David Bohm (1917-1992) was an American physicist who was personal friends with both Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama. He was intensely interested not only in what theoretical physics could tell us about the world but what it is not telling us and why not.
This page is largely a summary of Bohm’s book Wholeness and the Implicate Order which ends up postulating an infinite number of extra ‘dimensions’ in order to explain the world we live in.
Bohm starts by reviewing the three main contenders for a description of reality, namely classical physics, relativity and quantum physics, and shows that they are inconsistent with each other, inconsistent with reality and even to some extent, inconsistent with themselves, These existing paradigms are adequate for describing and predicting physical reality in specific experimental situations but fall short of providing a satisfactory picture of the ‘nature’ of reality and cannot even begin to describe ‘consciousness’ or ‘life’.
The result is that we have different models of reality at different physical scales, we imagine that biological life arose as a matter of random processes and that thought and awareness are somehow anomalies that arise as a side effect of neuronal activity, requiring no additional explanation other than this.
This is all very unsatisfactory and ‘something else’ is therefore needed to clarify the situation.
Classical physics is the easiest framework to understand for normal human beings as we are familiar with the basic ideas and can actually see what is going on at the everyday level.
Objects are regarded as distinct entities, are separated in space and can ‘move’ around in a continuous fashion as time ‘passes’.
The ideas of locality, causality and stability are paramount, with objects possessing certain properties having specific effects on other objects via either direct contact or the influence of invisible forces such as gravity or magnetism that can extend through space to exert influence at a distance. These effects can be seen a measured by an independent (passive) observer, inferences drawn and laws of nature formulated.
This all seems very natural and for many it will seem almost inconceivable that anything else is needed or even could be imagined; this sounds like ‘proper science’.
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” – Isaac Newton
The theories of relativity however are altogether more counter-intuitive, with both time and distance being highly flexible concepts. The solidity and weight of everyday objects is formulated as ‘energy’ with E = mc2 and, again, varies according to how fast you are travelling relative to another observer.
The forces of Newtonian physics are expressed in Relativity as ‘field’ equations and there is no such thing as simultaneity at a distance – we can’t ever apply a ‘date’ to the universe as a whole because time runs at different speeds in different places.
The concept of causality is retained but is somewhat different from classical physics, with an ‘event’ causing an ‘effect’ in space which ‘propagates’ outwards at the speed of light from a single point. A ‘point’ is an infinitesimally small region of space-time, part of some global and infinitely divisible continuum. In addition, we are accustomed to having the concept of ‘universal time’ to help distinguish cause and effect but with relativity it is often not even possible to say in which ‘order’ things happen – you can’t always say that ‘A happened before B’ because the word ‘before’ has no consistent meaning!
Relativity is very much a theoretical framework and is very conveniently expressed in terms of mathematical constructs but seems to us very far from everyday reality.
Quantum physics is said by some physicists to be the most accurate representation of reality that we have – but try understanding it!
Causality is replaced by indeterminism and ‘movement’ is discontinuous, with ‘particles’ disappearing from one place and popping up somewhere else without travelling through the any of the points in between.
Quantum wave functions are said to be probabilistic although nobody has ever seen one and a wave function will collapse all at once so that now an ‘effect’ happens all at once over an arbitrarily large distance instead of moving across space in an orderly fashion or being transferred from one object to another.
Particles can be ‘entangled’ which means that an effect can be present simultaneously in two parts of the universe at the same time possibly millions of miles apart and cats can be alive and dead at the same time (only kidding – this is just nonsense).
To cap it all, we find that the only way to measure something at the sub-atomic level is to introduce a disturbance into the experimental set up so ‘energetic’ that it completely changes the state of the thing we are trying to measure with the result that any independent observation of the system is now impossible.
Quantum wave functions are not ‘real’ in the usual sense of the word and only manifest as real when they interact with some other part of reality whereupon they will collapse according to a ‘random’ probability distribution into something definite and measurable. So ‘order’ and ‘causation’ here are the result of a statistical average of multiple collapses of random indeterminacy into concrete reality.
There is not so much then the idea of ‘separateness’ in quantum mechanics and we are moving towards a system where the observer and the observed and indeed the whole universe are to be regarded not as individual entities but rather as one single undivided whole.
