- Paperback: 380 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (November 13, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0201328208
- ISBN-13: 978-0201328202
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm First Edition Edition
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The Bohm story, for rather obvious reasons, is not an easy one to tell or even to follow: It is so full of human complexities (psychological fears, family and professional betrayals, political and social dreams and dramas, bouts of depression, and sexual intrigue, all tempered by complex times, sensitive egos and his own scientific and intellectual stubbornness) that it is difficult to know where to begin, or where to end his life story. The author seemed to have solved these daunting problems neatly enough by throwing all caution to the wind and foregoing any semblance of a linear or logical structure in favor of just settling for "getting the Bohm story out." For that decision we must all be grateful.
The good news about his somewhat haphazard literary approach is that somehow despite the lack of order we do indeed get the full picture of a complex man and his even more complex theories. The bad news is that our aesthetic sensibilities are repeatedly assaulted by the repetition, switchbacks and delving into trivia and the many insignificant and unnecessary side issues. That said, it is worthwhile to quickly summarize the essence of Professor Bohm's biography and then spend the rest of the time dwelling on the good news, Professor Peat's nuanced analysis of Dr. Bohm's theories.
A Quick and Dirty Summary of the Bohm Biography
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. of a lower-class Eastern European stock, of an immigrant Jewish family, David Joseph Bohm had a father who was a weak provider, but one with a roving eye for the ladies; and a mother who was eventually admitted to an insane asylum. All of the Freudian fears attendant to a child growing up in such an environment and the psychological complexities they entailed were operative here and eventually caught up with him and got played out in Bohm's life.
He was a diminutive, un-athletic and insecure kid, without many friends, and who thus lived mostly within his own head. Science fiction and scientific fantasy proved to be the springboard to his genius, which showed up early in the form of voracious reading, solving puzzles easily, and devouring all manner of math problems.
By the time he was ready to declare a major at the nearby University of Pennsylvania, where he entered on an academic scholarship, he was already bored by the offerings there and quickly moved on to Cal Tech, and then on to the much headier environment of UC Berkeley where he finally found a spiritual and intellectual home. There he became a friend of, worked with, for, and under J. Robert Oppenheimer. At the time, UC Berkeley was not only at the cutting edge of Physics but also at the cutting edge and hotbed of social and political experimentation. Bohm relished and imbibed them both in full measure as he became a Communist for a short time and then moved on to Princeton under Oppenheimer.
However, when the music stopped, and the McCarthy era witch-hunts began pointing fingers at potential Communists, Bohm's face was fully in the Bull's eye, and he was one of the odd men out -- fingered as "dangerous" no less by his own mentor and savior, Robert J. Oppenheimer himself.
In order to avoid having to "name names" and thus commit a double betrayal to the HUAC, Bohm fled Princeton to Brazil and began his career unofficially and unceremoniously languishing in a scientific backwater in Sao Paulo. With Einstein's help, Bohm was eventually able to rehabilitate his reputation at least in part and restore his U.S. citizenship. After which, he was able to wend his way back to the U.S. via Israel, and London England, where he eventually made his home.
Bohm's Life of Science
From an early age, David Bohm was a dreamer guided more by intuition then by logic or rational analysis. One who was, throughout his life, a theoretical maverick who accepted nothing at face value. His special genius was that, even before mathematics, he had begun to see the world holistically, as being connected, in terms of flows and transformations.
One of the enduring metaphors for his life work remains the whirling tornado that forms as a vortex in a draining bathtub. Bohm saw something special and very stable about this vortex as its structure emerged out of pure process, pure movement. It fixed in his mind that stability and existence did not necessarily require matter, or even any content whatsoever, but could be created out of pure movement and out of pure process itself.
That the world could have emerged entirely out of relationships alone without matter or content to fill it, was an idea unique to Professor David Bohm and his students. This metaphor, of movement and content-less process being the essence of reality was to serve as an index of Bohm's philosophical position as he went from his "hidden variables/quantum potential theory," to what I believe to have been the crowning achievement of his career, his positing of the "implicate order."
