David Bohm 1917–1992

F. DAVID PEAT

Childhood

David Joseph Bohm was born on December 20, 1917 in the coal mining town of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. His brother Robert was born four years later. His father Shmul Düm came from an orthodox Chasidic family in the Hungarian town of Munkács. He emigrated to the United States, where an immigration official changed his surname to Bohm. Shmul worked at first as a peddler before settling in Wilkes Barre at the home of the Popky family, where he eventually married the Popky daughter, Frieda, and opened a used furniture store.

Bohm’s childhood was not particularly happy. His father appeared distant and at times sarcastic to his elder son, while his mother began to show increasing signs of mental disturbance. It was left to David’s maternal grandmother to run the household. The young boy was physically uncoordinated and remained on the fringes. While his school companions played together, he would wander away into the woods. While home life was less than ideal, he discovered the world of science fiction at the age of ten when he came across the magazine Amazing Stories. Soon his imagination was fired with visions of aliens and space travel. Those other worlds and their inhabitants proved far more ideal than the Earth he had left behind. Soon the boy was composing stories of his own and writing to the editors of his favourite science fiction magazines.

He also began to have compelling fantasies of light so intense that it would penetrate matter and probe his own brain. Soon he was carrying out scientific experiments and became enthralled by such things as the gas fluorine that could etch glass and the metals potassium and sodium that would ignite on contact with water.

David did well at school, particularly in mathematics and, after reading a story about a boy who threw a ball into the fourth dimension, began to work out the geometrical consequences of a four-dimensional world. This caused him to wonder if the world around him was less substantial than people believed and to speculate that maybe we were all living in a higher dimensional reality. Dreams of ideal worlds and higher dimensions may well be the childhood seed out of which his Implicate Order was later to develop.

With a home that was chaotic, oppressive, and at times violent, David had a desire to seek security. This extended to his own body—he would carefully plan each physical movement when, for example, climbing a tree, so that he was always in control of his body. One day his friends were crossing a river by means of a series of rocks. As usual Bohm planned out each move, but as he jumped onto the first rock he realized that he could only continue to cross by being in constant movement, rather than moving between a set of fixed positions. This appears to have been an important revelation to him—to learn that security could lie in movement. Later, in the world of his physics, Bohm would focus on the notion of ‘holomovement,’ or movement of the whole. Thus, in Bohm’s mature view, the electron itself was no longer a particle but a process that constantly unfolds and enfolds out of the Implicate Order.

Towards the end of his time at high school Bohm was reading about Niels Bohr and developed his own approach to quantized orbits by proposing that the electron has tides and that the interval between successive tides is equal to the time the electron takes to orbit around its nucleus. He was also working on a ‘general theory of the cosmos’ which would also include the existence of mind.Bohm and Oppenheimer

After high school Bohm studied physics at Penn State University, where he felt free to pursue his own studies, and then at Cal Tech, where he became unhappy because of the amount of coursework that was demanded. Bohm already realized that his creativity lay in following his own pathways. A friend suggested he should speak to J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had established a school of theoretical physics at Berkeley. The interview went well and Bohm was offered an assistantship that would cover his living expenses. Later in his life Bohm was to become friendly with the psychiatrist David Shainberg, who noted that Bohm had always been in search of approval and in particular from one who could act as a father figure. Oppenheimer at first appeared an ideal person to fulfil that role; however, in addition to his somewhat arrogant attitude Oppenheimer had what he called his ‘beastliness.’ This behavior pattern involved drawing a new student very close to him and then suddenly rejecting him, leaving the individual hurt and confused. Bohm’s rejection was to come later.

