Saturday, February 27, 2010


In the modern human ego, the bundle of survival instincts with which most animals are equipped has been turned into a powerful engine for gaining and keeping power. It is a highly focused, self-regarding and self-reflecting structure devoted, initially by means of language, to detecting and exploiting useful regularity in its environment. Its interest is the maintenance and implementation of those strategies that have proved effective in the past in maximising pleasure and in minimising pain, i.e. what is vulgarly called ‘survival’. It is therefore a highly self-protective structure, brightly-lit and showing a distinct tendency to routine and rigidity. It is bolstered by powerful emotions – self-love, aggressivity, fear of competition, territoriality, possessiveness, craving for dominance etc. – and often tries to characterise and describe some sort of ‘unconscious’ mind – a fluid, shifting, ill-defined non-ego – that is somehow connected to it, but that it controls in principle and that it often sees as essentially inferior. The ego’s attitude to this so-called ‘unconscious’, however, is mainly one of mistrust and nervous wariness. It experiences the non-ego as a threat. This is principally because the ego – particularly in its modern incarnation as the ‘rational ego’ – sees itself as the essence of the mind if not the whole of the mind, and the non-ego, therefore, it sees as an interloper, a competitor of perhaps real, perhaps illusory, but clearly unstructured potential that has to be combated.

Clearly, it is mistaken in this. The simple facts are these: the ego is not the mind, but simply a series of well-established routines acquired by habit and reinforced by self-regard, self-preservation and vanity. Far from being in control of the unconscious, the conscious mind is dependent on what is not conscious for its very existence, just as every sub-system of the universe is dependent upon the configuration of the universe as a whole. And since the ego is only part of the conscious mind, this dependence is decisive. The human mind requires a vastly more capacious conceptual machinery for its self-understanding than that which is applicable to the conscious ego. The ego does not reflect upon itself very much; and the rational ego, insofar as it goes in for self-contemplation, irrationally considers itself as a sort of inexplicable, immaterial hole punched in material reality, lacking any properties and legitimately excluded from science. For despite its modern materialism, the ego is wedded nonetheless to a sort of unadmitted Cartesian dualism. It believes in a world composed of chunks of matter, but sees itself as apart and utterly different from this world, whose inexplicable, propertyless, dimensionless observer it is – a conception incompatible with quantum theory. Needless to say, it is the ego’s own confusion that is at the origin of these misconceptions. The ego’s self-misunderstanding – which even extends to a denial of its own existence – is at the root of the modern misunderstanding of the mind, which, in turn, is the root of our modern alienation.

One of the principal misconceptions that the ego has developed concerning the mind is the counterintuitive belief that it is identical with the lump of neural tissue inside our skulls, that it is in fact a 3D thing. Thoughts, therefore, are also 3D things. To begin to change this erroneous and damaging view of the mind it is necessary to take another look at some of Bohm’s revolutionary views on the nature of matter as he summarised them in an interview in 1986 with Professor RenĂ©e Weber of Rutgers University and the University of Washington.

Five issues stand out in this interview: 1) the status of material particles and thus of 'matter' within the nested levels of reality, 2) the delusory nature of the mind-matter distinction, 3) the nature of light, 4) creativity as the essence of the mind, and 5) creativity as the essence of knowledge.

Bohm was convinced that de Broglie’s interpretation of the sub-atomic particle was of vital importance despite its having been neglected (albeit accepted) by mainstream physics. He summarised the interpretation thus:

“It was the idea that basically an electron is a particle (I’ll simplify it very much) and that it has a field around it, a new kind of quantum mechanical field which in some ways is similar to old kinds of field, in some ways different. The key difference was that its activity did not depend on its intensity. That’s like saying that it did not act by mechanical pressure on the particle, but it acted from the information content which carried information about the whole experimental arrangement. So the meaning of an experimental result and the form of the experimental conditions were no longer separable, they were a whole, as even Bohr said. This was immediately obvious in de Broglie’s interpretation, whereas it’s a deep, impenetrable mystery in Bohr’s language.” (The Essential David Bohm p.142 – my italics)