Although Bohm acquired a reputation for being a crack problem-solver, by the time he got to quantum mechanics, where making accurate predictions via mathematical equations seemed to be the sine qua non of success in the field, and along with Einstein, he no longer believed that mathematical formula alone was sufficient to account for, or even to reveal, the underlying structure of quantum reality.
To Bohm, who agreed with Niels Bohr, it seemed self-evident that in the quantum world, the observer and the observed constituted an undivided whole. This mystery that sat at the very heart of quantum physics was not to be ignored or to be taken lightly. Deep philosophical thinking had to be done and the mystery had to be attacked even if it could not be made to yield its secrets fully.
In fact in his textbook called "Quantum Theory" (see my Amazon.com review of it), the most fundamental equation of quantum theory, Schrodinger's equation, does not appear until page 191. One reason this is so is that Bohm believed that quantum theory required a radical new approach to account for the reality omitted by mathematics.
In order to fill this gap in the existing view of reality, he introduced as part of his "hidden variables" approach, the idea of "the quantum potential" -- a kind of nuevo-ether, an energy medium in which quantum particles moved and flowed.
Bohm believed that all of the bizarre results and behavior associated with quantum phenomena could be accounted for by positing an energy field called the "quantum potential." And although his "hidden variables" theory became so controversial that he was forced to abandon it, he did come to revisit it later in his career when younger Physicists who had worked with him proved that many of its aspects tested out to be correct. The quantum potential, along with later spin-offs, eventually led to the idea of an implicate order, an idea that would prove to be the centerpiece of Bohm's life work.
In order to get beyond conventional thinking to a firmer grasp on wholeness, Bohm went to the woodshed with Hegel, and two years later when he came up for air he proved that he had kept his eye on the ball: which was to explore and better understand the fundamental difference between mind and matter.
What Bohm seems to have extracted from Hegel was a means of rethinking the whole mind-body problem. He discovered a route to a new set of perceptions about the meaning of mind as constituting the basic movement in nature. For Hegel, the ground of this movement (which was always in dialectic motion) was thought, always to give rise to matter, and vice versa.
For Hegel, matter and thought engaged in a cosmic dance in which consciousness played more than just a cameo role. Thus using Hegel as his prop, Bohm's own thinking moved smoothly from the Cartesian dualism used by most of his colleagues, to thoughts that mind and matter were difference sides of the same cosmic coin: different levels of reality but still a combined and an undivided cosmic whole. Said yet another mathematically more sophisticated way, they were canonical transformations of each other.
And thus here is where mathematics re-enters the picture for Bohm. But this time it enters not as formulas to be used only for manipulating experimental data, but as content-less topological concepts such as mathematical transformations used in the field of Cohomology, a field that deals with pure content-less relationships expressed operationally in mathematical formula.
And from this vantage point emerges an entirely new Bohmian-Heisbergian metaphysic of nature: "That the act of observing a thought in detail, changes the nature of that thought." And as with observer and observed in quantum theory, so it is true too that the thought and the thinker can never be separate; they too form a single totality.
But what Bohm also knew all too well is that thought in the community of societies is just "conditioned memories" enfolded back on themselves. What about the place in reality consisting of virgin or unconditioned thoughts? What about a movement of thought that is un-tampered with by conditioning and cultural inculcation?
It is this last question that contained the the idea that was the seed of Bohm's crowing achievement, the idea of an "implicate order." In Bohm's view, the cosmos is inexhaustible and much larger and richer than the whole of science, which he sees as only scratches its surface. This surface, which is what traditional scientists study (i.e., space, time, separation, distance, force, etc.) is what Bohm refers to as the "explicate order." But like many other scientists, he too believed that there was a deeper order, one unconditioned by our preconceived thoughts and perceptions; it is what Bohm called the "implicate order."
