She woke up that night in the dark, after this stroke, and she felt something touching her face. She didn’t know what it was. She started struggling against it, and whatever was touching her became more and more aggressive. Finally, she succeeded in turning on the light in her room, and no one was there. Eventually it became apparent to her that, because of the stroke, she had lost the sensation in her arm, and it was her own arm that she was struggling against in the dark.
Bohm maintains that this is analogous to what is taking place with thought. Thought is not aware of its own movement, so it is constantly creating unintended effects. Then it struggles against those effects, without realizing that it is the source of what it is struggling against.
Now we will look at another way in which assumptions, and defining limits, and forming abstractions, combine to create a serious set of problems and difficulties. To understand this, we need to recall that thought creates representations of everything it encounters. That raises the question, what kind of representations have we formed about thought itself?
As we begin to examine this question, the first thing to notice is how we define what is thought, or, as Bohm would put it, how does thought implicitly define itself? What does thought consist of, and what is not thought?
This is one place where Bohm says that our implicit ideas go severely awry. We consider thought to consist primarily of whatever thinking is going through our minds at any given moment of time. We feel that thoughts are ephemeral and insubstantial and confined within the mental space of our minds.
We consider thought to be distinct and separate from the emotions, for example. However, as we have already pointed out, Bohm rejects that idea. He maintains that thoughts and emotions are intimately intertwined with one another, as we can see in the anatomy of the brain, and in neurophysiology, and in all kinds of direct, personal experiences.
In addition, as we have discussed, the representations in implicit thought act in such a way as to move into our present perception of the world. They fuse with our perception in such a way that the thoughts get perceived as objective reality. This is another way that thoughts are not confined to the intellectual space inside our minds.
Moreover, our thoughts are constantly being communicated from one person to another, flowing between people and among people, so that your thoughts become my thoughts, and vice versa, all throughout society. And now, with social media like Twitter and Facebook, the pace of exchange of thoughts among people is greatly accelerated. So thought is circulating throughout the body and nervous system of the individual, and between people and all through society and culture. All of these thoughts form a kind of network, a vast, interconnected set of ideas, beliefs, opinions, assumptions and information that collectively forms a huge, unified system.
So the idea that thoughts are just an ephemeral, insubstantial phenomenon confined to our individual minds is erroneous. Thought is a system, according to Bohm, an all-pervasive network that flows through each individual as well as throughout society. This idea is so fundamental to Bohmian psychology that the one book he has in this field is titled Thought as a System.
Now we come to the place where we find the most confusion in the process of thought, and the primary source of disorder. For this, we have to come back to our implicit thoughts about thought itself. We have to ask: What do we regard as the source, or origin of our thoughts?
Most or all of us feel or believe that inwardly we have a self, what we call ‘I’ or ‘me,’ and when we are thinking, we feel like I am thinking. We feel that inwardly there is a psychological entity, or what we can refer to as the thinker. And we believe, or thought believes, that the thinker is the source or origin of our thoughts.
According to Bohmian psychology, this point of view is fundamentally false. He says the thinker is really just a representation created by thought that has no actual substance, no reality underlying it. It is a show, an appearance, that does not correspond to anything that actually exists. In other words, it is illusory. It has the same degree of reality as a rainbow.
When we see a rainbow, there is nothing in the sky that corresponds to what we see. By way of contrast, if you see a mountain in the distance, it is real. You can travel toward it and get closer to it and eventually arrive at the mountain. But you cannot do that with a rainbow. You can’t move closer to it because there is nothing there to move closer to. A rainbow is just the appearance of something created by light reflecting off of water droplets in the sky.
Robert Fludd’s Depiction of Perception, 1619
In the same way, the thinker—which is the I, the self, the ego—is just an appearance, a representation created by thought. In other words, it is thought which produces the thinker, rather than the thinker which is producing thought. This is a very deep and fundamental mistake, one which has profound consequences for daily life and for the global human disorder.
The reason this illusion has such important and dangerous consequences is that we attach enormous significance to the thinker. The brain interprets the psychological self as having the same value as the physical self. We consider the health and well-being of the psychological entity to be as important as the health and well-being of the physical organism. As a result, we will do anything necessary to defend it.
We said at the beginning that thought proceeds on the basis of assumptions. This is a good and useful characteristic unless and until some reason comes up to question our assumptions. In that case, we need to be willing to look, examine, and change our assumptions according to new evidence.
But if we identify ourselves with our assumptions, then we feel like someone who questions or challenges them is challenging ‘me.’ We feel threatened in our very self, in a deep way, and we will refuse to examine the assumption. On the contrary, we will fight to defend it, and not give it up no matter what may be the cost.
Our failure to understand the process of thought therefore produces conflict and incoherence both inwardly and outwardly. Thought creates fragmentation and division that leads to conflict. It is based on assumptions that we defend and refuse to question because we are identified with them. We fail to see and acknowledge the pervasive extent and power of thought. And above all, we have an illusory concept of the source of thought, the thinker, the psychological self. We attach ultimate significance to an illusory being whose value overwhelms truth and cooperation and all other considerations.
This is a very brief outline of how the process of thought becomes deeply involved in illusion and incoherence and disorder. But the undiscovered continent of Bohmian psychology is very much richer, more subtle, more complex, and more detailed than what I have presented here. This is merely a brief introduction, and an invitation to study this fertile territory at greater length.
What we have described so far is Bohm’s diagnosis of the psychological landscape that is responsible for the global human disorder. But he also provided a prescription or remedy designed to resolve and heal that disorder. This remedy is a unique form of dialogue that we may call Bohm dialogue, and it is the subject of the section that follows.