7. Wanted: A new Agenda
We can change the world. We must!
One Friday in August 2018 she did not go to school. Instead, she went to the Parliament House in Stockholm, and sat outside all day with a sign: "Skolstrejk för klimatet". One year later, in September 2019, she was applauded when she accused political leaders in the United Nations assembly podium of stealing her future.
Her passion cannot stop our deadly course if we keep on destroying our home. A report published two days before Greta Thunberg's presentation showed that 30 years of talking about doing has not affected us enough.
One sentence changed my view in April 1971. A man on the television said that our life is a dream. It took me six years to understand what he meant: our thoughts are dreams.
Life is actual, not a dream. The world today is a nightmare to Greta and many others. She is worried and afraid for our future. Many people feel hopeless and do not know what to do with their life.
Ecology is only one part of global crisis. In Agenda 2030, the United Nations gives 17 goals to all nations. Could we really solve even one of these colossal problems like poverty, healthcare, violence or injustice? How about climate change, when there are people who arrogantly say they don't 'believe in global warming'? How could violence end when people hate even themselves?
Seeing the state of the world raises two questions: why is it like it is, and what can we do to change it?
In the book Changing Consciousness Bohm searches for the answer with photographer Mark Edwards. I think they find it.
The two men met in 1983 on the occasion of Bohm being photographed by Edwards for a book jacket for The Ending of Time. They shared an interest in Krishnamurti's teachings, and began to meet and finally work together to produce a book that would combine their competence.
Sketching out the source
The purpose of their book is to 'sketch out the deeper causes underlying environmental, social and cultural crisis and to find ways to its resolution'. The text points out how technological development has brought about possibilities for a creative and happy life but at the same time it is threatening our civilization, the human race and our planet itself.
A new approach to living is urgently needed.
Mark Edwards starts the first of the six discussions pointing out that "a new approach to living is urgently needed. We are taught in school that the world is divided into nations. It is presented to the child as if it were a law of nature. This leads to conflicts, war and an endless panorama of horror in the name of security".
Thought is behind all this. We think of thought as a roadmap of reality but the new physics showed that the map is wrong.
We can perceive many facts through our senses but Bohm suggests that there may also be perception through the mind. With it, we can perceive whether our thoughts are coherent or not.
When we look through the mind, our perception might fix the false program and thoughts would act more coherently.
Edwards feels that people don't want to question their traditions, even when they see that they cause them trouble. Bohm suggests that we do not pay serious attention to our thought process. And, strangely enough, coherence is not a very high priority for us.
People have a tendency to produce destructive thoughts. They cut down forests to make money, even though trivial gains are made compared with what is lost.
"Many people would be better off and healthier if they never had cheap hamburgers", Bohm says rather sarcastically.
It is not that human nature is inherently bad. We are simply unaware of our deepest drives and motives. We are apt to get results we do not wish or want.
Getting something else
Egoism causes many kinds of problems. Bohm argues that "people who are concerned about just solving their own problems have created the dust bowls and the environmental problems."
Edwards agrees: "We all believe that it is somebody else's part of the boat that is sinking and that it will not affect us. We don't really feel we are in the same boat. We pay lip service, imagine that the world is one but this does not go very deep into the consciousness from which our actions ultimately arise."
Implicit values cause the global mess.
In everyday life, our thoughts decide what is important and what is not. We are driven by implicit values. It is not just the politicians nor the business people who are causing this mess. And it is not that people have bad motives, either. The world is what it is because "ordinary persons are caught up in the web of thought".
We have created a world based on the abstractions of thoughts which have shrunk the world to the size of our mind. We think we see the whole. The universe goes beyond our limits.
In dealing with nature we need a much higher sort of intelligence. We think that thought is intelligent, but it is not. It is only a program that responds quickly and automatically according to whatever it has been programmed to do.
To notice the process of thought we need an actual perception, but we cannot use our ordinary senses to look at thought. We cannot see, hear, smell or taste our thoughts.