The implicate order lies beneath the explicate order but can enfold it, can be enfolded by it, and can give rise to it. Yet together, like the tornado vortex in Bohm's bathtub analogy, they are both aspects of a more universal movement that Bohm calls the holomovement. Bohm's analysis of this new order becomes an exquisite ontological statement about reality itself, one that moves away from the duality of the Cartesian trap, and the reductionist tendencies that are taken for granted in our fragmented universe.
In doing so it thus expands the context of reality in such a way that both its form and its content can be examined, explored and where necessary, tested as separate variables in a united whole. Altogether, it is a very worthy contribution to science, to humanity and to quantum physics.
The Implicate Order and Consciousness
Bohm saw our emotions and consciousness as just the "weather report" of deeper electro-chemical processes organized primarily by, and generated through, "conditioned memory traces" taking place inside brain architecture.
What we see and interact with - that is, what we are actually conscious of -- is analogous to the men we shoot at on a video game screen. As there, we are completely impervious to the fact that this is mere surface manifestations of a much more complex infrastructure of computer programs operating behind the scene at a much higher level.
And so it is too with the explicate order, both in physics and in consciousness. The implicate order is similar to the deeper computer program but engaged in much more complicated interactions, processes and processing. In physical reality, at least in principle, the two orders can interact in much more complicated ways than the computer program and the elements that appear on a video screen. Enfoldment is a much more general and complex way of interacting. And here the dot of ink spreading in a liquid emulsion comes to mind.
To end our summary of Bohm's theories, I would be remiss not to mention one other rather profound discovery attributed to him: The ontological interpretation he offers of quantum level events, which in part helps solve the quantum measurement problem (i.e., it helps us understand how it is that something definite comes out of probabilistic potentialities).
Bohm's solution was to acknowledge and then to introduce to the world of quantum physics the concept of "active information" (i.e. information that interacts with, signals, and even guides other quantum or microlevel level processes). Associated with Bohm's quantum potential (in which his hidden variable theory is embedded), "active information" guides the quantum system to a definite outcome. It is "active information" that signals when Schrodinger's equation should actually collapse. He uses "active information" as an integral part of his "quantum potential" in describing a competing explanation to that of Bohr's theory of how electrons remain in their orbits. Without saying so out loud, "active information" has a teleological smell to it?
In retrospect, it seems to me that some notion equivalent to "active information" is all but self-evident -- a "no brainer" given that it must have played a role in star formation, the self-organization in DNA, or even in the way the human immune system itself works, as well as in the companion concept of entropy, in which order itself in a sense becomes a kind of "active information." Order happens, and then it tells us something?
Bohm's contribution was to bring information (both active and passive) into the foreground of quantum theory, not just as a "passive" player in the background as is the case at the macro level, but into the arena as an "active" player at the quantum level. In doing so, it thus raises the fundamental concept of information to its proper role as one of the primary and most intrinsic variables of physics -- not just one that remains in the shadows of quantum physics, but active information, like energy, movement, space, time, separation, differences, and the implicate and explicate orders themselves, is another central player in the drama of activity unfolding at the quantum level.
Indeed, the introduction of "active information" alone goes a long way towards explaining how we got from the Big Bang to an ordered world, where consciousness evolved, and in which the laws of physics came to take shape, and then eventually began to take over. It seems axiomatic in retrospect that such a process involving something like "active information" had to occur at the quantum level before life itself could have been sustained at the macro-level, especially so in a world ruled by activity at the quantum level.
Thus as a final aside, when Bohm's idea of "active information" is linked to that of a "Zero Point Field," a notion that has gained considerable currency since Bohm's death, a flurry of new insights have come about on how our existing models of reality can not only be expanded so account for both quantum physics at the micro level and relativity at the large-scale level, but also to include such notions as human consciousness and related concepts of spirituality, the soul, etc. My good friend Doug Kenny is in Maryland at this very moment furiously working on this very problem. I wish him much luck! Five Stars.