David Bohm on Love

bohm_biederman_correspondenceAs 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”.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

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.

14 responses to “David Bohm on Love

    • Hi Brendan, it would be great to have a call with you some time. I am going to be travelling for a few days as of tomorrow. I’ll drop you an email in the next few days. Many thanks for your comment and I’ll certainly check out your slides.

  1. Interesting what Bohm says about understanding. This resonates for me and brings up the whole issue of boundaries (hence my entitling it ‘The Boundary Problem’ on my blog).

    When conversing with someone else we need to allow their thoughts to live within us if we are to get a to true communication, and hence understanding, and so it is easy to see how this is love. But at the same time we must not lose ourselves. To me this is exactly what Goethe describes with his idea of Delicate Empiricism. Our whole relationship with reality – and anything ‘other’ – becomes a true ‘conversation’.

    I was also heartened to see that the word ‘love’ came up in a workshop at ACCU2013 this year. It feels to me like these ideas are gaining ground. I just hope I am not deluding myself!

    Wonderful book. Shame it is a bit pricey so it looks like I will have to put it on my Christmas list!

    Thanks for the post Simon.

  2. Hi Charles, I have just checked and my second hand copy cost £8. It is still worth a read but yes, try and see if you find a good second-hand copy as wow, brand new it’s expensive. I cannot find volume 2 so I guess that maybe the project stopped after this one. I’ll have to send an email to Paavo to see if he is working on more volumes.

  3. Simon – this is fantastic. No time to reply in detail now (and I haven’t read the above in detail either) – putting up the family Xmas tree!, but I am fascinate by Bohm’s thoughts on creativity. I have just finished reading Science, Order and Creativity by Bohm and Peat, which has really brought a huge amount of clarity to me about the source of creativity and why science is not always as creative as it could/should be. Also, last week, while writing, I had something of an epiphany about the non-linear nature of creativity i.e. as non-linear processes, particularly of writing in a computer rather than on paper (linear): the ability to delete, cut and paste re-word at will. So, the entire creative process of the novelist/artist generated in a different/relative portion of space time (The Generative Order) is hidden in the text/work of art, which is viewed in Space-Time. This has huge implications for me as a biologist in considering embryonic development and evolution, in particular with regard to evolution as a creative process. My intuition is that Henri Bortoft (who worked with Bohm and became interested in Goethe to understand wholeness) was very much interested in this – building on Bergson’s concept/famous book of Creative Evolution. However, for me at this juncture, this is still an emerging area of investigation. I look forward to exploring this further here. It’s very good to have joined this site! I’ll have time later to study the above in more detail and will come back with any further insights, questions etc

    • Hi Mike, yes there are still many aspects which for me are in the stage of investigation. I really want to think more about “process”. I have not had too much joy following Whitehead, but think I need to revisit him in 2014. I look forward to your next comments too.

  4. I have had a little more time to consider Bohm’s comments above further/deeper now, The first thing I’m delighted about is that we have the Bohm-Biederman correspondence in the library here at TCD! Another one to add to the ever-climbing, tottering pile!

    There are two things that strike me here:

    1. The importance Bohm places on the necessity for Art and Science to communicate and relate both between artists and scientists and within the scientist (scientists are often internally fragmented, leading separate personal and professional lives). There is a wonderful paper (linked here) on Re-Visioning Science: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09500690701264750#.UrWvH3mp31o
    The full text should be available, but if not let me know and I’ll send it on if you Facebook me your email address.

    The major theme to emerge in the paper is the relationship of scientists with art as a source of creativity. However, many scientists do not consider themselves creative. I can email you an about to be published article in Ireland’s science magazine Science Spin that I’ve written on this topic wrt science education specifically if you like.

    2. The radical suggestion by Bohm that “the only feeling that will lead to the action of understanding is love.” Wow! That is beautiful, AND radical!!!

    First of all, how hard is it for me to say to my students “you should allow yourself to love what you do”? And, what will the response be? Love what you’re studying! They are told to work hard, push, shove, cram and genially hate what they’re doing, particularly the exams!

    By definition, do not do what you do not love if you have any interest at all in gaining true understanding…all sorts of interesting questions about student motivation etc arise here. So, in studying embryonic development, the major means towards understanding is love! Get yourself into a state of love. And of course love comes from the heart. During a correspondence with Emma Kidd we had the epiphany that the Heart hears! So heart is hear(t). And the t? vibra(t)ion! Radical! So, open your heart to understanding by listening to your feelings – embody understanding!

    So effective as the reductionist method has been, I am still not convinced that this is going to give us any fundamental understanding about the nature of development – we know a lot about gens, proteins signalling pathways etc and that’s all well and good, but that’s about it.

    So, what is love? The age old question!…. Brian Goodwin (another developmental biologist) has a section in “Healing our Fragmented Culture” called “From Love to Gravity”. So, what happens when we are (engaged) in Love? It is an energy exchange (Neil Donald Walsch talks about Synergistic Energy eXchange: Sex).

    So, love is sometimes associated with sex, but not always. The act is obviously pro-creative, but a synergistic energy exchange i.e. a reciprocal exchange of loving energy, is love. This can happen between two individuals e.g. as in white tantra (without the sex) or in red tantra (with sex), but can also be transferred to the wider world.

    In that case, a re-visioning of nature, indeed the Whole universe, as living i.e. conscious organism, leads to the realisation that, in a phenomenological sense, it is information contained in exchange of energy during a loving interaction that provides that deep and embodied understanding of the person/phenomenon. And the iterations of the exchange lead to a gradually widening understanding of the wholeness of the phenomenon.

    Thus, Goethe’s way of seeing for example, becomes an opening up of the internal organs of perception to love, which allows an understanding to appear about the phenomenon to occur within oneself in a moment of co-creative insight – the ur-phenomenon appears. The phenomenon becomes true theory.

    So, back to embryos, one project for the new year in my lab is to attempt a Goethian study of zebrafish embryos. I love my fish, the embryos and larvae are beautiful. Now I can see that this love I feel is scientific and is indeed essential for true understanding! Maybe I can convince my students of the same!

  5. I don’t think one can “genially hate”.. !! I meant “generally hate”, although maybe “genially hate” has a softer edge! LOL 🙂

  6. I’ve found many university libraries have Bohm/Biedermann in .ACSM format for those of you who cannot track down a copy—reading this treasure now. Interesting that Maurice Wilkins wrote intro: co-winner Nobel for DNA structure. Here’s a bet gents: where neuroscience meets epigenetics is going to be one very big space for understanding the confluence of art and science *and* human performance

  7. Thanks Brendan – great insight: “Here’s a bet gents: where neuroscience meets epigenetics is going to be one very big space for understanding the confluence of art and science *and* human performance” – fantastic! Gosh, that’s food for thought.!!.. and also the possibility that evolving consciousness has a direct effect on DNA via epigenetic mechanisms to unfold from the generative order hitherto undreamt of possibilities of human creative potential. We’re in Bruce Lipton territory here: “The Biology of Belief” and “Spontaneous Evolution”! http://www.brucelipton.com

  8. Pingback: Reflections on Quantum Wholeness | Transition Consciousness·

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