The Inspiration of Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm

Yesterday saw the world premier of the documentary Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm (1917-1992), a project which was made possible through the support of made possible through the support of The Fetzer Memorial Trust.

Bohm’s thinking has been a great influence in my life, and for this reason in this article I will explore some of how his ideas and theories have developed into my working practices, as a way of locating and contextualising my reflections on the documentary itself.

For me Bohm was an absolutely remarkable thinker, whose works went from quantum physics, to plasma theory and also to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. But more than just a physicist, Bohm in his writing was explicit in elucidating the movement of thinking behind the physics, and as such he also wrote about creativity, dialogue, and how a new mode of thinking was required to be able to perceive and then solve the many problems contributing to the global crisis we face today. For this reason his understanding of the nature of wholeness was central to my masters degree dissertation on wholeness, consciousness and our quantum world.

What makes Bohm’s thinking so interesting is that his exploration took him to seek to understand the limits of human understanding, and how we can ever gain a sense of meaningful experiences. In the book Bohm – Biederman Correspondence, 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-Biederman Correspondence shows Bohm is a remarkable book which contains a decade of correspondence between Bohm and American artist Charles Biederman, who both wished to explore how art and science could converge rather than compete in their attempts to explore, describe and come to know more deeply nature and the deeper reality which gives rise to our experiences of the world we are conscious of.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Having studied Bohm from the perspective of quantum physics, dialogue, meaning, systemic thinking and wholeness, Brazilian economist Maria Moraes Robinson and I developed a new approach to organisational transformation, the Holonomics Approach, one which we describe in Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. We combined my own background in innovation and customer experience design with Maria’s background in organisational strategy, change management and economics, to help leaders develop a conherent understanding between the parts of their organisations and the whole.

Photo: Sustainable Brands San Diego

When they understand that not only do the parts depend on the whole, but that also the whole depends on the parts, then they change their perspective of the organisation dramatically, becoming much more systemic in their thinking. When leaders are provided with a system that allows them to see the whole, they are then much better able to develop dialogue and exchange knowledge, allowing knowledge to flow, develop and be retained within the organisation.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Changing the very mode of seeing of a business leader is not a straightforward process. Our Holonomics approach takes inspiration from both Bohm, and also from physicist Henri Bortoft, one of Bohm’s collaborators who worked with him on the question of wholeness in quantum physics at Birkbeck College. In this excert from an interview with Bohm, he discusses the role that perception plays in scientific paradigm.

Science is primarily a perceptual enterprise, and not in gaining knowledge, though knowledge appears. Knowledge is a by-product. By understanding something, you can have contact with it, so long as it is coherent. It shows that our perception is correct. So we must distinguish between correct appearances and incorrect or illusory appearances. Our thinking process should be called an extension of our perceptual process when done rightly, and not primarily the accumulation of knowledge.

It is actually quite rare for leaders in business to dedicate time to exploring their own thinking processes, and indeed, it is not easy for them to accept that this could ever be part of developing more effective business methods. But when done well, this process can be the catalyst to profound organisational change, creativity and evolution.

Having begun his career in quantum physics, it was indeed this work with Bohm on holograms that would inspire Bortoft to introduce a holographic way of thinking in organisations in the 1970s, focusing on discovering new educational methods in business.

Credit: Frank Defreitas Holography

Although holograms today are manufactured using a different process, they were originally created using holographic plates. The key characteristic of these types of plate was that if they were broken into parts, the holographic image as seen by a person was still whole. For example, if the image was that of a horse, and the plate was broken in two, you would still be able to see the original and whole horse on both plates. This led Bortoft and a few other researchers to begin to contemplate the perceptions of organisations in a holographic manner, and not via that of the General Systems Theory, a methodology which Henri described as leading to concepts of ‘counterfeit wholeness’, an incorrect perception of what exactly the whole organisation is.

In studying Bohm’s work we find many new words for wholeness, in his attempt to explain his new conceptualisation, such as implicate order, quantum potential field, and holomovement. The core insight here is that Bohm was attempting to make a radical shift away from our thinking about reality in terms of things. Bohm for example tried to imagine in a thought experiment a very new way of using language which emphasised verbs, rather than subjects and objects as separate entities as language does today.

