As some of you will know, I am currently reading Bohm-Biederman Correspondence Volume One: Creativity and Science, edited by Paavo Pykkänen (See my previous article A Critique of Pure Reason).
This book consists of letters written between the great physicist and philosopher David Bohm, and the artist Charles Biederman who himself wrote extensively about art and creativity (see his website www.charlesbiederman.net for a list of his books).
I was wondering how to summarise this book, and luckily for me in a letter written on December 22nd, 1961, Bohm decides to summarise the main recurrent themes of their correspondence:
- Creative “termination” or “determination” vs mechanistic determinism or pure chance
- Order and disorder
- The problem of oppositions
- The problem of time
- The problem of totality
- The question of our relationship to the world
- How we deal with “the past”
- Questions relating to language
- Process and structure
- The evolution of consciousness in humanity
As you can see, it is a quite outstanding dialogue between two extremely engaged thinkers. I think up until this point I have learn the most about creative thinking from physicists, since although their deepest insights elude me due to my lack of higher mathematics, it is their process leading to their insights which I find most fascinating, since they are so explicit in their attempts to shake off limiting preconceptions of reality. Bohm extends this examination into an examination of what it means to understand, and he points to the fact that some concepts can not be fully defined. We can only ever understand some concepts “implicitly”:
I think that everything important is really implicit in our thoughts and true communication (or conversation) consists in having two people create in each other trains of thought and feeling having essentially the same implicit content (i.e. each in effect, opens certain doors in the mind of the other, while he is doing the same for himself). Just as each note in a musical composition has no meaning, but the meaning is only in the composition as a totality, so the meaning is not in the separate words, but only in the totality of what is said.
Bohm continues to discuss the problem whereby our abstract conceptions of reality act like mirrors which distort reality. Our weakness is that we mistake what the mirrors reflect for the whole world. He also then considers the creative act in science, and this really resonates with what I have said about the act of seeing, and how to really see well is an act of humility. For Bohm, in any act of creativity, there is no “I”. There is only the process of creation. For Bohm the “I” “is like a chattering monkey that likes to take credit for everything, but actually only gets in the way by making a terrific noise”.
One of Bohm’s most famous work is “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”. This work is extraordinary, and one that I return to time and time again. But in Bohm-Biederman Correspondence, Bohm turns to the question of love, and writes in a manner which I have not experienced from Bohm before. For this reason, I would like to finish with an extended quote from Bohm, which I read this morning and which after reading I had to stop to really absorb its full impact:
If you are going to ask what state of feeling goes with understanding, I am afraid that it will have to be described by the word “love”. This word has unfortunately been used in so many false ways that it hardly means anything nowadays. Yet, I think that by implication, the meaning will come across. For example, some parents claim they “love” their children, but do not understand them. Is this really possible? If they do not understand what their children actually are, then the beings for whom they feel love must be imaginary, just projections of the parent’s own minds. Thus, what the parents actually “love” is not their actual children, but rather, some projections of themselves. Such a love is evidently false. Evidently, there can be no real love without understanding. Vice versa, can there be understanding without love? If we hate something, we reject it and do not understand it. (This is perhaps what disturbs me about your attitude towards Picasso, Action painters, Surrealists etc. Not that I think they are right, but one must somehow penetrate into why they do what they do, without being lost in their point of view.) If we are indifferent to something, we will never undertake the arduous task of understanding it. If something pleases us, we will be afraid to look at its dark side, and again we won’t understand it, i.e., see it wholly and totally. So it seems that the only feeling that will lead to the action of understanding is love.