(Springer 2007)


This book deals with topics that have been variously neglected and even forbidden in academic circles during much of the 20th century. One such issue is conscious experience. Another is the basic and general features of reality and our place in it.

I have chosen to focus upon David Bohm's views. Bohm was one of the few 20th-century thinkers who had a good grasp of not only quantum physics but also the natural sciences more generally, as well as philosophy and consciousness.

I have for many years had the intuition that quantum theory is relevant to the understanding of consciousness and its place in nature, but have had difficulties pinning down exactly what that relevance is. This led me to consider Bohm's notion of implicate order more carefully."

1 Introduction

Although everyone agrees that the classical Newtonian and Maxwellian notion of matter is completely wrong in certain domains and that quantum theory and relativity are required to deal with many known physical phenomena, there is not yet agreement about what is the more fundamental theory of matter that can unite relativity and quantum theory and describe all known physical phenomena in a coherent and unified way.

Physics is characterized by a great deal of conceptual confusion. For example, it is customary to talk about "elementary particles", although it has been known since the 1920s that such "particles", besides having particle properties (such as mass, charge, and momentum), also exhibit wave-like properties that strongly violate any mechanistic scheme. We need new concepts and images that can better illuminate features such as wave-particle duality, non-locality, and the discontinuity of movement.

Classical physics works approximately correctly in a wide range of domains. But it gives completely wrong predictions about centrally important domains of the physical world. All this suggests a challenge for modern philosophy. In biology and psychology, we may need radically new theories.

Physics is concerned not just with separate levels of nature, but also with the general architecture of nature, so it can be relevant to the understanding of the mind.

In his first textbook Quantum Theory (1951), David Bohm discusses striking analogies between quantum processes and process of thought. Bohm's 'ontological interpretation' shows us how the classical, familiar everyday world arises from the more exotic quantum world under certain circumstances.

In his second book Causality and Chance in Modern Physics (1957), Bohm proposed that causality and chance ought to seen as a statistical average. Bohm felt that there is no need to assume a fundamental level.

In the 1960s, Bohm together with his colleague Basil Hiley began to develop a more general framework for physics, which he later called the "implicate order" framework. He also extended this framework to biological and psychological phenomena, proposing it as a more general metaphysical theory as a whole.

Bohm was concerned with providing a description of reality - at the quantum level, and more generally, a unified description of matter, life, and consciousness, all adding up to a general concept of reality or a metaphysical theory.

The basic idea of the implicate order is that the whole universe is in some way enfolded in everything and that each thing is enfolded in the whole. Enfoldment is taking actually right in front of us. Think of the small region of space where your eye is placed. In this region, there is a movement of electromagnetic waves (light waves) that carries the information you use as the basis for constructing your visual experience. This movement somehow contains or "enfolds" information about the whole room. This enfolded information is then unfolded by the lens of the eye, and later in a very complex process by your brain, resulting in your visual experience of a three-dimensional world with objects in it.

Such enfoldment of information about the whole into each small region takes place in all wave phenomena, for instance, sound waves. When you go to a concert to listen to a symphony orchestra, information about each instrument plays is typically enfolded in each region, including the one where your ear is placed. But you have to be quiet, because if you speak loudly, information about what you say will likewise be momentarily enfolded in the movement of air molecules in every region, and others might not enjoy your contribution to the enfolded order!

Consider the book you are holding. The information about the book is enfolded in each region of the room, in the movement of light waves. We can say that not only information about the whole is enfolded in each part, but information about each part is also enfolded in every region of the whole. In this sense, the whole universe is enfolded in everything and everything is enfolded everywhere in the whole universe. The implicate order thus prevails as the most fundamental order of the universe currently known to us.

The proposal is that, as a part of the universe, each one of us thus enfolds information about the whole universe, not only via our senses, especially vision, but also via the underlying field nature of the very "particles" that constitute our body.