Oppenheimer gave Bohm his first research problem, a theoretical description of proton–deuteron scattering. Bohm had already established his characteristic mode of research, which involved taking long walks so that he could think. After several months he was invited to give a seminar on his work and for two days prepared his talk, working up a great ‘charge of mental energy.’ The talk went so well that he reached the point where he began to feel that he had moved from physics into something almost mystical, so that the individual consciousness of the audience had been transcended and the room was filled with intense light. A psychiatrist would probably diagnose that Bohm had experienced a psychic inflation, and indeed the inevitable letdown was a period of depression that lasted for a year.Transformation of Society and the Individual

The United States was now at war and Oppenheimer was essential to the running of the Manhattan Project. However, the security services were uneasy with his left-wing sympathies and he was subject to investigation. When questioned, Oppenheimer was willing to name names and discuss his students’ political sympathies. One of those whom he termed ‘politically suspect’ and possibly ‘dangerous’ was David Bohm. It would be some years before Bohm learned that his father figure had betrayed him. Not having security clearance for the Manhattan Project, Bohm moved to Princeton—where he developed a strong friendship with Einstein. He continued his work on plasmas but also began to write a text book on quantum theory, one that would present a clear expression of Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation.

Ironically under the Manhattan project Bohm’s work was classified and so, without clearance, he was not even in a position to defend his Ph.D. thesis! External forces were also at work in other ways. Bohm had earlier been concerned about the rise of Nazi Germany and the anti-Semitism he had noted in his own country. Now he learned about the Soviet Union and read Marx and Engels. He had always been concerned about the fragile nature of human society but it now appeared that, through dialectic materialism, society could change in a radical way and that, within such a new society, the individual would also transform. But, Bohm wondered, how could there be individual freedom within the collective, a question that was to resonate with his next research topic—the theory of plasmas in metals. It was a particular characteristic of Bohm’s life and creativity that his scientific, social, and personal concerns were always part of a greater whole.Plasmas in Metals

A plasma is a gas of electrically charged particles and can be found, for example, in the sun. But plasmas also exist in metals since, while most electrons are bound to the atoms in the metal lattice, the outer electrons are free to move through the charged lattice. Bohm established his theory by using two sets of variables; one described the movement of individual electrons, the other the collective motion of the plasma. By expressing a relationship between the two sets of variables Bohm was able to obtain an accurate theory of plasma behavior in a metal. What is more, while the electrical repulsion between two electrons normally falls off quite slowly—meaning they can feel this repulsion at great distances—in the case of the plasma, this repulsion falls off rapidly. Bohm’s conclusion was that to the extent that the individual contributes to the collective, that individual becomes relatively free.Quantum Theory

The original quantum mechanics was created by Heisenberg, and a year later an alternative wave mechanics approach was proposed by Schrödinger. However, it was necessary to give a coherent interpretation of these theoretical advances. This was done by Bohr in Copenhagen in discussions with Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Pauli, and others. In particular, they discussed the ‘meaning’ of the theory, which Heisenberg proposed lay in the mathematics itself. But Bohr pointed out that when physicists discuss equations they use ordinary language, which contains all manner of assumptions about space, time, and causality. His conclusion was that physicists are ‘suspended in language’ and that attempts to define the ultimate nature of quantum reality would end up running into paradox and confusion.Hidden Variables

Bohm began to see that in a certain sense Bohr’s approach was almost tinged with mysticism. Bohm believed for dialectical materialism to work, matter must be rational all the way down to the subatomic, yet Bohr seemed to be saying that there is a limit to what can be said about the quantum world. Inevitably Bohm felt the need to create a totally realistic causal account of the subatomic world. His theory is often referred to as ‘hidden variables’ and suggested that in addition to the ordinary electrical potential experienced by an electron there was a new ‘quantum potential’ at work. It is this quantum potential that is responsible for all the new features of the quantum world.

While engaged in this research, Bohm was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to name names. On December 4, 1949 he was arrested on a charge of Contempt of Congress and went to stand trial in Washington. Although he was acquitted, he had already been forbidden to set foot on the campus of Princeton University. Despite being the leading expert on the theory of plasmas, Bohm could find no university position in the United States or Europe, and therefore his only option was to move to the University of São Paulo in Brazil; and so his period of exile began.Exile

This exile coincided with the publication of his ‘hidden variables’ paper. Bohm had expected it to create a stir of controversy and initiate debate on the quantum theory but, with the exception of de Broglie and Pauli, the world of physics ignored him. It was only later that Bohm learned that Oppenheimer had organized a seminar on Bohm’s paper at Princeton. Oppenheimer’s aim had been to discover a flaw in the theory, but when this could not be done, he announced that, ‘If we can’t disprove Bohm, we must all agree to ignore him.’