Bohm points out several other nuances and inconsistencies, for example explaining that although the idea of the ‘speed’ of a moving object seems natural and intuitive, we do not however have a way of measuring it directly. Instead we can measure its position at a certain time T0 and then some time later at time T1 and calculate how far it has travelled in say ten seconds.
This will give us an average speed for the object over the time interval but not an instantaneous measurement of the quantity that we really want. On top of this we have the philosophical problem that even as we are calculating the average speed, we are referencing a moment in time, T0, that no longer exists! This is fine from the point of view of the mathematics but again at odds with the reality of our own experience which only recognises the present moment as really ‘existing’ in any meaningful sense of the word.
In fact although the present moment is the only thing that is real for us, none of the above theoretical frameworks treats this instant in time as anything special nor even attempts to distinguish it in any way.
So we are left with competing and inconsistent theories of reality that are great for making observations, measurements and predictions but do not accord with our everyday experience. They can describe some of the mechanics of reality but not the nature of reality.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order tries to address these anomalies. The proposal is that what we perceive as reality (the Explicate Order) is just the surface of a larger dimensional structure (the Implicate Order) and that the patterns and natural laws we observe are epiphenomena of this structure, illusions created by the limitations of our senses and the size of our measuring instruments.
One way of looking at this is to image the ‘reality’ of a television screen where characters move about, interact and discuss the nature of reality. Objects seem to move from one place to another in an orderly fashion and the Laws of Physics prevail. Of course this is all an illusion created by the software of a separate physical system which inhabits a higher dimension and is invisible to the ‘beings’ it creates.
In this example, objects do not move from one place to another but what happens is that pixels of light will give the impression of a certain object at a certain time and then a short time later will apparently show the object at a slightly different location thereby creating the impression of movement. The pixels have not moved but just switched on and off according to a certain pattern.
The ink drop example. Bohm gives an example of some drops of ink that have been ‘enfolded’ into the Implicate Order of a viscous fluid, [video].
The drops are initially invisible to us as the Implicate Order is too complex or is at a scale of reality imperceptible to our senses, but at a certain time in the ‘unfolding’, they suddenly become visible to us as ‘real’ and distinct objects.
Now if one drop after another were to become visible at regular distances and time intervals, it would create the impression of a moving object and scientists would start to formulate laws of motion based upon the explicate patterns that are presented to them, What is really happening though is that because of the physical scale and mechanism of their perceptual system, they are selectively sampling ‘screenshots’ of a much larger picture and attempting to draw inferences from this.
If what Bohm says is true then using complex measuring instruments in a laboratory setting is not likely to resolve the matter. Using smaller, more sensitive or faster measuring techniques will not give a more unified picture of reality but will instead expose more nuances of the Implicate Order, leading to more undiscovered ‘laws’ of physics which only ever apply in specific situations. This is in fact what has happened for example with Relativity and Quantum physics.
“By making possible the point-to-point imaging and recording of things that are too small to be seen with the naked eye, too big, too fast, too slow etc. it leads us to believe that eventually everything can be perceived in this way. From this grows the idea that there is nothing that cannot be conceived as constituted of such localised elements.” David Bohm
Consciousness, according to this framework, is just another manifestation of the Implicate Order, with various aspects such as awareness becoming explicate and hence visible whilst others remain hidden according to the limitations of the mechanisms of introspection.
A common view is that the world of thought and the world of physical substance are separate entities, seemingly whole of themselves and connected together somehow in a constructive, meaningful and causal way. Here, however, they are instead to be regarded as smaller units of a larger undivided whole.
According to Bohm, even the causal relationship between mind and body may well be an illusion:
“The projections of the higher dimensional ground, as mind and body, will in the later moment both be different from what they were in the earlier moment, though these differences will of course be related. So we do not say that mind and body causally affect each other but rather that the movements of both are the outcome of related projections of a common higher dimensional ground.”
“As a human being takes part in the, process of this totality, he is fundamentally changed in the very activity in which his aim is to change that reality which is the content of his consciousness. To fail to take this into account must inevitably lead one to serious and sustained confusion in all that one does.“
Bohm’s pilot wave theory supposed that some of the confusion around behaviour at the quantum level could be resolved by the existence of waves of a very small wavelength which would act as a guide for electrons and photons through the famous double slit set up. (Water droplet and waves pictured [video]).