Bohm's interpretation of quantum field theory suggests that there are not just external, but also, and more fundamentally, internal relationships between the part and the whole, between the parts themselves. Obviously, this begins to open up a new way of thinking about our place in the universe.

In traditional cognitive science, there has been a tendency to look at the human body as a machine that receives information through its sensory inputs, processes this information with the help of algorithms stored in the brain, and uses this information to behave in the physical world. All this has been thought to take place in a mechanical fashion, emphasizing that the environment, the information, and the brain/body have basically an external relationship with each other. One might think that a human being is basically a machine, and that the enfoldment relationship of this machine to the rest of the world is passive and superficial, not really affecting the inner nature of the machine.

Bohm, however, did not think that the enfoldment relationship between the part and the whole, and between the parts themselves, is merely passive and superficial. On the contrary, he emphasized that the enfoldment relationship is active and essential to what each thing is, implying that each thing is internally related to the whole, and therefore to everything else.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy tells us that the relation between x and y is internal if x could not be the same item, or an item of the same kind, without standing in relation to y. Bohm is implying that each thing could not be what it is without standing in the enfoldment relationship to the whole universe.

It is fairly easy to see what this means for human beings. Imagine losing your understanding that there exists a whole world of a certain kind of which you are a part of. This would clearly make you into a very different person, and would probably profoundly change the way you "act, move and behave" more generally.

A certain kind of wholeness is strongly implied by the behavior of matter in the light of quantum theory. Bohm proposes more generally that the whole is in a deep sense internally related to the parts. Electrons depend on the nature of the environment it interacts with. The way the electron relates to the whole is thus thought to be essential to what it is. Also, quantum theory implies that tiny changes in the distant environment of the electron can have a profound and instant change in its behavior.

Common experience tells us there are external relationships between things. In Bohm's terms, they are displayed in the unfolded or explicate order. The relationship of x and y is external if x stands in some relationship, but neither its identity nor nature depends upon this being the case. A table and a lamp may be externally related. Removing the lamp from the table will not change the nature of either.

The explicate order dominates typical everyday experiences. Bohm proposes that it cannot be understood properly apart from its ground in the primary reality of the implicate order.

The next point Bohm makes is that the implicate order is not static but basically dynamic in nature, in a constant process of change and development. He called it the holomovement.

Bohm takes movement as fundamental and things as derivative. It is movement that gives rise to the essential qualities of fields.

Bohm's ontology contrasts with the ontology that has been prevalent in Western philosophy and science. This is the atomistic ontology, which assumes that everything consists of fundamental elements that are only externally related to each other.

Bohm suggested that the implicate order applies even more directly and obviously to mind than it does to matter. In the mind, there is a constant flow of thoughts, feelings, desires, and impulses, which flow into and out of each other. It seems that implicate order prevails as the primary order of the mind.

For example, in listening to music, we hear some notes for the first time, but we also seem to actively perceive 'past' notes, which the usual view of time says do not even exist.

The implicate order also seems to prevail as the more fundamental order of the mind. In his 1980 book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order Bohm proposed that the 'general implicate process of ordering' is common to both mind and matter. This means that mind and matter are at least closely analogous and not nearly so different as they appear on superficial examination.

There is also a 'two-way traffic' between mind and body. Nowhere is there anything purely physical or purely mental.

Matter and meaning are not separate entities, but rather aspects of one reality, aspects that at present at each level of this reality. To understand the relationship between the mental and the physical, it is crucial to understand the relationship between matter and meaning. Matter, in general, has meaning, and thus affects the mind. Meanings are not just passive, abstract, separate entities as our tradition assumes, but rather inseparable from the somatic aspects that underlie and ground them and which they in turn organize.

The theory about the implicate order lacks principles that would determine how the potentialities enfolded in the implicate order are actualized as relatively stable and independent forms in the explicate order.

According to Bohm, an individual quantum system is always a combination of a particle and a new type of field described by the wave function. An electron can be seen as an entity that has two aspects, a particle aspect, and a wave aspect.