Thought is abstract but it produces concrete results. Often results are not what we want. It is hard to believe that anybody wants to purposely destroy nature or cause pain and suffering, our own and others.
Imagine the unknown
Imagination is an important part of our ego-system. There are two kinds of imagination.
Creative imagination is our ability to imagine the unknown and create new things, for instance combining two things in a creative way.
The other kind of imagination is called fancy or fantasy. With fantasy we can feel pleasure, pain, and fear just thinking about something pleasant or unpleasant.
These feelings are often very authentic. When we read a book or watch a movie we laugh and cry because of the black spots on the paper or dots of light on the screen. We create their meanings into our mind.
It can be very useful to imagine things but it can be dangerous, too. Fantasy causes an illusion. We may not even want to see the danger when our illusions are pleasant and offer an easy escape from the difficult facts.
Words create both fantasies and illusions. That is what advertising does all the time. The combination of words and images moves us. We go and buy something that we don't need.
Imagination and fantasy play a big role in a serious play. They create our sense of self. The self is born when I identify myself with certain sensations and thoughts. I feel they come from 'me' and not from somebody else.
Watching some person, a movie character or at ourselves may arouse the same kind of sensations. Later we know which ones came from 'me' and which from others. If we could not, we would be insane.
There is a big BUT hidden here. We perceive everything in our life in the same way. There is nothing but flashing lights and a flow of energy. We see people, cars, and trees, feel anger, fear, and pleasure. Everything comes into our system in the disguised form of information. As soon as we give a name to what we see it becomes personal property, part of our ego.
There is no problem as long as we use thinking for practical purposes only. Of course, we must think when we have to get something done. When I am to meet someone I must have the intention to move myself. To do that I must think.
Using the same method with the self leads to self-deception and conflict because there is no self separate from thinking.
Identity is incoherent
Without identity we would have no place. Yet, the notion of identity is not coherent. It is very temporal. It is valid to ask, do we have a permanent identity, and if there is one, what is our identity actually?
The notion of identity is not coherent.
We can agree that we have a self. It is an entity living in space and time, watching, experiencing, remembering and planning to lead a good life.
To me, the ego is a subject and to others, an object. Both were created by thinking, mine and yours. They are very different but is there a "true" and right me? We can argue about this question to the end of time and still not agree.
Bohm suggests a totally different way of looking at the self: observing without the self, being directly aware of the movement of thoughts. It is a constantly changing entity, always new.
This is the creative view of being, rather than the idea of an identity of being. The name, the form and the features of the self are reflections from our memory. Just as thought separates the self into the subject and object, it separates people into me and you, us and them.
When people are in deep communication, they may feel a certain sense of oneness, even unity. The same feeling we get when there is no inner conflict.
The ground of our self is unknown.
The ground of the self is unknown to us. We know it is outside the self but don't know where exactly.
Our body is matter made of the same materials as the whole universe is. The matter in our body is actual. We can touch, see, hear, smell and even taste it. But thoughts are not actual. They are representations containing forms. The thought about a table contains a form, but the table does not end the way we see it. The form of self is different: it is whatever we think of it.
We perceive the thing as we represent it. What we see as a self is only thoughts going on in our consciousness. We cannot touch the self. Treating the self as an object does not actually mean anything.
So, the self is unknown and its origin and ground are unknown, but it is constantly revealing itself in thoughts.
Bohm suggests that we look at the self as a creation of our thinking. The difference between self and a chair is clear to us: both are real but only the chair is actual. You can sit on it.
Assumptions are loaded guns
We value different things. Our values manifest in reactions. When our assumptions are challenged we defend them furiously. They are loaded guns, with a heavy emotional charge.
Assumptions come from the collective consciousness. We do not invent them but pick up from the culture we live in. Each person is affected by other people's thoughts. We adopt those we like and discard those that do not resonate with us.
Feelings move between people, too. We share them. If one person is angry and raises his voice, often the others get angry and start to shout.
