Email after watching a filmed lecture by David Bohm

Hi again, Friend#7

Thank you so much for telling me about the movie about David Bohm. His work has had an enormous impact on my life and career, but I never heard him speak before now! After all these years, it was amazing to listen to an audiotape of his lecture on the implicate order, and I look forward to watching the videos of his conversations with spiritual and scientific luminaries! Having dealt with many of the same concepts for 30 years, I could almost hear the gears in his brain whirring in modulated thought as he described them! 

One of the saddest things about my career is that I’ve worked almost entirely alone over all these years and had very few professional contacts. Yet, amazingly, three of the handful of my close associates have been huge proponents of David Bohm, each in one of the three areas that he pioneered: (1) In conventional quantum physics, Bohm wrote many seminal articles and one of the most definitive textbooks. (2) Later, he broke off from the quantum physics mainstream and reinterpreted Louis de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory. His former colleagues ostracized him for that work, facilitated by Joe McCarthy’s commission on “un-American activities”, which hounded him for communist leanings early in his life. (3) Bohm emigrated to Brazil, where in exile and near-isolation, he pursued his philosophical studies of the implicate and explicate order. The movie dealt with the last contribution, which I have found to have the biggest blind spots — which drove me to shift my attention to his second contribution. 

Two of my friends who admired Bohm were physicists: David Finkelstein, an emeritus professor of quantum physics at Georgia Tech and an eclectic scholar on all fronts, and Friend#11, who introduced me to pilot-wave theory. Another colleague delved deeply into Bohm’s philosophy, highlighting for me its foundational flaws: it deliberately leaves itself untethered from all past thought to remain as flexible in its analysis as possible. That’s a terrific perspective for someone with the intellectual integrity of David Bohm, but the approach is vulnerable to people lacking ethical tethers, since its intellectual relativism leaves itself vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and error. The longest and largest digression in my career resulted from following the implications of that track instead of taking a more natural path. 

I haven’t studied Bohm’s philosophical theory because I have a blind spot for philosophy — it’s the only course I’ve ever flunked! I just can’t read other people’s opinions about how life works, because I insist on seeing the scientific foundations. Bohm’s philosophy does have such foundations, but he deliberately makes them as tenuous as possible. With all the vagueness of philosophical thought, compounded by all the combinations of perspectives and experiences people bring into their exploration, the chances of getting the right mix — and then persuading people you’re onto something — is infinitesimally small! As I’ll explain below, Bohm’s philosophy has the further disadvantage of discouraging the overconfidence of direct language, which I have found leads to all kinds of misunderstanding and miscommunication. 

One thing I can study is language, and Bohm obliged me with a truly fascinating essay. By way of background, I did my MPH thesis with Roger Glass at CDC, who had a friend who wrote an essay entitled “To be or not” advocating ruthlessly direct sentence structure: If you find yourself using any form of the verb “to be”, you can always find a more direct and active way to make your point (as this sentence and Roger’s friend’s “correction” of Shakespeare’s indirection illustrate!). 

Bohm’s essay on language was the exact opposite: Since he maintained that we are just instruments of the unfolding of a limitless implicate order, maybe we should only think of ourselves in passive terms. He suggested nested nuances of such passive indirection, to keep ourselves from ascribing too much initiative on our part. When I think of the difference between David Bohm’s radical indirection and Roger Glass’s ruthless directness, I often think how Roy Cohn indoctrinated Donald Trump never to apologize. All these things are great examples showing what a tremendous talent I have for telling when things go from the sublime to the ridiculous — but my problem is that I never can tell which is which! 

I was really fascinated to hear from Bohm’s audiotaped lecture that he didn’t follow his own advice, and in fact, spoke more directly than most people do. His mannerisms sounded very Canadian, using a nervous laugh to call attention to points, almost like the characteristic “Eh?” That seemed to be his nice, charming, and completely valid way of introducing indirection into his communications. 

The pioneering neoclassical economist Alfred Marshall urged his followers to emulate biology, not physics, in their studies of society — and every generation of economists since has ignored his advice. The problem of Bohm’s philosophy is that it’s based on physics, as if to model the infinite universe, whereas our experiences, thoughts, and actions are based on biology. Seeing how Bohmian philosophy can be misused, I’ve stumbled on a way to use Bohmian physics to model biological functions and then found that combination to apply to all levels of life. That approach also emulates dynamic systems, which start from memory of their past behavior as their internal states flow forward in time. As it turns out, that approach has the advantage of connecting to theological insights, so it has the potential of being much more persuasive than Bohm could ever hope to be (Oops, sorry Roger, I plagiarized Shakespeare). Its disadvantages are (1) it might reinforce wrong ideas and (2) it might lead to biases associated with terrestrial biology when we think about the universe beyond earth. 

It was especially fascinating to hear that pioneering quantum physicist talk about terms such as coherence, time, order, unfolding, truth, etc., because such concepts have mathematical meaning in physics. I could imagine, as he slipped those terms into his sentences, his thoughts flickered back to exercises in his classic quantum physics text and then back to the discussion of the implicate and explicate order that was going on in his classroom! 

I think David Bohm would be interested to hear how I can now interpret the implicate and explicate order in terms of the mathematics of life. As you’ll see — if I can ever get my act together and write the damn blog! — fractals, percolation, and flows enter the picture of life all together in at least two different ways. Our actions are embedded as an explicate unfolding of that fractal percolation that defines the implicate order. And voilà! That’s the mathematical explanation that Bohm envisioned as he put the ideas into words! As I imagined his brain unfolding these thoughts in words, I can imagine him responding, “Oh, sure! That’s what I meant! (Heh)!” 

As you can see, whole aspects of my life and career came into perspective listening to Dave Bohm’s lecture! It almost felt like having a conversation with him. Thank you so much for enriching my life by telling me about the movie! Please convey my appreciation to your contacts at the Fetzer Institute for making this treasure available to the public. 

Your friend, 

Ray G


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