Original article published in Sunrise, Feb./March 1993
The death of David Bohm on 27 October 1992 is a great loss not only for the physics community but for all those interested in the philosophical implications of modern science.
David Bohm was one of the most distinguished theoretical physicists of his generation, and a fearless challenger of scientific orthodoxy. His interests and influence extended far beyond physics and embraced biology, psychology, philosophy, religion, art, and the future of society.
Underlying his innovative approach to many different issues was the
fundamental idea that beyond the visible, tangible world there lies
of undivided wholeness.
Bohm was surprised to
find that once electrons were in a plasma, they stopped behaving
like individuals and started behaving as if they were part of a
larger and interconnected whole. He later remarked that he
frequently had the impression that the sea of electrons was in some
The Copenhagen Interpretation was formulated mainly by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the 1920s and is still highly influential today. But even before the book was published, Bohm began to have doubts about the assumptions underlying the conventional approach.
He had difficulty accepting
that subatomic particles had no objective existence and took on
definite properties only when physicists tried to observe and
measure them. He also had difficulty believing that the quantum
world was characterized by absolute indeterminism and chance, and
that things just happened for no reason whatsoever. He began to
suspect that there might be deeper causes behind the apparently
random and crazy nature of the subatomic world.
They both admired quantum theory’s ability to predict
phenomena, but could not accept that it was complete and that it was
impossible to arrive at any clearer understanding of what was going
on in the quantum realm.
The result was that when his contract at Princeton expired, he was unable to obtain a job in the USA. He moved first to Brazil, then to Israel, and finally to Britain in 1957, where he worked first at Bristol University and later as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College, University of London, until his retirement in 1987.
Bohm will be remembered above all for two radical scientific theories:
In 1952, the year after his discussions with Einstein, Bohm published two papers sketching what later came to be called the causal interpretation of quantum theory, and he continued to elaborate and refine his ideas until the end of his life.
The causal interpretation, says Bohm, ’opens the door for the creative operation of underlying, and yet subtler, levels of reality’. In his view, subatomic particles such as electrons are not simple, structureless particles, but highly complex, dynamic entities.
rejected the view that their motion is fundamentally uncertain or
ambiguous; they follow a precise path, but one which is determined
not only by conventional physical forces but also by a subtler force
which he calls the quantum potential. The quantum potential
the motion of particles by providing ’active information’ about the
whole environment. Bohm gives the analogy of a ship being guided by
radar signals: the radar carries information from all around and
guides the ship by giving form to the movement produced by the much
greater but unformed power of its engines.
In 1959 Bohm and a young research student Yakir Aharonov discovered an important example of quantum interconnectedness. They found that in certain circumstances electrons are able to ’feel’ the presence of a nearby magnetic field even though they are traveling in regions of space where the field strength is zero.
This phenomenon is now known as the Aharonov-Bohm
(AB) effect, and when the discovery was first announced many
physicists reacted with disbelief. Even today, despite confirmation
of the effect in numerous experiments, papers still occasionally
appear arguing that it does not exist.
The results of the experiment are said to have shown that subatomic particles that are far apart are able to communicate in ways that cannot be explained by the transfer of physical signals traveling at or slower than the speed of light.
Many physicists regard these ’nonlocal’ connections as absolutely instantaneous. An
alternative view is that they involve subtler, nonphysical energies
traveling faster than light, but this view has few adherents since
most physicists still believe that nothing can exceed the speed of
But if the
cylinder is then turned in the opposite direction, the thread-form
reappears and rebecomes a droplet; the droplet is unfolded again. Bohm realized that when the ink was diffused through the glycerin it
was not in a state of ’disorder’ but possessed a hidden, or
Bohm gives the analogy of a flowing stream:
Another metaphor Bohm uses to illustrate the implicate order is that of the hologram. To make a hologram a laser light is split into two beams, one of which is reflected off an object onto a photographic plate where it interferes with the second beam.
The complex swirls of the interference pattern recorded on the photographic plate appear meaningless and disordered to the naked eye.
But like the ink
drop dispersed in the glycerin, the pattern possesses a hidden or
enfolded order, for when illuminated with laser light it produces a
three-dimensional image of the original object, which can be viewed
from any angle. A remarkable feature of a hologram is that if a
holographic film is cut into pieces, each piece produces an image of
the whole object, though the smaller the piece the hazier the image.
Clearly the form and structure of the entire object are
within each region of the photographic record.
The explicate order is a projection from higher dimensional levels
of reality, and the apparent stability and solidity of the objects
and entities composing it are generated and sustained by a ceaseless
process of enfoldment and unfoldment, for subatomic particles are
constantly dissolving into the implicate order and then
The mystical connotations of
ideas are underlined by his remark that the implicate domain ’could
equally well be called idealism, spirit, consciousness. The
separation of the two -- matter and spirit -- is an abstraction.
ground is always one.’
What better tribute to
David Bohm’s life and work than to take this message to heart and
make the ideal of universal brotherhood the keynote of our lives.