Cultures are based on shared meaning. Meaning is a kind of cement that holds society together. Without shared meaning societies would fall apart.
Whatever we want to do alone or together, we must start by seeing the significance of it. What things mean to us, determine the way we act. If people see the purpose differently, it is difficult to get anything done. They waste their time arguing.
Even if we start from a perceived fact, personal and collective thoughts and myths enter our perception. Then we do not see the facts directly.
In order to get something done together we must first see the necessity of shared meaning. If we listen to every thought and see its meaning, we begin to establish purposes which may help bring us towards shared meaning. Then there is 'one mind' because we all have the same content. At that moment, differences are secondary.
Our brains do not get it
Technology has affected our lives but it has not healed our psyche. We have better TV's and toilets but we have lost the deep sense of delight of being alive. Edwards has seen that the primitive tribes smile more.
Technology has not healed our psyche.
"How often can you see people smiling in the streets of a typical large city?"
Enjoying other people's company is natural but a society built on conflict, competition, aggression, and violence makes us hostile. Our contact with nature and animals is exploitive and destructive. We can be appallingly cruel and arrogant to those who cannot fight for their own rights. We must have laws and punishments to prevent bad and violent behavior. What is wrong with us?
Certain unfortunate developments have taken place in our thinking. One of them is the way we divide intellect and emotions. It is the same dividing process inside and out. Thinking draws lines where there are none and does not draw lines where they should be.
This is due to how our brains evolved. The oldest part of our brain is the 'reptilian brain' and the 'mammalian brain' where our emotional centre is. Bohm calls that the 'old brain'.
In the outer layers of the brain, in the neocortex, is our intellectual centre which he logically calls the 'new brain', because it has a shorter history.
There is a thick bundle of nerves connecting the layers. They work together, but often do not understand each other very well.
The emotional centre is spontaneous and quick. It protects us and gives us pleasure. Our intellectual centre assesses whether our emotions are appropriate or not and what to do about them.
They are two sides of the same process, but our language separates them. There is no division. Our fictional thinking misleads us.
As long as we perceive the world through our senses, intellect and emotions work fairly well. When thoughts grow and become powerful in meaning there is a serious disturbance of emotions.
This happens when we imagine something. The old brain (emotions) reacts to the image of the new brain (intellect), assuming that it is actual. It has no means to know if the image is true or false.
If we react to imaginary things we may behave neurotically. Seeing a person as an enemy affects our behaviour. We do not react to the fact but to our image.
The bigger our societies get the more there is interdependence. We get an information explosion, much of which is misinformation, and that causes trouble. The dream that technology is solving our problems has not been actualized and perhaps never will. Mobile phones can connect people but they don't unite us.
When there is too much clutter in our mind, our intellect and emotions end up in conflict and the system can no longer correct what goes wrong.
Adopt tactical optimism in impossible problems.
The intellect tries to find the cause for emotional agony but does not find it because it is hidden in our memory. We try to find thoughts to cheer us up but a broken mind or a hurt heart does not take orders from the intellect.
To Edwards, this looks like a dead end. Bohm recommends adopting tactical optimism, toassume that it is possible to solve even our hugest problems. Whatever we ever try to do requires an assumption that it can be done. We must try, not give up!
"Political action is needed to prevent us from a total catastrophe. Yet, that will only buy time and slow down the degeneration. If we don't get at the source there is little point in buying time. We can plant trees and save the whales, but unless we go to the root of the degeneration, something even more complex and destructive will arise."
To Bohm, it is obvious that eventually, we've got to stop growth. We have got to give up the idea of an infinite increase in the standard of living. Even if we developed a technology that would produce enough energy without carbon dioxide, there would be other problems, like pollution, and we can see that technology would give rise to still other problems."
When Bohm was working on atomic energy it was thought that it would solve everything. It turned out to create very serious problems of waste disposal, as well as the danger of leakage and of plants blowing up.