Bohm moved to Israel where, with Yakir Aharanov, he discovered an effect whereby an electron is affected in a region where the electrical and magnetic field is zero. While the Aharanov–Bohm effect was controversial at times, it soon demonstrated that nonlocality was an essential feature of the quantum world. Later, several experimental groups were able to demonstrate that parts of a quantum system that had initially been entangled together remained correlated even when separated by many meters. Of course, ordinary systems can remain correlated by exchanging signals, limited by the speed of light, but nonlocal effects did not involve the exchange of signals. Bohm met his wife in Israel, a British medical volunteer named Sarah Woolfson.A New Order for Physics

In 1957 Bohm moved to England to take a position in the theoretical physics department at Bristol University. At Bristol Bohm focused on the inconvenient fact that, despite several decades of hard work, physicists had been unable to reconcile quantum theory with Einstein’s relativity. For Bohm this was not simply a matter of requiring a clever addition to a theory, or applying new mathematics, but rather proof that a radically new ‘order’ was required in physics. In 1957 Bohm wrote Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, in which he offered an alternative to quantum theory.

The development of Bohm’s approach to this new order for physics also gives some clues to the nature of his creativity, which was never narrow, nor focused on one channel. Bohm had become engaged in a long correspondence with an American artist, Charles Biederman, who had written The New Cézanne, a book that discussed Cézanne’s desire to find a new order in art, one that would combine all the discoveries of the Impressionists with the rigor of a Poussin. Through this correspondence Bohm learned of Cézanne’s approach and, in particular, how within each part of the canvas is implied the whole, and the whole is implicit in each of the parts. How much of this Bohm consciously absorbed is not clear; however, he was now on the way to creating his own notion—of an ‘Implicate Order.’

In a sense this notion goes back to Bohm’s schooldays when he had visions that the universe in which we live is only a part of something much larger; maybe, he thought, one of higher dimensions. The world of well-defined objects in space and time, described by classical physics, Bohm termed the ‘Explicate Order.’ Behind this order lies something deeper, the Implicate (or enfolded) Order. As aspects of the implicate unfold they appear as the explicate. This means that elements that are far apart in our explicate world are in fact intimately connected and enfolded together within the implicate. By way of an analogy Bohm compared a normal photograph, where points that are distant from each other on a person are also distant on the photograph, with a holograph where each part on the image of the person is enfolded over the entire holograph, so parts distant on the figure are folded together in the holograph. Break off a part of the holograph and the entire figure can still be seen, admittedly with less definition.Krishnamurti

Bohm’s long term associate, Basil Hiley, suggested that Bohm’s thinking was like a helix. He would focus on some particular concern or theory then appear to move away to some other area of thinking before eventually returning to his starting point but in a more advanced way of thinking.

Thus while one area of focus remained the Implicate Order, with hidden variables very much in the background (but to return later), another was to begin a series of discussions with Jiddu Krishnamurti. In his general reading he had learned of the teacher Krishnamurti, who had been discovered as a boy by Annie Besant and brought up to be the next great World Teacher. A meeting was arranged between the two men and at one point, when Bohm used the word ‘totality,’ Krishnamurti jumped from his chair and embraced him. A strong relationship soon developed between them—Bohm became a trustee of the Krishnamurti school at Brockwood Park.

Bohm believed that Krishnamurti’s physical brain was unique in that it was not subject to the normal conditioning of other people but could remain silent and free from thought so that something else could operate. He also felt that this mutation of the brain could occur within himself too when he was in the presence of Krishnamurti and that this change was permanent. While he had earlier pictured the transformation of the individual via the transformation of society, he now believed that a personal transformation was possible through Krishnamurti.

Their discussions together were audiotaped and later some of these were transcribed for publication. Bohm took these discussions so seriously that he once remarked to me that maybe he should give up physics in order to focus all his energies on the exploration with Krishnamurti. Bohm also continued these investigations on his own and was exploring such areas as the relationship between thought and the physical body, in which the property of proprioception would extend to thought itself. He told me, ‘I have seen some of the things Krishnamurti talks about. I have looked at reality and seen that it is an illusion.’