A useful analogy of Bohm's model of an electron is provided by a ship guided by a radar wave. The ship corresponds to the particle aspect of the electron, while the radar wave corresponds to the field aspect. The form of the radar is determined by the shape of the environment (e.g. rocks in the bottom of the sea) and it is the key factor determines the behavior of the ship. In an analogous way, the form of the quantum field is determined by the environment of the particle.

In Bohm's model, the way the field acts on the particle can be described by saying that the field gives rise to a new kind of potential energy, the 'quantum potential', which in turn gives rise to a force upon the particle.

When one looks at the mathematics describing the quantum potential, one sees something striking. The effect of the field on the particle only depends on the form of the field (while the effect of other fields in physics generally depends on the intensity of the field. That means that the field contains information that literally informs or puts form into the energy of the particle. Thus we get a new notion of active information.

Active information as a general concept refers to a situation in which a form that carries very little energy enters and directs much larger energy. For instance, the form of the DNA molecule is active in shaping the growth of a biological organism, in the way the form of the radio waves informs the energy of the radio receiver so that we hear a sound, in the way the form of the radar waves can guide the movement of the ship, in the way the information in a computer acts with various consequences etc. Such information is clearly objective in the sense that it is primarily information to the system, rather than to us.

Bohm hypothesized that mental processes are best understood in terms of a hierarchy of levels, each level having both a physical and mental side and where the more subtle levels organize the more manifest levels, while the more manifest levels provide content to the more subtle ones. At each level, information is the bridge between the mental and the physical.

Bohm saw mind and matter as two aspects or ways of looking at an underlying reality, which is movement. There is mutual participation.

What we usually call "mind" can be seen as a fairly subtle level in the brain, with an internal relationship to the whole universe. The important point is that the mind is still assumed to have a physical aspect, and it can thus influence other such levels and be influenced by them. Finally, Bohm assumed that information is the link or bridge between the mental and the physical sides. In this way, Bohm tried to answer the traditional objection against double-aspect theories or neutral monism, namely that it is left a mystery what is the nature of the reality of which mind and matter are thought to be aspects.

2 The Architecture of Matter

According to Bohm, quantum and relativity physics point to a new notion of physical reality, where the key notion is that of implicate order. This notion can be extended to the field of biological phenomena and consciousness, thus making it into a proposal about the general architecture of existence.

A proper world view is essential for harmony in the individual and in society as a whole. An incorrect or confused view of the totality might facilitate a confused operation of the mind and confused actions.

The phrase "unbroken wholeness in flowing movement" summarizes Bohm's concept of reality fairly neatly. It emphasizes that reality is an unbroken whole and that reality is movement. To say that reality is on unbroken whole is to deny atomism. To say that reality is movement is to deny the view that reality consists of some static things that may or may not move.

Bohm's view is exotic. It means that the totality of existence is enfolded in each region of space and time. We can abstract a part, an element, or an aspect from reality, but it will inevitably enfold the whole and thus remain intrinsically related to the totality. Wholeness thus permeates all that we can abstract and discuss.

Bohm turns the familiar mechanistic scheme upside down. Instead of saying that the universe is made of some basic elements, he postulates that the universe is movement, 'all is flux'. Order is something that prevails in this movement.

The implicate order is the new order to which quantum and relativity theory are pointing.

Bohm lists three key features of the quantum theory that challenge mechanism. First of all, movement is thought to be in general discontinuous. A famous implication of this is the so-called 'quantum jump'. Second, there is the phenomenon of wave-particle duality: electrons can exhibit different properties depending on the environmental context within which they exist and are subject to observation. Third, there is the feature of non-locality.

Although both quantum theory and relativity theory challenge the mechanistic order, their basic concepts contradict each other. Relativity requires continuity, strict causality (or determinism) and locality while quantum theory requires non-continuity, non-causality, and non-locality.

Unification is not actually possible. What is very probably needed is a qualitatively new theory, from which both relativity theory and quantum theory are to be derived as abstraction, approximations and limiting cases.

