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David Bohm (*)

David Joseph Bohm (b. December 20, 1917, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania - d. October 27, 1992, London) was an American-born quantum physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to the Manhattan Project.


Youth and college

Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to a Hungarian Jewish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish mother. He was raised mainly by his father, a furniture store owner and assistant of the local rabbi. Bohm attended Pennsylvania State College, graduating in 1939, and then headed west to the California Institute of Technology for a year, and then transferred to the theoretical physics group under Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was to obtain his doctorate degree.

Bohm lived in the same neighborhood as some of Oppenheimer's other graduate students (Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, Joseph Weinberg, and Max Friedman) and with them became increasingly involved not only with physics, but with radical politics. Bohm gravitated to alternative models of society and became active in organizations like the Young Communist League, the Campus Committee to Fight Conscription, and the Committee for Peace Mobilization all later branded as Communist organizations by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.

Work and doctorate

Manhattan Project Contributions

During World War II, the Manhattan Project mobilized much of Berkeley's physics research in the effort to produce the first atomic bomb. Though Oppenheimer had asked Bohm to work with him at Los Alamos, the top-secret laboratory established in 1942 to design the bomb, the head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, would not approve Bohm's security clearance, after tip-offs about his politics (Bohm's friend, Joseph Weinberg, had also come under suspicion for espionage).

Bohm remained in Berkeley, teaching physics, until he completed his Ph.D. in 1943, under an unusually ironic circumstance. According to Peat (see reference below, p.64), "the scattering calculations (of collisions of protons and deuterons) that he had completed proved useful to the Manhattan Project and were immediately classified. Without security clearance, Bohm was denied access to his own work; not only would he be barred from defending his thesis, he was not even allowed to write his own thesis in the first place!" To satisfy the university, Oppenheimer certified that Bohm had successfully completed the research. He later performed theoretical calculations for the Calutrons at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, used to electromagnetically enrich uranium for use in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

McCarthyism leads to Bohm leaving the United States

After the war, Bohm became an assistant professor at Princeton University, where he worked closely with Albert Einstein. In May, 1949, at the beginning of the McCarthyism period, the House Un-American Activities Committee called upon Bohm to testify before it— because of his previous ties to suspected Communists. Bohm, however, pleaded the Fifth amendment right to decline to testify, and refused to give evidence against his colleagues.

In 1950, Bohm was charged for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May, 1951, but Princeton had already suspended him. After the acquittal, Bohm's colleagues sought to have his position at Princeton re-instated, and Einstein reportedly wanted Bohm to serve as his assistant. The university, however, did not renew his contract. Bohm then left for Brazil to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo.

Quantum theory and Bohm-diffusion

During this early period, Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. While still a post-graduate at Berkeley, he developed a theory of plasmas, discovering the electron phenomenon now known as Bohm-diffusion. His first book, Quantum Theory published in 1951, was well-received by Einstein, among others. However, Bohm became dissatisfied with the orthodox approach to quantum theory, which he had written about in that book, and began to develop his own approach (Bohm interpretation)— a non-local hidden variable deterministic theory whose predictions agree perfectly with the nondeterministic quantum theory. His work and the EPR argument became the major factor motivating John Bell's inequality, whose consequences are still being investigated.

The Aharonov-Bohm effect

In 1955 Bohm moved to Israel, where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who became an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957, Bohm moved to the UK as a research fellow at the University of Bristol. In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, they discovered the Aharonov-Bohm effect, showing how an electro-magnetic field could affect a region of space in which the field had been shielded, although its vector potential did exist there. This showed for the first time that the vector potential, hitherto a mathematical convenience, could have real physical (quantum) effects. In 1961, Bohm was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College London, where his collected papers are kept.

Bridging science, philosophy, and cognition

Bohm's scientific and philosophical views seemed inseparable. In 1959, his wife Saral recommended to him a book by the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti that she had seen in a library. He found himself impressed by the way his own ideas on quantum mechanics meshed with the philosophical ideas of Krishnamurti. Bohm's approach to philosophy and physics receive expression in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and in his 1987 book Science, Order and Creativity. Bohm and Krishnamurti went on to become close friends for over 25 years, with a deep mutual interest in philosophy and the state of humanity.

The holonomic model of the brain

Bohm also made significant theoretical contributions to neuropsychology and the development of the holonomic model of the functioning of the brain.[1] In collaboration with Stanford neuroscientist Karl Pribram, Bohm helped establish the foundation for Pribram's theory that the brain operates in a manner similar to a hologram, in accordance with quantum mathematical principles and the characteristics of wave patterns. These wave forms may compose hologram-like organizations, Bohm suggested, basing this concept on his application of Fourier analysis, a mathematical method for decomposing complex waves into component sine waves. The holonomic brain model developed by Pribram and Bohm posits a lens defined world view— much like the textured prismatic effect of sunlight refracted by the churning mists of a rainbow— a view which is quite different from the more conventional "objective" approach. Pribram held that if psychology means to understand the conditions that produce the world of appearances, it must look to the thinking of physicists like Bohm.[1]

Thought as a System

Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only 'man' and nature, but among peoples, as well as people, themselves. Bohm: "So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction." He goes on to ask:

What is the source of all this trouble? I'm saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That's part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It's like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it's far over 20%.

In Bohm's view:

...the general tacit assumption in thought is that it's just telling you the way things are and that it's not doing anything - that 'you' are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don't decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.

Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn't know it is doing something and then it struggles against what it is doing. It doesn't want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call "sustained incoherence".

