David Bohm, fully David Joseph Bohm

David
Bohm, fully David Joseph Bohm
1917
1992

American-born British Quantum Physicist. Made contributions in Theoretical Physics, Philosophy and Neuropsychology and the Manhattan Project.

Author Quotes

One thing that prevents us from thus giving primary emphasis to the perception of what is new and different is that we are afraid to make mistakes? If one will not try anything until he is assured that he will not make a mistake in whatever he does, he will never be able to learn anything new at all. And this is more or less the state in which most people are. Such a fear of making a mistake is added to one?s habits of mechanical perception in terms of preconceived ideas and learning only for specific utilitarian purposes. All of these combine to make a person who cannot perceive what is new and who is therefore mediocre rather than original.

Such an opportunity arises in many fields which may at first show little promise, especially because (at least at first) society is not in the habit of recognizing them to be potentially creative. Indeed, real originality and creativity imply that one does not work only in fields that are recognized in this way, but that one is ready in each case to inquire for oneself as to whether there is or is not a fundamentally significant difference between the actual fact and one?s preconceived notions that opens up the possibility for creative and original work? Creativity of some kind may be possible in almost any conceivable field? It is always founded on the sensitive perception of what is new and different from what is inferred from previous knowledge.

The ability to learn something new is based on the general state of mind of a human being. It does not depend on special talents, nor does it operate only in special fields, such as science, art, music or architecture. But when it does operate, there is an undivided and total interest in what one is doing. Recall, for example, the kind of interest that a young child shows when he is learning to walk. If you watch him, you will see that he is putting his whole being into it. Only this kind of whole-hearted interest will give the mind the energy needed to see what is new and different, especially when the latter seems to threaten what is familiar, precious, secure, or otherwise dear to us. It is clear that all the great scientists and artists had such a feeling for their work.

The action of learning is the essence of real perception, in the sense that without it a person is unable to see, in any new situation, what is a fact and what is not? But real perception that is capable of seeing something new and unfamiliar requires that one be attentive, alert, aware, and sensitive.

The artist, the musical composer, the architect, the scientist all feel a fundamental need to discover and create something new that is whole and total, harmonious and beautiful. Few ever get a chance to try to do this, and even fewer actually manage to do it. Yet, deep down, it is probably what very large numbers of people in all walks of life are seeking when they attempt to escape the daily humdrum routine by engaging in every kind of entertainment, excitement, stimulation, change of occupation, and so forth, through which they ineffectively try to compensate for the unsatisfying narrowness and mechanicalness of their lives.

The creative state of mind ? is, first of all, one whose interest in what is being done is wholehearted and total, like that of a young child. With this spirit, it is always open to learning what is new, to perceiving new differences and new similarities, leading to new orders and structures, rather than always tending to impose familiar orders and structures in the field of what is seen.

The scientist emphasizes the aspect of discovering oneness and totality in nature. For this reason, the fact that his work can also be creative is often overlooked. But in order to discover oneness and totality, the scientist has to create the new overall structures of ideas which are needed to express the harmony and beauty that can be found in nature.

This kind of action of the creative state of mind is impossible if one is limited by narrow and petty aims, such as security, furthering of personal ambition, glorification of the individual or the state? Although such motives may permit occasional flashes of penetrating insight, they evidently tend to hold the mind a prisoner of its old and familiar structure of thought and perception. Indeed, merely to inquire into what is unknown must inevitably lead one into a situation in which all that is done may well constitute a threat to the successful achievement of those narrow and limited goals. A genuinely new and untried step may either fail altogether or else, even if it succeeds, lead to ideas that are not recognized until after one is dead. Besides, such aims are not compatible with the harmony, beauty, and totality that is characteristic of real creation.

No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings, either in nature or in society, unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.

One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned.

For as long as the individual cannot learn from what he does and sees, whenever such learning requires that he go outside the framework of his basic preconceptions, then his action will ultimately be directed by some idea that does not correspond to the fact as it is. Such action is worse than useless, and evidently cannot possibly give rise to a genuine solution of the problems of the individual and of society.

Consider, for example, the work of an artist. Can it properly be said that the artist is expressing himself, i.e., literally ?pushing outward? something that is already formed inside of him? Such a description is not in fact generally accurate or adequate. 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 is engaged in a similar ?dialogue? with nature (as well as with his fellow human beings). Thus, when a scientist has an idea, this is tested by observation. When it is found (as generally happens) that what is observed is only similar to what he had in mind and not identical, then from a consideration of the similarities and the differences he 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.