The best place to begin is with what they have basically in common. This is undivided wholeness.

There are some analogies that illustrate the order of undivided wholeness. One is the hologram.

In a hologram, each part of the photographic plate contains information about the whole object so that there is no point-to-point correspondence of the object and the recorded image. The form and structure of the object can be said to be enfolded within each region of the photographic record. When one shines light on any region, you get an image of the whole object.

Also, there is a simple device: a tank made of two concentric glass cylinders filled with glycerine. If you place a droplet of insoluble ink in the fluid and turn the outer cylinder, the droplet is drawn out into a fine thread-like form and suddenly comes invisible. However, when you turn the outer cylinder in the opposite direction, the droplet comes visible again.

Bohm uses the glycerine tank to illustrate a number of principles. One of them is the idea of enfoldment and unfoldment. An implicate order in a given situation is not directly perceivable. It means that we cannot understand its origin without going outside of the situation.

3. The Architecture of Consciousness

Matter and consciousness are traditionally seen as two entirely different substances. It is a bit like saying that there are two different worlds that can keep on existing even if the other world did not exist. Yet it need not imply that they cannot affect each other. They could depend upon each other causally so that changes in the other.

There are a number of different materialist viewpoints: emergent materialism, behaviorism, mind-brain identity theory, functionalism, instrumentalism, and eliminative materialism.

One way of approaching the question of the relationship between matter and consciousness is to focus upon the type of relationship that is assumed to hold between them like reduction, emergence, causation, and supervenience.

Bohm is suggesting that contemporary philosophers of mind have chosen the wrong track as they are trying to explain consciousness in terms of the explicate order. The essence of conscious experience cannot be entirely reduced to mechanical processes in the brain.

There seem to be two ways in which a human being can comprehend an implicate order. There is what we might call conceptual comprehension, where the comprehension takes place with the help of a model which can be conceptually described and communicated. There is also non-conceptual comprehension, where comprehension happens via 'immediate sensing' of the presence of sensory contents in consciousness experience. This happens for instance in listening to music.

In contrast, we cannot 'directly perceive' the implicate order of the mode of existence and movement of an electron. Our only way to grasp this implicate order is through the conceptual model.

Bohm emphasizes that implicate order is active in the sense that it continually flows into emotional, physical and other aspects that are inseparable from the transformations out of which it is essentially constituted.

When we apprehend implicate order, we sense it as meaning. Auditory experiences illustrate the implicate order, for instance in listening to a symphony only a tiny portion of the sounds is vibrating in the air, the rest is enfolded in your brain/mind.

In visual experience, we meet a three-dimensional world of objects, which can be static. But even visual experience involves the implicate order in a powerful way. We understand written text even if there are mistakes in the written words.

The process of thought is not merely a representation of the manifest world. Rather, it makes an important contribution to how we experience this world. Yet, we don't actually create the world, we only create an inner "show" of the world in response to our movements and sensations.

The building blocks of the Bohmian universe are moments. Each moment contains within it all the other moments in some way. The past moments are parasites on the present moment. They can no longer exist independently as moments, so they exist as traces in the present moments.

The role of our memory is to allow the past moments to be present in the present moment.

There is a sense in which matter affects consciousness and vice versa. This connection has been called psychosomatic (psyche meaning mind and soma meaning body). It implies that mind and body are separately existent but connected by some sort of interaction. Bohm wants to question this traditional way of thinking. He thinks that mind and body might involve a higher-dimensional reality which is their common ground and beyond both.

The conscious experience involves a sense of flow, a stream of consciousness and that exists at the level of the ground. Bohm says: "As a human being takes part in the process of this totality, he is fundamentally changed in the very activity in which his aim is to change that reality which is the content of his consciousness. To fail to take this into account must inevitably lead one to serious and sustained confusion in all that one does."

4. Active information

Much harm in science and even more in society is caused by our taking our general world views as final and absolute truths. Bohm emphasizes that the implicate order scheme is merely a proposal or a tool that can be used to seeing.

