David Joseph Bohm (December 20, 1917 – October 27, 1992).
This brief article about David Bohm will do little more than provide but a small glimpse into his very special life.  Bohm’s scientific achievements deserve attention, but they should not be presented separately from the rest of his work.  Bohm’s inquiries were done in the spirit of wholism and were not limited to any particular specialization of study.  Bohm was perpetually open to new avenues of inquiry.

Bohm’s Main Concern

In his book Wholeness And The Implicate Order (published in 1981) Bohm stated:


“I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.”
Yet Bohm questioned if he would go into science if he could do it all over again:

David Bohm: Yes, well, I’ve often thought of that. For example, I’ve asked myself, would I go into science again.
Jiddu Krishnamurti: Yes.
David Bohm: And, I’m not at all certain now because science does not seem to be relevant to this crisis [that humanity is facing].
Jiddu Krishnamurti: No, no, on the contrary, they are helping [to generate the crisis].
David Bohm: That makes it worse.
Source: Questioning Krishnamurti: Conversation 1550, Brockwood Park, England, 11 June 1983

Source of Humanity’s Difficulties

And this is where Bohm’s greatest achievement lays.  No scientific mind has penetrated the source of humanity’s difficulties to the extent David Bohm has.  Bohm challenged the orthodoxy of science, denied the current flow of culture, and called for a radical attention to the process of thought at its generative source.  Bohm was one of the greatest thinkers of modern society has seen, but what made him most unique was his denial of thought.  Bohm stated that thought is the source of disorder and that the attempt to use thought to bring about order was incoherent.  Bohm realized that the application of thought was severely limited and only a mind freed from the domination of the thought process, which Bohm likened to a virus, would have the energy to perceive clearly.  Clear perception of the process of thought, or what Bohm would refer to as “sustained attention to the process of thought”, was proposed as humanity’s greatest potential to resolve the crises thought has brought about.
“We are faced with a breakdown of general social order and human values that threatens stability throughout the world. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach.  I am suggesting that the very means by which we try to solve our problems is the problem. The source of our problems is within the structure of thought itself. This may seem strange because our culture prides itself on thought being its highest achievement.”
Source: A public talk by David Bohm in Santa Monica, California, 1981.

Bohm’s Proposals About Thought

Bohm drew from marganilized subjects such as metaphysics, the study of consciousness, and  alternative understandings of quantum theory.  He then combined those with a profound understanding of the natural sciences, scientific methodology, and the study of perception and learning to produce what is perhaps the first clear and comprehensive map of the process of thought the Western world has seen.


Bohm was very careful to point out that anything that could be held in thought was a proposal that was subject to revision and could potentially be expanded or contradicted at any time by the next perception one had.  This disposition results in an affinity to remain unknowing and observant of what is being unfolded in each moment, without conclusion.  And all conclusions were limited according to Bohm, who saw even science as an art form:
“All that man does is a kind of art, and this implies skill in doing things, as well as perception of how things fit or do not fit. This is indeed self-evident for the visual or musical artist as well as for the artisan. It is true also for the scientist and the mathematician, but less evident.”
Source: Bohm, David, and Lee Nichol. On Creativity. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.


And of things less evident, Bohm also inquired deeply into spirit:
“The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember, and describe. This field is basically that which is manifest, or tangible.
The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word ‘spirit’, whose root meaning is ‘wind or breath.’ This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds.
This energy, or spirit, infuses all living things, and without it any organism must fall apart into its constituent elements. That which is truly alive in living systems is this energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies.”
Source: A short piece written by David Bohm in 1987 for the memorial service of Malcolm Sagenkahn.

The Implicate Order

Bohm would come to describe a theory in which an enfolded, intangible ground was seen to be more actual than the temporary projections that appear to our senses as concrete and manifest orders.  Bohm stated his association with the sage Jiddu Krishnamurti, a relationship Bohm described as one of the most important events of his life, facilitated his view of this intangible ground:
“Now, we had many discussions. I think partly through these discussions, although not entirely, I came to this idea of the implicate order. He used to greatly encourage me in that direction. I may have had the idea before in a very germ form.”
Source: Beyond Limits: A video interview of David Bohm. 1990.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

One can’t properly understand Bohm’s work or his dispositions without an adequate understanding of Jiddu Krishnamurti.  Their lives were intertwined, and no one else had the influence on Bohm that Krishnamurti did.
The author of Bohm’s biography stated:
“Certainly he [Bohm] did say that the two most important encounters in his life were with Einstein and Krishnamurti. He felt something similar between the two men — the great, enormous energy that both of them had, and the intensity, and the honesty. And with each of them he had a deep friendship, but at an impersonal rather than a personal level. I think both men were quite important to him, but certainly with Krishnamurti the dialogues they had went very, very deep.”
The Bohm–Krishnamurti dialogues took place for over two decades and resulted in some of the most important hints we have for how humanity can sustain life on earth.