Different groups ? are not actually able to listen to each other. As a result, the very attempt to improve communication leads frequently to yet more confusion, and the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.

In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It?s a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose ? if I win, you lose. But a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins.

In spite of this worldwide system of linkages, there is, at this very moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale? What appears [in the media] is generally at best a collection of trivial and almost unrelated fragments, while at worst, it can often be a really harmful source of confusion and misinformation.

It is clear that if we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds to or otherwise defends his own ideas.

It is necessary to share meaning. A society is a link of relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture ? which implies that we share meaning; i.e., significance, purpose, and value. Otherwise it falls apart. Our society is incoherent, and doesn?t do that very well; it hasn?t for a long time, if it ever did. The different assumptions that people have are tacitly affecting the whole meaning of what we are doing.

It is not an arbitrary imposition to state that we have no fixed purpose ? no absolute purpose, anyway. We may set up relative purposes for investigation, but we are not wedded to a particular purpose, and are not saying that the whole group must conform to that purpose indefinitely. All of us might want the human race to survive, but even that is not our purpose. Our purpose is really to communicate coherently in truth, if you want to call that a purpose.

Language is collective. Most of our basic assumptions come from our society, including all our assumptions about how society works, about what sort of person we are supposed to be, and about relationships, institutions, and so on. Therefore we need to pay attention to thought both individually and collectively.

Love will go away if we can?t communicate and share meaning? However, if we can really communicate, then we will have fellowship, participation, friendship, and love, growing and growing. That would be the way?

The knowledge deceives the mind, so that the person is not normally aware that it is destructive. Once this process gets started, the mind is not in a state where it is able to look at it because it is avoiding the question. There is a tremendous defensive mechanism to escape from looking at the whole issue? Because it seems that something extremely precious might be at stake? Once importance has been given to knowledge, there is a mechanical process that resists intelligence.

The tacit process is common. It is shared. The sharing is not merely the explicit communication and the body language and all that, which are part of it, but there is also a deeper tacit process which is common. I think the whole human race knew this for a million years; and then in five thousand years of civilization we have lost it, because our societies got too big to carry it out. But now we have to get started again, because it has become urgent that we communicate. We have to share our consciousness and to be able to think together, in order to do intelligently whatever is necessary. If we begin to confront what?s going on in a dialogue group, we sort of have the nucleus of what?s going on in all society.

?Communication? ? is based on the Latin commun and the suffix ?ie? which is similar to ?fie,? in that it means ?to make or to do.? So one meaning of ?to communicate? is ?to make something common,? i.e., to convey information or knowledge from one person to another in as accurate a way as possible? Nevertheless, this meaning does not cover all that is signified by communication. For example, consider a dialogue. In such a dialogue, 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 he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering this difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his 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. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together. But of course such communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able freely to listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions, and be ready to go on to something different, when this is called for.

When we come together to talk, or otherwise to act in common, can each one of us be aware of the subtle fear and pleasure sensations that ?block? his ability to listen freely? Without this awareness, the injunction to listen to the whole of what is said will have little meaning. But if each one of us can give full attention to what is actually ?blocking? communication while he is also attending properly to the content of what is communicated, then we may be able to create something new between us, something of very great significance for bringing to an end the at present insoluble problems of the individual and of society.

?Dialogue? comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ?the word,? or in our case we would think of the ?meaning of the word.? And dia means ?through? ? it doesn?t mean ?two.? A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It?s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It?s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ?glue? or ?cement? that holds people and societies together. Contrast this with the word ?discussion,? which has the same root as ?percussion? and ?concussion.? It really means to break things up. It emphasizes the idea of analysis, where there may be many points of view, and where everybody is presenting a different one ? analyzing and breaking up. That obviously has its value, but it is limited, and it will not get us very far beyond our various points of view. Discussion is almost like a ping-pong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points for yourself.

Author Picture
First Name
David
Last Name
Bohm, fully David Joseph Bohm
Birth Date
1917
Death Date
1992
Bio

American-born British Quantum Physicist. Made contributions in Theoretical Physics, Philosophy and Neuropsychology and the Manhattan Project.