Bohm calls the informational field that organises the implicate order of any material system the “quantum information potential” (p.145) and remarks that this implicate order “actively organizes itself”. (ibid) He points out that “This is crucial to understanding thought and the mind.” (ibid) He sees the neuro-physiological aspect of the brain (which is still ‘enfolded’ relative to what we can ordinarily see) as the implicate order of what we are able to observe (the brain), since the latter is the explicate order of the former; but he postulates a “super-implicate order” which is to the neuro-physiological processes what consciousness is to the these. The brain can be viewed as mere “soma”, mere body, mere matter, or it can be viewed as the “activity of significance”.(ibid) Intelligence is this “activity of significance” which, as the super-implicate order, must be seen as distinct from the explicate order of the body, though fundamentally the two are in a sense one. That is to say that the brain is the explicate order of the super-implicate order of the mind and the neuro-physiological activity is located between the two. Thus we don’t have mind and body as two distinct and separate entities, whose interaction is incomprehensible; we have the one – the body – as the explicate expression of what is implicate in the other – the mind. Thus the brain, far from being the essence of mind, is rather the projection of a more complex order (implicate) within a less complex (explicate) domain.

Bohm is furthermore quite unabashed in extending this fundamental model of nested orders to the universe as a whole, and maintains that in doing this he is doing no more than drawing the implications of the equations of quantum mechanics. He calls his multileveled understanding of reality “soma-significance” (ibid) and insists that far from being dualistic, this is an attempt to see reality as single but as knowable under several aspects, just as a written text can be known as both physico-chemical and according to its non-physical meaning. He sees the whole of material reality as organised and coordinated by meaning. The quantum informational field gives significance to the entire material universe. We as humans merely follow nature in our computers, in which the hardware is organised by information. All of nature, says Bohm, is organised according to the activity of significance (which means more than mere information, because it is active and self-organising). Meaning is thus not separate from matter, it is rather inherent in it as its informational field, its implicate order. He points out that in structuring our computers by information, we are imitating nature, not merely injecting meaning into systems that lack it. Thus, “the super or information-potential is related to the implicate order of matter as the subtle aspects of consciousness are related to the material movements of hormones and electrical currents in the nerves.” (p.146) And further: “The quantum field contains information about the whole environment and about the whole past, which regulates present activity of the electron in much the same way that information about the whole past and our whole environment regulates our own activity as human beings through consciousness. (ibid.) This “active information” – a concept picked up by Polkinghorne and others – is not just thought, as we humans understand it, “though it’s similar.” (ibid.) Furthermore, extending such a notion to the whole universe is not just a disguised reference to God. If one were to extrapolate the idea of implicate orders to an ultimate super- super- super- etc. implicate order, one would still not be talking about God, because one would be still conceiving something limited. The ultimate implicate order is beyond us because “we can not grasp that in thought,” (p.147) Nevertheless, just as people in the past had insight about a form of intelligence that had organized the universe, then personalized it and called it ‘God’, so according to the current state of physics, “a similar insight can prevail today without personalizing it and without calling it a personal God.” (ibid.) Of this intelligence, Bohm agrees that one can propose that it is benevolent and compassionate and not neutral.

The lower levels in this hierarchical conception of the universe are transcended by the higher. The higher level is always “immensely greater and has an entirely different set of relationships out of which the lower level is obtained as a very small part, in an abstraction.” (ibid.) The higher level contains the lower. The lower level is the unfolding of the higher. Where the lower level is linear, mathematically speaking, and unfolds in time, the higher is non-linear and timeless. This means that “the linear organization of time and thought characteristic of the ordinary level will not necessarily be characteristic of the higher level. Therefore what is beyond time may have an order of its own, not the same as the simple linear order of time.” (ibid.)