Edwards is sure that if cheap electricity by pollution-free means was brought into all the villages in Africa and India, it would be a dramatic and traumatic change to their lifestyle. The consequences are beyond imagination. It would certainly create many new problems.
Bohm agrees. "If five billion people wanted to reach the Western standard, you would get at least three or four times the amount of trouble."
We must accept this and change our thoughts about it. But our emotions are demanding more goods. We must achieve a harmonious relationship between thought and emotion, or else the human race is not viable.
Thinking is irrational. It invents both personal and collective delusions. We love them. We feel we are thriving on them. Whole nations are caught in delusions. Charismatic leaders make us believe in nonsense because we are afraid and want security. The order of tyrants is disorder! They promise us a better future and assure us that more money and guns will bring us peace and happiness. They have not done so. Would you call us happy people now?
We are not totally wrong in looking for continuity but our personal or national security cannot actually be built on ideas that have caused deaths for millions.
In order to choose right from wrong and good from bad we need intelligence. The brain is not aware of its limitations. It lacks the capcity to inform us where it is useful and where it is not.
When we work with nature and material objects our senses tell us if something is wrong. In politics, family or philosophy, the senses will not tell us that. We do not see the source of what is wrong. We only see the result. Dealing with the result only confuses us more.
We must get to the source and fix it!
Think of a polluted stream. Pollution comes from upstream. Similarly, we could say that memories are polluting our perception. It is being polluted by memories of being hurt, memories of necessity for giving supreme value to our country, memories of all the things we are used to, all the happiness you once had and cannot have anymore, all of which prevent you from appreciating what is happening now.
Our perceptions stir up memories that come from upstream. Our mind repeats itself, mechanically connecting the new observation with the old material.
People living downstream may say that there is a great deal of pollution and they have to make a plan to remove this pollution. This makes no sense. To be smart they should go upstream and tackle the problem at its source. Unless something is done in the process of thought, there will be no cure. Our brain fixes the wrong section, not the cause but the effect. Our time and energy go to mending the mistakes.
Problems should be solved before they become problems.
The smartest way would be not to pollute the river in the first place. Then we would solve the problem at the source before we cause it.
Find the blind zones
There are two things that can help: awareness and attention.
To be aware means you take in all sounds and sights, everything that is happening. When thoughts are rational and emotions are not too disturbed, we can give undivided attention to the process of thought and be somewhat aware of its origin.
Attention means that our senses are wide open. If you are asked to pay attention, you don't close your eyes and think. You watch!
Our thoughts are based on what we know. There are always areas we do not see or know, blind zones. We cannot be sure if they are relevant or not. Assumptions prevent us from paying attention to them.
When assumptions concern people, we call them prejudices. We "know" what certain kind of people are, and we don't give them a proper look.
It is dangerous to drive a car with an autopilot attitude, yet it is much more dangerous to act so with human relationships.
Intelligence goes beyond knowledge and memory.
Thinking establishes categories according to differences and similarities: women and men, good and bad, right and wrong. We use our memory, too. We select according to our experiences and previous knowledge.
With intelligence, we can make new categories. It goes beyond knowledge and memory. In doing this, it gives rise to new meanings.
Memory may put the brain into the wrong chemical state so that it cannot respond properly to intelligence. In our society, people are generally not in the right state to be intelligent, except when they are quiet or deeply interested.
It is not enough to be in this state once in a while. We urgently need a sustained intelligence.
Intelligence makes it possible to change things. It changes them upstream at the source. We need awareness, attention and some thinking: we must think clearly, creatively and accurately about our thought processes.
Passion is also needed. The intelligence will liberate the energy that we are now wasting in this chaotic movement of thought.
There are things that help us to be attentive and aware. We must want to see what is happening and learn, but not for the sake of getting a desired result. We must see that the emphasis is on looking but keep in mind that we must also have some notion of what to look at.