Krishnamurti’s Discovery

In an introduction about Krishnamurti, Bohm wrote:
“It is here that I encountered what I feel to be Krishnamurti’s major discovery. What he was seriously proposing is that all this disorder, which is the root cause of such widespread sorrow and misery, and which prevents human beings from properly working together, has its root in the fact that we are ignorant of the general nature of our own processes of thought. Or to put it differently it may be said that we do not see what is actually happening, when we are engaged in the activity of thinking.”

Bohm Dialogue

Bohm’s explorations into the activity of thinking, as well as the development of science, language, and culture, naturally lead to him to the study of communication.  Bohm proposed that knowledge is a collective pool of which we are all private mixtures.  Bohm stated that thought was a collective process, and any development of ideas or scientific explorations was naturally and unavoidably enmeshed into a web of communications that no one could claim individual authorship of.
Perhaps the culmination of Bohm’s explorations into the human problems was his vision for dialogue:
“…it is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today. Moreover, it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated.”
Source: Bohm, David, and F. David Peat. Science, Order, and Creativity. Toronto: Bantam, 1987. Print.
Bohm’s vision for dialogue will not be covered in this short article, but the following quote of Bohm’s will provide a hint to its essence:
“…awakening…the process of dialogue itself as a free flow of meaning among all the participants. In the beginning, people were expressing fixed positions, which they were tending to defend, but later it became clear that to maintain the feeling of friendship in the group was much more important than to hold any position. Such friendship has an impersonal quality in the sense that its establishment does not depend on a close personal relationship between participants. A new kind of mind thus beings to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change. In this development the group has no pre-established purpose, though at each moment a purpose that is free to change may reveal itself. The group thus begins to engage in a new dynamic relationship in which no speaker is excluded, and in which no particular content is excluded. Thus far we have only begun to explore the possibilities of dialogue in the sense indicated here, but going further along these lines would open up the possibility of transforming not only the relationship between people, but even more, the very nature of consciousness in which these relationships arise.”
Source: Unfolding Meaning: A weekend of dialogue with David Bohm (Donald Factor, editor), 1996. Print.
Regarding Bohm’s work in science please see the Science section of our website.

Bohm’s Reception

This article purposely emphasized certain aspects of Bohm’s work and ignored others.  Unfortuantely Bohm is chronically misunderstood and misrepresented.  There are several reasons for this but one of the simpler reasons is that few people have the unique multidisciplinary and experiential backgrounds that would allow them to properly apprehend the whole of Bohm’s work.  By experiential it is meant the direct observation and perception of the processes of thought that Bohm stated was essential.

Learning About Bohm

To get a good sense of Bohm we recommend reading as many of Bohm’s books as you can get, getting a sufficient understanding of Jiddu Krishnamurti, as well as familiarizing yourself with the content of the Bohm-Krishnamurti dialogues, viewing any other material of Bohm’s you can find, especially the Bohm seminars and any videos about Bohm, and understanding Bohm’s vision of dialogue, the implicate order, soma-significance, the observer and the observed, thought as a system of reflexes, intelligence as insight, the illusion of time and becoming for the self, and other key aspects of Bohm’s work.  Lastly, it is useful to have an understanding of tacit knowledge and Michael Polanyi’s work, direct perception and J.J. Gibson’s work, an understanding of proprioception as presented in kinesiology, and an understanding of the challenges to the materialistic, atomistic paradigms presented by relativity, quantum theory, and other sources.

Going Beyond the Intellect

Do note that the intellect is the greatest impediment to understanding Bohm’s work.  One can intellectually study Bohm for a life time without having direct contact, direct perception, of those things he was pointing to.  This task of inquiry is subtle and requires tremendous and consistent energy and alertness lest one remain constantly in self-deception.  Bohm cautioned that it takes more energy to fully perceive the process of thought than what it takes to make a major scientific discovery.