These waves could carry a lot of information and could have a considerable contribution to overall reality but aren’t normally noticed as our own senses and indeed scientific measuring instruments all depend upon the measurement of wavelengths round about the size of an atom or frequencies having enough energy to change the charge configuration on an atom.
Bohm actually gives mathematical formulae that are consistent with current quantum theory and describe a whole scale of smaller and smaller quantum waves right down to the smallest assumed possible wavelength – the Planck unit at 10−35 m.
The current situation with quantum indeterminacy is that we have the abstract mathematical concept of randomness sitting right at the roots of reality. This is somewhat unsatisfactory and so Bohm’s pilot waves are an attractive way of adding some order and causality back into our model of physical reality.
Together with Karl Pribram, Bohm formulated the Pribram-Bohm Hypothesis which speculates that information is transformed by the brain and stored as a ‘holographic’ field somewhere somehow for later retrieval and manipulation. This makes sense as information stored this way satisfies many of the obvious requirements for consciousness, thought processing, instantaneous memory retrieval etc.
‘Holographic’ in this sense means that all of the information is ‘folded’ together and superimposed in such a way every part of the information field stores all of the information. For a real life demonstration see this video : each part of the hologram contains the entire scene and moreover arranges it in a three dimensional illusion even though only two dimensions of information are present.
The mathematical method for doing this is well known via a Fourier Transform and results in a ‘mental workspace’ that is les time-like or space-like than physical reality but more frequency-like. It is in this domain that thought, memories and consciousness are thought to occur.
So information comes into our senses in the form of electromagnetic or acoustic waves and is transformed possibly to waves of a smaller wavelength but higher frequency (Bohm’s pilot waves) and possibly to even smaller waves and so on down to the ‘bottom of reality’, the Plank Length where no smaller division is possible. At this scale of reality we no longer have time-varying wave fields, but a sequence of frequency ‘records’ each representing a single ‘cognition’. [video]
The diagram, taken from the Shelli Joye video shows the whole of Bohm’s Implicate Order as part of the transformed frequency domain where spatial separation is irrelevant and information is represented as a set of ‘cognitions’ accessible by relevance.
This arrangement seems like a much better foundation for human thought processes than the sequential processing of bits as in a computer:
- Memory is ‘associative’ as opposed to sequential and retrieval is almost instantaneous as we don’t have to sift through a time-ordered list of snapshots
- Thought processing is via the manipulation of cognitive impressions as opposed to number crunching (“Consciousness is not a computation” – Roger Penrose)
- Proprioception and movement involve the instantaneous coordination of billions of spatially separated molecules which is not suitable for a central control mechanism
- Visual images are perceived as 3-D even though the image on our retina is only 2-D
- Sometimes even a large amount of damage to the brain can have little effect on functionality, which tends to support the idea of distributed (holographic) information storage
- Perception consists of recognisable images or ‘qualia’ as opposed to a list of frequencies of visible light waves. Some sort of high level transformation is in place to take ‘snapshots’ of physical reality and reformat them into something more practical for conscious processes.
Bohm has showed then that the current theories of the physical universe are not complete, are inconsistent within themselves and are not even sufficient to describe the nature of the physical universe let alone the nature of human consciousness.
What we perceive as reality is largely an illusion arising from the physical scale at which we exist and the consequent limitations of our sensory apparatus.
Bohm proposes solutions that are mathematically consistent and are inclusive of the current theory of quantum mechanics. In the case of consciousness, the Pribram-Bohm Hypothesis suggests a solution which solves the basic problem of converting wave forms into static patterns or ‘cognitions’ via the already established technique of the Fourier Transform.
Physical and conscious reality are no longer to be regarded as separate domains to be connected together by hidden forces but rather as different ways of representing the same information within a single undivided whole.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order – David Bohm
Is This What Quantum Mechanics Looks Like? – Veritasium
David Bohm’s Pilot Wave Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics – Sabine Hossenfelder
John Cobb and David Bohm Interview, 1984
David Suzuki interviews David Bohm.
The pilot-wave dynamics of walking droplets
What happens when you cut a hologram in half?
Holonomic brain theory – Wikipedia
The Pribram – Bohm Hypothesis – Shelli Joye
A Geometry of Consciousness — The Pribram Bohm Hypothesis – Shelli Joye
Consciousness is Not a Computation (Roger Penrose)