He was also exploring the role of language and the way in which the subject–verb–object structure of European languages reinforces the Newtonian world view of well-defined objects in space interacting via forces and fields. Later this interest inspired him to develop what he termed the ‘rheomode,’ or flowing mode, an artificial language rich in verbs that he felt would be appropriate for a discussion of the quantum level.Dialogue

Bohm’s investigations with Krishanmurti had been among the most important encounters of his life but now he began to have concerns that Krishnamurti was not giving attention to the tensions that were arising at the Brockwood Park and Ojai schools. He also felt that the nature of his discussions with Krishanmurti were not as fruitful as they had been in the past and he decided to confront his friend while on a trip to Ojai in the spring of 1984. This did not go well and it appeared that a break was developing. Around the same period Bohm was becoming increasingly depressed and consulted a Jungian analyst. The therapy was not fruitful and he turned to a Freudian, Patrick de Maré.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, de Maré worked with encounter groups. De Maré felt that such groups could play a positive role in social therapy and suggested that early hunter-gatherers, who travelled in groups of thirty to forty, would engage in regular discussions of this nature and so deal with any problems or tensions that came up. Despite his mental agony, Bohm was attracted to de Maré’s theory for it offered the possibility of transformation. Earlier he had believed that transformation would come via a Marxist revolution of society, then through a mental transformation in the presence of Krishanmurti. But now he saw yet another possibility—transformation via dialogue. One weekend, during a visit to a group hosted by Peter Garret and Donald Factor, Bohm proposed that they attempt to move towards a dialogue. Soon he was running dialogues in Israel, Sweden, Denmark, Geneva, and the United States as well as a regular group in London.

According to Bohm each of us has one or more ‘non-negotiable’ positions and when we encounter a person with the opposite position we either avoid that area, or risk rupturing the relationship. However, within the group there will always be some who take an intermediate position, and their presence can help to slow down a person’s reaction. Faced with a harsh word or unpleasant idea we tend to react quite rapidly with a gesture, a word, or a feeling of internal bodily discomfort. But if this can be slowed down, we will begin to develop a felt understanding of how all of this is structured within the body. Thanks to proprioception, we know the location of our hand when we cannot see it, but now Bohm saw that through dialogue people could develop a form of proprioception for ‘how’ they think.

Yet another function of the group is in regard to language. Language had always been of great importance to Bohm and he felt that it had become ‘polluted’ by the manipulation of politicians and other special interest groups who used language in specialized ways. Dialogue, he believed, could help ‘clear up the pollution’ in language.The Super Implicate Order

Bohm was also extending his notion of the Implicate Order. Aspects of the implicate unfold and manifest as the explicate. But in this sense there was nothing new emerging, since all was already co-present in the implicate, and so Bohm proposed another level—the Super Implicate. When the implicate manifests an aspect of itself into the explicate, this manifestation is observed by the super implicate, which then feeds back into the implicate. By way of an illustration Bohm pointed to a video game. The computer program (Implicate) unfolds into the explicate (the screen with the spaceships) and the whole process simply iterates. But with the addition of a player it is possible to observe the spaceships and, by moving the joystick, to feed back into the computer and modify the program. In this way, Bohm said, creativity is introduced.

Bohm also met with me at the Bailey Farm Institute near Ossining, New York, to discuss our next book. Initially it was to be called The Order Between but in our discussions we touched on the notion of mediation, that was often used as a way of resolving disputes rather than arguing them in court. Bohm suggested that this approach could lead to compromise and an ‘order between’ was not always the best solution. What was needed was an ‘order beyond.’

By 1991 Bohm’s arteries began to clog again (he had undergone a triple bypass in 1981) and his depression was more severe. By May of that year he confessed that he was feeling suicidal and was admitted to the Maudsley Hospital in London, where he was given a course of 14 bilateral ECTs. Following this treatment, he was released from hospital at the end of August and put on a course of cognitive therapy. While he did appear to be cured of his depression, he was troubled by memory loss, and his colleague Basil Hiley noted that he did not have the same energy with which to engage in their research in physics.Bohm and Language

The following spring Bohm visited Ojai in California and then the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he had been made a Fetzer fellow. This coincided with the visit of a circle of Native American elders and Western scientists. The meeting was important to Bohm for several of the participants spoke the strongly verb-based Algonquin family of languages and they discussed their world view of constant flux and change. Bohm had long considered the role that a verb-based language would play in the way we perceive the world; he was now able to see it in action and, in particular, he held a number of discussions with Leroy Little Bear of the Blackfoot confederacy.