Bohm introduced a notion of active information. Consider a ship on automatic pilot guided by radar waves. The ship is not pushed and pulled mechanically, rather the form is picked up and this gives shape and form to the movement of the ship. Similarly, the form of radio waves carries the form of speech or music.

Bohm's basic proposal is to extend this notion of active information to matter at the quantum level. It is potentially active everywhere, but actually active only where this information enters into the activity of the particle - just as the radio wave is active where the receiver is. This implies a strange idea that the electron may have an inner structure in the quantum level. Quantum potential implies a non-local interaction between particles and depends on the 'quantum state' of the whole system in a way that cannot be defined simply as a pre-designed interaction between all the particles. The wholeness of the entire system has a meaning going beyond anything that can be specified solely in terms of the actual spatial relationship of the particles.

Active information can be seen as a kind of link or bridge between the mental and the physical or chemical. There is something in the process of thought that is simultaneously physical and mental. Changes in the information content might result in changes in the physical side. For instance, interpreting some information as meaning 'assailant' may give rise to physical activities.

At a given moment, only some of this information is actually active. There is a hierarchy of levels of information, but the process is essentially the same. There is no gap or barrier between these levels. The content of our consciousness is part of this overall activity.

Participation is the key relationship between mind and body. Human beings participate in the planet as a whole. The mechanistic tradition in science and philosophy has emphasized the idea of external relation to physical things, including the Earth. The implicate order scheme draws attention to the possibility of internal relationship and participation in the life of the Earth. Bohm's dream was the awakening of 'collective intelligence'.

5. Time consciousness

Bohm describes consciousness in terms of a series of moments. A given moment cannot be fixed exactly in relation to time but covers some vaguely defined and somewhat variable extended period of duration. Each moment is experienced directly in the implicate order. Each moment of consciousness has a certain explicit content and the implicit content, a foreground and a background. Bohm assumes that there is a certain 'force of necessity' in the overall situation which has the effect that one moment of consciousness gives rise to the next moment. The sense of flow arises because one is directly perceiving a set of co-present elements in different degrees of enfoldment.

It is essential to consider conscious experience in relation to the underlying neural processes. The concept of the implicate order helps us to think of the way the brain/mind processes information and the way information is apprehended. This is not specifically biological. Although conscious experience is intimately connected to and dependent on the underlying neural processes, it may be a mistake to try to reduce it constitutively to such processes.

6. Movement, Causation, and Consciousness

Bohm's basic metaphysical proposal is that the totality of all is movement. This replaces the traditional theory according to which reality consists of basic building blocks like particles and fields. Yet Bohm challenges the idea that there is something that is 'doing the moving'. The essence of the universe is not the motion of objects through space, nor a step-by-step evolution of the state of the universe in a process of time. The holomovement of the universe is beyond time. It is the ground from which arise the sorts of processes in which a time order prevails.

Attention is a key element in movement. It is involved in all our sensory perceptions, and in the act of understanding the whole of perception and thought. Attention is a psychological phenomenon which clearly seems to involve movement, but not essentially a thing that moves in the brain.

The failure of contemporary neuroscientists and philosophers of mind to come to terms with consciousness is partly due to a tacit overcommitment to the mechanistic framework. It is obviously limited to describing the fundamental physical phenomena. In physics, it worked until the end of 19th century but has pretty much failed to fit with new developments in physics after that.

Mechanistic explanations do not work in describing the more fundamental levels of the physical world. Conscious experience is similar to quantum phenomena.

In the traditional materialistic scheme, consciousness is an anomaly, a mystery in a mechanical universe. In Bohm's scheme based on new physics, consciousness exhibits the same implicate order which prevails in both inanimate and animate matter. The Bohmian universe is thus more 'consciousness-friendly' than the universe of classical physics and contemporary neuroscience, which are typically mechanistic. It provides one framework in which we may hope to develop better theories in the future.