We impose our order of space and time on the entire order of reality and declare that this is the only order that exists, whereas in Bohm’s terms, “this higher order is not basically the order of space and time, but the order of space and time unfolds from it and folds back into it…” (p.148) The super-implicate order is a somewhat Spinozistic notion that gets us beyond the Kantian conception of an epistemological carapace that our minds can not remove. Since the super-implicate order contains the information content out of which the explicate order unfolds, it contains the order of space and time within it. Time is an “order of manifestation” (ibid.) and, a kind of “flowering” of the implicate order; thus evolution is fundamental to it. The individual moment contains enfolded in it the entire process of evolution and all the moments are present at once in the timeless implicate order. The influence of Einstein is obvious here. This entire timeless order is a temporal implicate order, just as the spatial interconnectedness of all matter is the spatial implicate order. Thus: “consciousness is basically in the implicate order as all matter is and therefore it’s not that consciousness is one thing and matter is another. Rather consciousness is a material process and consciousness is itself in the implicate order, as is all matter, and consciousness manifests itself in some explicate order, as does matter.” (p.148) Since all matter is interconnected and interpenetrating, “the consciousness of mankind is one.” (p.149)

Space, for Bohm, is not the empty theatre of common sense in which separate objects interact externally with each other, as points on an imaginary line; it is rather that which unites us, since all matter is a small wave, a mere ripple, on empty space and space itself is the ground of our existence the line uniting us is not imaginary; it is real. The separate points are mere abstractions. As the reality of space is not the measure of space (the units on the line measure only the wave in space) so the units by which we measure time are not the reality either. Reality is universal flow or holomovement and events and objects are merely abstractions created by the mind. The distinguishing characteristics of what we call ‘events’ or ‘objects’ are put there by the mind and create artificial divisions in what in reality has none. The distinguishing characteristics are aspects of the explicate order, but have no reality in themselves. Reality is the emptiness or rather the “plenum” (p.150) of space and what we call ‘real things’ are no more than tiny ripples within it. The notion of an empty plenum is only difficult if one says that the tiny ripples that are matter are all there is; whereas in fact, the ripples are in space itself which in contrast to the ripples (objects) appears empty to the mind, but in actual fact is full because it contains the potentiality for everything.

Naturally in order to think about the emptiness that is the plenum of space – the timeless, multi-dimensional space – we still use our three-dimensional consciousness. Bohm proposes that meditation is a means of avoiding thinking in three-dimensional terms. This is of course no different from the mystical notion of our being grounded in some infinite substance; but far from being a ‘mysticism’, which implies something hidden, Bohm proposes that this should be called “transparentism” (p.152) because as opposed to obscuring the whole, as our fragmented way of viewing it does, it makes the whole comprehensible. The meaning of transparentism is essentially the same idea as that contained in Kierkegaard’s phrase characterising the religious mind as “grounded transparently in the power that constitutes one”. (ibid.)

In response to the question from his interviewer as to why light has always been used as the privileged metaphor for the groundedness of the individual mind in the totality, Bohm gives the following explanation:

“As an object approaches the speed of light, according to relativity, its internal space and time change so that the clocks slow down relative to other speeds and the distance is shortened. You would find that two ends of the ray of light would have no time between them and no distance, so they would represent immediate contact. (...) You could also say that from the point of view of present field theory, the fundamental fields are those of very high energy in which the mass can be neglected, which would be essentially moving at the speed of light. Mass is a phenomenon of connecting light rays that go back and forth, sort of freezing them into a pattern.

“So matter is, as it were, condensed or frozen light. Light is not merely electromagnetic waves but in a sense other kinds of waves that go at that speed. Therefore all matter is a condensation of light into patterns moving back and forth at average speeds which are less than the speed of light. Even Einstein had some hint of this idea. You could say that when we come to light we are coming to the fundamental activity in which existence has its ground, or at least coming close to it.” (p.152f.)