Intelligence cleanses the thought process from irrelevant and destructive programs. We see things immediately rather than wait for memory to put it into previously determined categories. Then thought is aware of its own movement just as the body is aware of itself. There is no sense of separate observer.
Subtle intelligence helps to solve the environmental, social, cultural and political problems. Fragmented thought will never work. Intelligence begins to clean up the pollution, in the same way as certain bacteria can clean a river.
Winning the right game
Einstein said that one of our main meanings is to devote ourselves to the betterment of society. It seems reasonable at first, but society has no real foundation now. Bohm points out that we cannot build anything coherent using thought processes that are set to creating illusions.
The word illusion comes from Latin word il-ludere, meaning 'play falsely'. It implies that we are creating a representation of reality that is not coherent with reality as a whole.
Stage magicians create illusions by leading you to think differently about what is happening. They get you to not pay attention to what is actually happening but to focus on what they say or do instead. Meanwhile, they switch something and the result looks like magic. They created an illusion that we fall into.
Cultures contain a basic set of shared assumptions. Often these are tacit, hidden. We do not see them or their effects. If all people speak the same dialect, nobody sees anything strange in the language.
Strangely, if we notice that our assumptions are not correct, we are very frightened of letting them go. We think everything would collapse if we did so.
One area of illusion is environmental issues. In trying to satisfy people's material needs, Western societies have caused catastrophic environmental destruction and environmental destruction in Eastern Europe is even worse.
We defend false thoughts at any costs.
If we don't understand how thought works, we defend it even when it plays us false. If political parties try to negotiate, they are disposed to defend false thoughts at all costs. If one party wins, it will bring about the victory of false thoughts. In order to have a true democracy, we need to have a different kind of thought process.
There are non-negotiable assumptions behind nationalism, religions, politics and even science. Generally speaking, we are not allowed to question them. We are not able to discuss these issues intelligently, especially in times of crisis. The operation of intelligence is prevented by the assumptions behind nationalism, religious fanaticism, and political ideology. The brain is affected by these assumptions and cannot allow intelligence to operate.
The art of thinking together
To Bohm it seems that a subtle kind of brain damage has taken place in us. We need a culture that doesn't damage the brain by defending its assumptions against false evidence. We must learn to discuss our assumptions freely and be ready to change them if needed without fearing consequences.
We have been playing the wrong game. People feel they must compete and win, if only for their self-esteem. If they lose, they feel that their self-esteem is wounded. Therefore we identify with winning and are forced to want it.
A good culture is free of illusion.
The present situation is intolerable. We cannot afford to let thought trap us in one illusion after another. In a good culture, we participate together in making a common meaning that is coherent and free of illusion.
"The present approach seems to reward us in certain ways. We don't want to give that up. There is a famous saying that the devil that you know is not as bad as the devil you don't know. But that is only an assumption," Bohm jokes. It may be that we don't see what is essential.
The process of creating an illusion is clearly as much collective as it is individual. We are all helping in giving these illusions a sense of reality. To get rid of our illusions we must find better ways to communicate our meanings. Dialogue is an excellent tool.
It is a method that reveals what is happening in groups. In a Bohmian dialogue 20 to 50 people sit in a circle, talk freely about what is on their mind, and learn from others in a friendly atmosphere.
In listening, we learn things that we cannot learn by ourselves. In a dialogue our assumptions become exposed to us and others.
The difference between dialogue and conversation is that in a dialogue we don't defend our own view. The purpose is to learn and understand better. Others in the group help, especially when they disagree with us.
We can connect to the cosmic dimension of life.
Each person in the group has unique potentialities, special talents and a particular inherited constitution, but also experiences that are different from those of anyone else. Sharing them is necessary and therapeutic.
There is, however, something much deeper in that each individual has: the possibility of a connection to the cosmic dimension of life.
When people suspend their assumptions, they share a common consciousness. In a dialogue, each individual participates in the whole group. This means that the individual and the collective come together in a harmonious unity.