Later that year Bohm was diagnosed as having suffered a heart attack and was also treated for viral pneumonia. On October 27, 1992, while working at Birkbeck College, he telephoned his wife to say he would take the underground back to Edgware and from there a taxi home. ‘You know, it’s tantalizing,’ he said. ‘I feel I’m on the edge of something.’ By the time the taxi arrived at his front door he was dead.Bohm on Creativity

Creativity for Bohm was something innate. There was no need to ‘foster’ or ‘encourage’ creativity, but rather to avoid the blocks that prevent it from operating naturally. During his undergraduate years he had been happiest and felt most creative when he was free to pursue his own reading and explorations. Yet later, when he attended Caltech, he became depressed with the demands of the curriculum, the constant problem solving and quarterly examinations. At that time, the only pleasure he obtained from physics came from his own independent reading of Dirac and Eddington. Indeed, Bohm believed that one of the serious blocks to creativity arises out of the educational system itself. He noted that when children are praised or rewarded for their work, the nature of their learning changes from that of free creative play into seeking rewards or avoiding punishment. In this way, Bohm felt, creative energy is diminished.

On one occasion Bohm had been offered a fellowship in one of the Oxford colleges. He made an informal visit, looked at the portraits hung on the walls of the dining hall and remarked, ‘Too much tradition.’ He did not accept the fellowship. Similarly, he felt that conventional education gives too much weight to authority and fixed knowledge. This in turn can lead to a lack of self confidence. Above all, what is required is a free play of the mind—one that can throw up new perceptions. Yet he also acknowledged that it is necessary to retain a sensitive perception towards the role of certain forms, for example, to the structures of a fugue or sonnet.

And as to creativity within science? The mind has a tendency to hold onto what is familiar and this includes the tacit infrastructure of science, a tendency of thought which extends outwards into society at large. Bohm was aware that, with the discoveries of quantum theory, Niels Bohr had devoted his energies to establishing the orthodox Copenhagen Interpretation of the theory. In his own work, Bohm would not accept this orthodoxy and for some physicists he was seen as something of a maverick. Likewise, he viewed the conventional approaches to seeing a unity between relativity and quantum theory as simply involving ‘new mathematics’ or ‘new ideas’ while his own vision was that a radically new order to physics was required. Bohm felt the present state of affairs was a result of individual scientists lacking the courage and energy to examine the whole structure of science. In turn, such an attitude encourages fragmentation whereby a topic can be studied in a more limited context. In particular, he felt that while the great scientific figures of the early decades of the twentieth century had been interested in philosophy, most contemporary scientists did not bother to explore the metaphysical assumptions of their positions.

Bohm also felt that a scientific discovery can be equated with a poetic metaphor, such as ‘all the world’s a stage… .’ To see the world and a stage as being the same is to exercise a radical perception of the mind. For Bohm this would be accompanied by great creative energy. An example from physics is William Hamilton and Carl Gustav Jacobi’s discovery during the nineteenth century that it is possible to describe the movement of material bodies not only via traditional Newtonian mechanics but also in terms of waves. Thus the scientific metaphor becomes ‘the particle is the wave.’

It is well known that visual perception is an intentional act involving the overall disposition of mind and body. Bohm himself was aware of the role of the body in the creative nature of his scientific perceptions. For example, while working on some equations, he experienced a combination of movements within the body. He remarked on this to Einstein, who told him that he would squeeze a ball while working on the field equations of general relativity. And just as perception involves not only the mind but also the body, perception within science takes place not only within the mind but also within a larger social context. For this reason, communication is important, not only in terms of an internal dialogue, but also at the social level. Indeed, Bohm argued that perception and communication cannot be fragmented but form a whole—‘perception-communication.’ This was yet another area in which creativity had become blocked.