Thus as the time-bound reality emerges out of the timeless, so matter emerges out of light as a kind of condensation. Pure light has no speed at all; only bound light moves at the ‘speed’ of light. In the depths of the implicate order, the timeless state (pure light perhaps) is the primary reality of which what we call reality is the secondary manifestation. It is analogous to two kinds of music, the second ordinary kind of which emerges disharmoniously, or only with limited harmony, from the first which is never disharmonious. The mystics use the image of light for enlightenment because it is the best expression of the experience of the mind as it leaves the timebound state and enters the timeless, spaceless state. Thus, says Bohm again:

“Light is what enfolds all the universe as well. For example, if you’re looking at this room, the whole room is enfolded into the light that enters the pupil of your eye and unfolds into the image and into your brain. Light in its generalized sense (not just ordinary light) is the means by which the entire universe unfolds into itself.” (p.154) This is no mere metaphor, it is actuality; light is both energy and information, it is “content, form and structure. It’s the potential of everything.” (ibid.) For Christians, there are clear analogies here with the notion of God as light and with the Creation and Incarnation as the ‘kenosis’ or self-limitation of the Creator. Light for Bohm does not move. It has no speed. It simply is. There is no transmission time, no distance between items except in our perception. The ordinary conception of time is analogous to a map such as Mercator’s projection of the world which is good at the Equator, but wrong at the poles, because it represents space there as infinite. Thus the ordinary conception of light with the ordinary space-time holds well enough for ordinary speeds but is as wrong at the ‘speed’ of light as Mercator’s map is at the poles.

Light is the background of everything, it can carry information about the entire universe. It can also, by interactions of different rays, produce particles and all the diverse structures of matter. “The ocean of energy” says Bohm, “could be thought of as an ocean of light. But the information-content may be such as to predispose certain light rays to combine so that they move back and forth rather than moving straight ahead, and thus forming particles.” (p156)

The psychological and spiritual significance of this light-doctrine is that the mind may have a structure similar to that of the universe and the particular forms of mind may be analogous to the particles. Getting down to the ground of the mind might be felt as light, getting into contact with the free, interpenetrating movement of the whole. Just as the ocean is all stirred up at the surface, but peaceful in its depths, so the mind experiences this contact with its ultimate depths as peace and harmony, oneness and timelessness. Since the entire information-content of the universe is a kind of intelligence, it experiences also a kind of love. (Though Bohm does not say this, his interviewer suggests it and Bohm does not demur).

This kind of conception of physicality, of the nature of matter and thus of mind is highly revolutionary and light-years away from either the bone-headed physicalism of the so-called ‘eliminative materialists’ or the dualism of the religious. The reason for this is that for Bohm, the concept ‘matter’ does not imply the 3D objects that we abstract from the entire process of the world, but rather an abstraction from an infinitely more subtle substance composed of nested orders. The mind or even the ‘soul’ and even less the ‘spirit’ is not some subtle thing that moves the perceptible things that constitute the body, some subtle thing that is present throughout the life of the body and perhaps pre-dates it. The mind (as also the soul or spirit) emerges in the course of the history of the body. It may well be that aspects of the mind are the ‘form’ of the body (in the Aristotelian sense) and that the growth and action of the body constitute the realisation of this organising principle. But the history of the body also is the context in which the mind achieves consciousness of itself. The body is the medium in which the mind is grown. There may well be a reciprocal relationship between mind and body. The body clearly has a vital role to play, despite its transience in the development of the mind. This role is limited to the temporal period of its existence. But we do not have on the basis of that to believe that the existence of the mind is temporally co-extensive with that of the body.