It is by taking part in these thought experiments that we can start to explore Bohm’s conception of wholeness in ways which we can apply to our own spheres of life. And it is because of the power and importance of Bohm’s work that so many of his followers, students and readers came together online yesterday for the premier of Infinite Potential. The film includes interviews with luminaries such as H.H. the Dalai Lama, artist Antony Gormley, Oxford philosopher and physicists Sir Roger Penrose, and many more who were colleagues of Bohm and those who were influenced by his revolutionary work. You can watch the complete documentary here:

Despite his great achievements, compared to most other physicists of his standing, Bohm is still relatively unknown. As we learn in this documentary, much of this fact can be attributed to Oppenheimer’s great opposition to Bohm’s theoretical work to which Oppenheimer could find a satisfactory refutation. For this reason he called on the scientific community to ignore Bohm and his work.

Bohm’s theoretical work in physicas was considered controversial, because like Einstein, he had been unhappy with the Copenhagen Interpretation, and felt that a fundamental explanation of reality would be possible. Rather than refusing to speculate beyond that which was observed in experiments, Bohm began to develop his theory of the implicate order in the 1960s. He started by turning Newtonian mechanics on its head. Rather than begin with the assumption of an objective cosmos consisting of elementary particles, he saw the fundamental reality being one of constant movement:

My main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete, but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.

Ref: Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order Routledge, London

Bohm proposed that particles have both a wave aspect and a particle aspect at one and the same time, as opposed to the wave aspect collapsing into its particle aspect at the point of observation which others had proposed. Bohm used the analogy of a ship being guided by radar, in that the wave (or field) aspect of quantum system, such as an electron, influenced the particle aspect. Bohm saw matter being enfolded and unfolded in a higher dimension of reality which he termed the implicate order.

Within Bohm’s general framework, we do not lose the mechanistic world entirely, and are now able to understand why classic Newtonian mechanical explanations appear to be valid within a certain limited aspect of reality. The implicate order, although in a continual state of flux, is the more fundamental reality, out of which emerges (or unfolds) the explicate order. The explicate order can be seen as that aspect of reality that we experience, one of consciousness and matter made up of particles which have the appearance of solidity and localised causation:

What we have here is a kind of universal process of constant creation and annihilation, determined through the super-quantum potential, so as to give rise to a world of form and structure, in which all manifest features are only relatively constant, recurrent and stable aspects of this whole.

Ref: Bohm, D. (1987) Hidden Variables and the Implicate Order in Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm ed. by B.J. Hiley and F.D. Peat

Bohm was able therefore to conceive of reality as a single whole, which does not consist of separate objects, but has at its very foundation dynamical flowing movement. This is not a simple concept to grasp, and neither is it easy to convey in film. It is for this very reason though that I feel that I would like to applaud Paul Howard and the production team for the way in which they have managed to convey these ideas through their interviews and artistic animations in the documentary.

Following the premier, Howard took part in a Q&S session along with Professor Basil Hiley, one of the film Interviewees and who was a collaborator and colleague of Bohm for over 30 years, and Dr. Jan Walleczek, also an interviewee and Director of Phenoscience Laboratories:

I wanted to spend some time at the start of this article discussing the way in which we have been applying Bohm’s thinking in our work, due to the comments that we often hear in an organisational or corporate context which reflect people separation of the theoretical from the applied. There are some people for whom the study of theory is often perceived as being of less value than the study of applied practice and this is entirely understandble, especially if the teacher or consultant does not have the capacity to translate and take that person from the theory into the practice.

But for myself, and our project and client work with our Holonomics approach, there can be no separation of the theoretical from the applied, and this is because the theoretical level of understanding changes our way of seeing, and it is this change in our way of seeing which alters and directs our practice, which inspires our creativity, and which drives our way of being, our way of developing relationships with people and our world.

For this reason I wrote this article to encourage especially those of you who may not be familiar with Bohm’s work to perhaps take an hour out of your day, the distractions, challenges and responsibilities, and immerse yourself in his inspirational thinking and way of comprehending the world in which we find ourselves. Our conflicts and problems that we face can be seen as a result of the fragmentation in our thinking which has led to fragmentation of our societies and an extreme distancing from the natural world of which we are a part.

I very much congratulate the team for their love and devotion in producing such a well-made introduction to the life and work of Bohm, and very much look forward to the director’s cut which will be made available some time in the future which will take a much deeper dive into the theoretical side of his physics.

If you would like to find out more, you can visit the website of the film, Infinite Potential, where there are additional videos and articles, and you can also join the conversation via the Facebook and Twitter pages of the documentary team.

One response to “The Inspiration of Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm

  1. Pingback: The Inspiration of Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm – MidMarket Place·

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