In search of a hidden meaning
Ordinarily, people have two reasons for getting together: joy or gain. In a dialogue, we are not having fun or gaining something all the time. The natural reaction is to stop the dialogue unless people see the importance of going on.
When something feels important, you go on even if it is not fun or rewarding.
Dialogue shows how difficult it is to talk and think together. One challenge is prejudices. They are collective in origin. For example, racial prejudice comes from parents or friends or culture. A prejudice is a form of collective opinion that is defended against evidence of its falseness.
Many people are lost in their lives. They seek meaning and purpose. Dialogue and understanding our thought process could perhaps help to produce a culture in which meaning could be shared.
According to the dictionary, the word meaning has three denotations: significance, value, and purpose.
They are all linked together. Meaning indicates something significant, very important. If something means a good deal to us it has a high value. When I say that I mean to do something, it signifies my purpose.
Meaning is fundamental. It moves us both physically and mentally. We do anything to find it. Without it, life feels meaningless.
For many people, life is a boring routine. At work, they feel used and at home too tired to enjoy. To fill the inner void they search for experiences, dream of a better life or lover and invent all kinds of meanings: God, football or other kinds of entertainment.
Change the question
The self is in itself an isolating system. We can make the circle around it bigger, but never big enough. The ego is hardly ever totally satisfied with what it is or has. There are two reasons in the background: fear and pain.
Whatever we are or have, we could be or have more. Or we may lose it all. That is where fear comes in. The fear of losing is actual, although we don't feel it all the time. It is always at the back of our mind and may strike us when the noise stops inside and outside.
We know that we may lose any of the good things in our life. In a second. One morning we wake up in a totally different situation.
Life is fragile. We may ask: What is the point of living if it all ends in death? Some people answer: It does not end, there is life after death. Other people say: This is your only life, so use every moment of your life as well as you can.
Bohm offers a third option: change the whole question. Don't seek for an answer that calms your mind. Ask instead, what is the motive behind your question? What is the self that either ends when we die or thinks it continues after death?
This is a puzzle which thought cannot answer. Perhaps ego gets annoyed or does not understand the whole question.
The self is everything we have gathered, identify with, imagine and plan. It is a process in time.
The self tries to find meaning from the area where it lives. It may find meaning in many things, but they are all limited, invented, personal meanings. The fundamental meaning of life is a mystery.
Seeing the truth of this calms the mind. We don't have to know the answer. It is enough to be open to the world and let it affect us.
Checking our priorities
Again, Bohm uses a simple analogy to illustrate the meaning of meaning. If we try to understand what a word means, we have to look at the context, the sentence, the topic, what it refers to, and not analyse each letter.
We do not understand a word better if we analyze it letter by letter. In the same way, when looking at life or self you have to look at the whole system and not analyse the parts or details separately.
Meaning is a feeling. We sense it - or we don't.
After all, meaning is a feeling. We sense it - or we do not. If our motives to live are joy and gain, life is bound to disappoint us.
There is a simple and immediate way to find meaning: awareness. When we are aware, we connect to the world directly. We know what is important and what is not. We do what we must do. We are no longer driven by fear or running after pleasure, but reacting to facts.
Being aware transforms the process of image-making. It also changes our priorities and agenda. The self is not the boss anymore.
There is an ancient image of the rider and the horse. The rider does not order the movement of the horse by power or force, but by very subtle means. If he falls asleep, the horse goes where it wants to go. He has to think faster than the horse.
That is what is happening to us if we are not aware. The functions of thought take over: fear, rage, anger, pleasure.
When life as a whole is harmonious, we don't have to ask for an ultimate meaning, for then life itself is the meaning. If it is not, we have to find the reason why it is not. Generally speaking, this reason has its root in the sustained and pervasive incoherence in our thoughts, our feelings, and how we live.
Life as a whole is grounded in the matter of the universe but also in what we call spirit. We have to reach this total ground to be able to live a life that is its own meaning.