Some aspects of the mind do not need extra concepts other than the physical to account for them. The repetitive, mechanical aspects of thought, that are intrinsically linked to repetitive personal memory and to the preoccupations of the ego, are clearly physical processes and one must assume that they dissolve along with the body at the latter’s dissolution into its chemical constituents. Other aspects of the mind, however, cannot be so neatly tied to the body. The creativity of the mind has precisely to do with the transcendence of mechanical thought patterns and constitutes in itself a source of novelty which cannot be associated with any repetitive material pattern at all. It is this latter aspect of the mind that can be seen as immortal and as a likely candidate for the entity that survives the dissolution of the individual body. The creative mind is the focus of all the values and patterns of unique insight that constitute the individual’s ability to perceive the ever-renewed movement of the universe and its constantly changing configuration.

The creative mind is, perhaps, identical with the co-ordinating intelligence that is the centre of the universe’s constant evolution to unique configurations. It is impossible to see how this creative intelligence could be subject to the determinations that make things temporal and transient. It is the repetitious nature of consciousness, (i.e. the ego’s mechanical thought-patterns etc. which are the main constituent of most people’s mind) that are materially determined and destined to dissolve. The same cannot be said about the perceiving intelligence of the individual that constantly delivers new insight into the essentially unknown and unknowable, because ever shifting kaleidoscope that is reality. Such insight is only possible on the basis of an intimate affinity between perceiver and perceived, such that the two are one. The certainty of the insight is thus invincible, indestructible and requires no demonstration.

Only in the communication of insight in the refractory medium of language, with its inbuilt mechanisms and repetitions, does the certainty of the creative insight become damaged and lose its original character. The consciousness in which the insight originally arose, however, has already moved on and left behind any linguistic traces in which former states of certainty may have been expressed. It is this indefinable generator of what is commonly called ‘knowledge’ – but which is no more than an image of intelligence – that we must regard as the candidate for immortality and the ultimate guarantor of the individual’s stake in the universe. Of course, the uncreative, mechanical, algorithm-driven mind, will have a very minor stake if any. This is why the attitude of perpetual contemplation is the same as the attitude of prayer. This is the essence of what Kierkegaard called ‘subjectivity’. The attitude of prayer is essentially the perpetual reaffirmation of the essential rootedness of individual intelligence in universal intelligence. Since the latter guarantees the perpetual, unpredictable evolution of the holomovement, the former, as local contributor to this, is inseparable from it and like it, eternal.

So what of knowledge? For Bohm, knowledge is a dynamic contact between the mind and the reality that generates the mind, and not in any sense a stable body of doctrine encoded in some language or other. Thus knowledge, like the universe, is constant change, evolving awareness, or it is not knowledge. For Bohm, The only authentic contact between the mind and the cosmos takes place when creative intelligence achieves a novel insight on the basis of direct perception of the nature of current reality by means of a harmony established between individual and universal intelligence. This creative insight can be expressed in a work of art or a scientific theory. All other forms of contact are to a greater or lesser degree second-hand or mechanical. When the mind contacts reality through the schemata worked out by other minds – schemata that may in their time have represented a truly creative novum – the result is invariably a kind of mechanical repetition, even when, by logical means, unsuspected inferences may be made from the original insights. Most ordinary science involves inferences of this type. All rule-based thinking can only generate knowledge and truth as conventionally understood – both of which are deemed by those who invent them to somehow ‘correspond’ to reality as such. Inherent in such notions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ are some kind of attainable absolute. Knowledge is deemed to be definitive certainty and truth to be a sort of reproduction of reality. However, the delusion inherent in this is generated by the ego’s self regard and is quickly discovered by the creative awareness: since reality is constantly evolving in an unpredictable way, no reproduction of it in any medium is possible and no certainty about its definitive state could ever be achieved. Knowledge and truth as understood by the rational ego, and by those who believe in a terminus to the search for understanding, are therefore illusory concepts; only living, immediate, creative insight into the nature of current reality has the sort of value traditionally attributed to knowledge and truth. The notion of ‘definitive’ knowledge is a contradiction. For the ego that sees its repetitions as of the essence of knowledge and that repudiates any ‘mental’ reality that is not circumscribed by its own awareness, such conceptions of knowledge and truth are of course nonsensical. But then, that is the ego's problem.