As with other professions, such as law and medicine, science uses language in specialized and restricted ways. It was Bohm’s feeling that during the twentieth century communication in science had become compromised in subtle ways to the point where at times it was almost incoherent. He argued, for example, that differences in the way language was being used had led to the breakdown in communication between Einstein and Bohr, two scientists who had earlier dialogued extensively. Likewise, he felt that the tensions between Heisenberg’s and Schrödinger’s approaches to the quantum theory had been resolved too rapidly. If those tensions had been allowed to continue, then a new creative insight could have emerged. In short, it was Bohm’s view that science has to be carried out in a radically new way. He often would say that the aim of science should be the desire ‘to pursue truth no matter where it takes us.’Postscript
As a physicist David Bohm was at times regarded as unorthodox or even eccentric. He had rejected the orthodox Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory and in its place made the alternative proposal of Hidden Variables, as well as his later developments of the Quantum Potential. Nevertheless, in more recent years there has been a revival in interest in Bohm’s ideas. In addition to the Bohm Centennial celebration here in Pari, the Scientific and Medical Network devoted their annual conference in June 2017 to ‘Complexity and the Implicate Order Bohm-Prigogine Centenary Conference.’ And EmQM17 held the David Bohm Centennial Symposium, ‘Towards Ontology of Quantum Mechanics and the Conscious Agent,’ in October 2017 at the University of London.

In part this may be due to the apparent failure that the famous Theory of Everything would bring a symbolic close to speculation in physics by the end of the twentieth century. For this reason, some physicists have begun to look towards alternative approaches, including that of David Bohm.

Bohm trajectories, as predicted by the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum theory, have become of particular interest to experimental physicists as well, following demonstration in 2004 by Australian physicists that the path of a single photon could be followed without destroying the particle. Researchers, led by Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto, subsequently have shown photon paths experimentally to correspond to the trajectories that are a prominent feature of de Broglie-Bohm theory.

Furthermore, more recently, David Bohm’s co-worker, Basil Hiley, together with an experimental team at University College London now use single helium atoms—massive particles as opposed to the massless photon—to produce Bohm trajectories. While the de Broglie-Bohm formulation of quantum theory is unconventional in its realistic interpretive structure—and thus an insightful approach to understanding quantum phenomena—it is mathematically equivalent to standard quantum mechanics. Thus, the UCL work provides further confirmation of quantum mechanics in general, in its non-local character.

A ninety-minute filmed biography on the Life and Times of David Bohm is due to be released later this year (2020). The project includes interviews with colleagues of Bohm, use of animation to illustrate Bohm’s theoretical work, and historical footage of Bohm.  It is felt that this film will be an important addition to the biographical information on Bohm’s life. Information on the film can be found at www.thebohmdocumentary.orgF. David Peat, PhD, was a quantum physicist, writer, and teacher who founded the Pari Center in 2000. He wrote more than 20 books which have been translated into 24 languages, as well as numerous essays and articles. In 1971-72, he spent a sabbatical year with Roger Penrose and David Bohm, and thereafter his research focused on the foundations of quantum theory and on a non-unitary approach to the quantum measurement problem. Peat continued an active collaboration with Bohm and in 1987 they co-authored the book Science, Order and Creativity. In 1996 he published Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm. In 2020, the documentary that he co-wrote with Paul Howard Infinite Potential The Life and Ideas of David Bohm was released. David Peat died in 2017 and the film is dedicated to his memory.Further Reading
Bohm, D. (1984). Causality and Chance in Modern Physics.  London and New York: Routledge Bohm, D. (1989). Quantum Theory. New York: Dover
Bohm, D. (1994). Thought as a System (Reprint). London and New York: Routledge
Bohm, 2002. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. (Reissue edition 2002). London and New York: Routledge
Bohm, D., Hiley, B.J. (1993). The Undivided Universe. London and New York: Routledge
Bohm, D., Nicol, Lee. (2004). On Dialogue. 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge Classics
Bohm, D., Peat, F.D.  Science, Order and Creativity. 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge Krishnamurti, J., Bohm, D. (1985) The Ending of Time. New York: Harper and Row
Nichol, L.  (2003). The Essential David Bohm.  London and New York: Routledge
Peat, F.D. (1997). Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm. 2nd edn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley