needed to paint the whole picture. We might not agree, we might have strong resistance against certain views, but no matter how opposed it is to our own view, some part does have an element of truth.

But it might be that the way it is communicated, is not understood in the way it was meant. So it is important to find a certain agreed upon way that is capable to express all our personal experience and individual knowledge. Which might require something more than language and logic.

A common pool of information to guide society

‘Of that I think will emerge a common pool of information which would guide society’.

My understanding: So according to Bohm we need to look at all views to find all the information. Actually I think it is the only way to find all the information. Because it is hidden deep inside each of us.

But the only way to become aware of it, is to experience life. To live life, to make decisions, to act, make mistakes, come to conclusions and in the end to ‘entertain’ other conclusions. To dialogue. And then, when we have all the information, it can be used to guide society.


Patterns of Meaning that Develop over Time

Recently I was thinking about information.

How ‘real’ is our knowledge?

My thoughts on that went into many directions (as usual) but I kept coming back to something the writer David Foster Wallace said in an interview.

I came across this writer because several people mentioned him. The first time was a while ago, when someone advised one of his books to me. But because his books are not translated in Dutch, there is nothing to find in our library.

So I kind of forgot about it, until I read a quote from him on the blog ThoughtWrestling.

I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today, of which maybe twenty-five are important. My job is to make some sense of it.

I thought this quote was very interesting (as was the whole post) and I decided to find out something more about Wallace. So I came across that interview and was very intrigued by what he had to say.

Art and literature

There were many things that caught my attention, but I especially liked the part where he compares literature with other forms of art. Here he answers the question what he thinks literature can do, that other things can’t.

There is something musical about it, because it has to do with the patterns of meaning that develop over time. There is stuff for me about reading that isn’t like looking at a piece of art, because there I choose how long I look and what I look at.

But in a piece of music or in a movie that flow is directed for me. I got no choice but to follow. With books it is weird. If I read a paragraph I like a lot, I go back and read it over again.

So I am trapped in time but I have more mobility within that time.

So in a way, he says that processing information is by relating it to your own world. I have the same. If I read something, I extract that information that resonates the most with me.

Does that mean that especially that part of the information is more important then other parts of that information, is it more real?

Well, I don’t think so.

Every part of a story might be important to different people. And if I extract some part of it, because I think it is important, it only means that it makes sense to me. It makes sense to me, because on some level I noticed the same. At some point and at some time.

It might not have been a conscious awareness at the time. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was something I read. But most likely it was something I experienced. And that personal experience made me come to a certain conclusion.

Often it is a conclusion that is not exactly worked out, it is some undefined thought or feeling that does not make much sense on its own. But the moment you recognise that in the outside world it starts to make sense.

And with all those moments of awareness, a certain pattern arises, a pattern of meaning. Like Wallace says, that develops over time. A development in our individual lives, but also in the lives of others, if we all manage to share our insights.

The individual, freedom and consciousness

Near the end of his life, Wallace said something,

..true freedom means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience…

that very much relates to something said by David Bohm,

..the individual needs to have freedom to look at all the information and determine in his own way whether it is right or not…

and they both seem to suggest the importance of the individual in determining what is ‘real’.

But if that is how it works (and personally I think it does) that means that there is no independent reality. There is a reality, but the meaning differs from person to person. And the reality depends on a personal context. But if there is no awareness of your own consciousness, it means that you let your reality depend on the context of others.

Which comes back again to the importance of individual experience in the processing of information.


What is the Self?

This week I found another interview with David Bohm. Somewhere in that interview he talks about why we need the space to develop creativity.

He wrote about that in the book Science, Order and Creativity and I already have several posts about one chapter of that book.

The chapter states that creativity is very important, but it does not always get the chance to come into existence. And that it needs independent growth, which means the opportunity for free play in the early stages of development.

It becomes clear that it is often difficult for people to be creative. And even more difficult to develop their creativity.

And personally I am fascinated by that. Why is that so very hard? I talked about that in several posts already and think that it very much has to do with an essential difference between two types of people.

In the post Inner Drive or Navigation from Outside, I wrote about those who have this overwhelming inner drive, and those who don’t. Or maybe they do, but they manage to suppress it.

That post expressed very much my personal feeling about how that works with people, but in the interview with David Bohm, it became clear to me that he also thinks there is this essential difference between two types of Self.

There are two places in the interview where he elaborates on that. He talks about the difference between the ‘repetitive reflex system’ versus ‘free play’. And the talks about the difference between ‘me’ versus ‘I’.

I think it all has very much to do with the transition from a pre-individual state into becoming an independent and authentic individual, a subject that is coming back on this blog every time because I am fascinated by it. A certain place on the model that I use on this blog.

It is a transition that I think is essential for every human being, but is at the same time a very complicated and, for some, very difficult process.

In my following post I want to quote what Bohm has to say about that and give my own understanding of what he says.


Me, my Self and I

The ‘self’ is a concept that I know best by the writings of Carl Jung. I don’t know if my understanding of the concept is right, but I thought I more or less ‘got it’.

But as mentioned in my previous post, David Bohm also talks about the ‘self’. And somehow I got the feeling he gives it a different meaning.

In another post I will go into the meaning I think Jung gives to it, but in this post I want to look into the definition of Bohm.

I versus Me

First he makes a clear distinction between I and me. The ‘I’ is in control, while the ‘me’ is limited. The ‘I’ makes the choices, while everything just happens to ‘me’.

A child must begin regarding himself as the great I am because he sees himself as the center of the universe from which all action flows. Then he learns from society he’s only little me. They say: Who do you think you are?

Reflex system versus creative expression

The next differentiation Bohm makes is between, what he calls, the ‘repetitive reflex system’ and a ‘natural desire of creative expression’. Everyone has this creative desire, but when the repetitive reflex system is more strong, the creativity is most likely not able to develop enough.

People are conditioned to stay in the repetitive reflex system, which has the tendency to defend itself and to keep you in it.

One of the greatest dangers of creativity is producing for a reward.

If the child is rewarded for producing a desired result, this will automatically throw him into the reflex system. It gives a very powerful emotional pressure to continue there.

Creative children do not need a reward, they don’t need to be told they are good, because the creative free play is a reward in itself. It makes them learn to rely on their own inner knowledge.

Self and Ego

I don’t think the definition of Bohm of the ‘self’ is the same as the definition of Jung. I will go into that into another post, but as I see it at this point, the definition of Bohm might be what is called the ‘ego’ by Jung.


Recognizing Patterns from an Underlying Reality

Maybe I can better change the subtitle of this blog.

Since reading the book Science, Order and Creativity, creativity seems to be the main focus of my blog.

But while thinking about that, I realized it always was the main focus of my blog. Of all the blogging I did so far.

My focus was mainly human development. And the essence of that development as I see it, is the development of the individual. The uniqueness of each individual. The unique way of the individual to deal with the world. Combining personal experience with information from outside and actually do something with it.

Which is just another way of describing creativity.

In a comment on my previous post, I was reminded of another book of David Bohm about creativity. I searched online and found a foreword on Google books. Which was so very interesting that I immediately ordered the book.

In that foreword (which I have to read with more patience soon) was the following which I think is extremely interesting. It is about what lays beneath the aesthetics of creativity:

This theme (that at its inner core, scientific inquiry is richly aesthetic) is a recurrent one throughout On Creativity. But it is the impulse underlying this aesthetic – the impulse to learn – that is the focus of this first chapter. The learning which Bohm alludes to here is not the rote learning of established facts; it is learning about something truly new. Such ‘newness’ is not, for example, acquiring information about a culture one had not previously studied, which would most likely be a simple additive process. The learning implied here is instead that of perceiving new orders of relationship, and hinges on a sensitivity to difference and similarity.

I really think this is essential in understanding the importance of creativity. Why it is so very important to recognise this ability to be creative, to provide free space for it. To be aware of the blocks we build that prevent creativity. And the importance of developing our creativity.

It is about perceiving new orders of relationships. It is about a growing sensitivity to differences and similarities. It is about recognizing patterns. Patterns that emerge from the underlying reality. Patterns that give aesthetic satisfaction if they are recognized.

And doing that is the task of the individual. The individual that has to ‘see’ new patterns and make them manifest.


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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