Bohm thus proposes in his book, Thought as a System, a pervasive, systematic nature of thought:

What I mean by "thought" is the whole thing - thought, felt, the body, the whole society sharing thoughts - it's all one process. It is essential for me not to break that up, because it's all one process; somebody else's thoughts becomes my thoughts, and vice versa. Therefore it would be wrong and misleading to break it up into my thoughts, your thoughts, my feelings, these feelings, those feelings... I would say that thought makes what is often called in modern language a system. A system means a set of connected things or parts. But the way people commonly use the word nowadays it means something all of whose parts are mutually interdependent - not only for their mutual action, but for their meaning and for their existence. A corporation is organized as a system - it has this department, that department, that department. They don't have any meaning separately; they only can function together. And also the body is a system. Society is a system in some sense. And so on.

Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thoughts, "felts" and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society - as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times. A system is constantly engaged in a process of development, change, evolution and structure changes...although there are certain features of the system which become relatively fixed. We call this the structure.... Thought has been constantly evolving and we can't say when that structure began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before.

Now, I say that this system has a fault in it - a "systematic fault". It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say "I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem". But "my" thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I'm trying to look at, or a similar fault.

Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates. (P. 18-19)

Bohm Dialogue

To address societal problems in his later years, Bohm wrote a proposal for a solution that has become known as "Bohm Dialogue", in which equal status and "free space" form the most important prerequisites of communication and the appreciation of differing personal beliefs. He suggested that if these Dialogue groups were experienced on a sufficiently wide scale, they could help overcome the isolation and fragmentation Bohm observed was inherent in the society.

Later years

Bohm continued his work in quantum physics past his retirement in 1987. His final work, the posthumously published The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory (1993), resulted from a decades-long collaboration with his colleague Basil Hiley. He also spoke to audiences across Europe and North America on the importance of dialogue as a form of sociotherapy, a concept he borrowed from London psychiatrist and practitioner of Group Analysis Patrick De Mare, and had a series of meetings with the Dalai Lama. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990.

David Bohm died of a heart attack in London on October 27, 1992, aged 74.


* 1951. Quantum Theory, New York: Prentice Hall. 1989 reprint, New York: Dover, ISBN 0-486-65969-0

* 1957. Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 1961 Harper edition reprinted in 1980 by Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1002-6

* 1962. Quanta and Reality, A Symposium, with N. R. Hanson and Mary B. Hesse, from a BBC program published by the American Research Council

* 1965. The Special Theory of Relativity, New York: W.A. Benjamin.

* 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-7100-0971-2, 1983 Ark paperback: ISBN 0-7448-0000-5, 2002 paperback: ISBN 0-415-28979-3

* 1985. Unfolding Meaning: A weekend of dialogue with David Bohm (Donald Factor, editor), Gloucestershire: Foundation House, ISBN 0-948325-00-3, 1987 Ark paperback: ISBN 0-7448-0064-1, 1996 Routledge paperback: ISBN 0-415-13638-5

* 1985. The Ending of Time, with Jiddu Krishnamurti, San Francisco, CA: Harper, ISBN 0-06-064796-5.

* 1987. Science, Order and Creativity, with F. David Peat. London: Routledge. 2nd ed. 2000. ISBN 0-415-17182-2.

* 1991. Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political and Environmental Crises Facing our World (a dialogue of words and images), coauthor Mark Edwards, Harper San Francisco, ISBN 0-06-250072-4

* 1992. Thought as a System (transcript of seminar held in Ojai, California, from November 30 to December 2, 1990), London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-11980-4.

* 1993. The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory, with B.J. Hiley, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-12185-X (final work)

* 1996. On Dialogue. editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, hardcover: ISBN 0-415-14911-8, paperback: ISBN 0-415-14912-6, 2004 edition: ISBN 0-415-33641-4

* 1998. On Creativity, editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, hardcover: ISBN 0-415-17395-7, paperback: ISBN 0-415-17396-5, 2004 edition: ISBN 0-415-33640-6

* 1999. Limits of Thought: Discussions, with Jiddu Krishnamurti, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-19398-2.

* 1999. Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and Science, with Charles Biederman. editor Paavo Pylkkänen. ISBN 0-415-16225-4.

* 2002. The Essential David Bohm. editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-26174-0. preface by the Dalai Lama

See also

* Aharonov-Bohm effect

* Bohm diffusion of a plasma in a magnetic field

* Bohm interpretation

* Correspondence principle

* EPR paradox

* Holomovement

* Implicate and Explicate Order

* John Stewart Bell

* The Bohm sheath criterion, which states that a plasma must flow with at least the speed of sound toward a solid surface

* Influence on Joh David Garcia


1. ^ Comparison between Karl Pribram's "Holographic Brain Theory" and more conventional models of neuronal computation

* "Bohm's Alternative to Quantum Mechanics", David Z. Albert, Scientific American (May, 1994)

* Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller, Herken, Gregg, New York: Henry Holt (2002) ISBN 0-8050-6589-X (information on Bohm's work at Berkeley and his dealings with HUAC)

* Infinite Potential: the Life and Times of David Bohm, F. David Peat, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley (1997), ISBN 0-201-40635-7 DavidPeat.com

* Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm, (B.J. Hiley, F. David Peat, editors), London: Routledge (1987), ISBN 0-415-06960-2

* Thought as a System (transcript of seminar held in Ojai, California, from November 30 to December 2, 1990), London: Routledge. (1992) ISBN 0-415-11980-4.

* The Quantum Theory of Motion: an account of the de Broglie-Bohm Causal Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Peter R. Holland, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2000) ISBN 0-921-48453-9.


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