Reflections on Bohm

Bohm at Oxford

By David Peat March 6, 2014

Bohm had been invited to become a fellow of one of the Oxford Collages and so together we took a trip to Oxford. We walked around the college and ended up in the impressive dining room. The walls were lined with paintings of past masters and fellows in their gowns. Bohm looked at these paintings and remarked “too much history”. That was it. Oxford collages were not for him.

Being in Oxford was also the opportunity for Bohm to meet Anthony Storr, a psychiatrist and author of “The Act of Creation” which explored the lives of a number of creativity people including Virginia Woolf. Storr explained how many highly creative people suffered from mental instability and while talking about Woolf Bohm remarked to me, “yes, that’s right, that’s me.”

Bohm at home

By David Peat February 28, 2014

From Birkbeck College Bohm would take a short walk to Goodge Street tube station and then take the Northern Line to his home in Edgware. His home was cosy and welcoming, and cared for by his wife Saral. In his younger days as a student, and later as a researcher in Berkeley and Princeton, Bohm must have clearly been able to look after himself, but here in Edgware he seemed very impractical. For example Saral would make tea and then put it in a small saucepan with milk and tell David that when she was out he should light the gas, heat the pan and then pour it into a cup! On one occasion Saral had purchased a kettle, but the plug was not attached. Bohm took the plug and kettle into Birkbeck and while he talked about physics Basil Hiley took out a screwdriver and attached the plug. Bohm looked on in amazement and said “how did you do that?”

One thing I noticed about Bohm’s living room was the large number of books. Bohm remarked that he had hardly read any of them. People sent him books and articles they had written but Bohm simply did not have time to read them all.

Quantum cloud

By David Peat February 24, 2014

Science had broken down the world to the point where quantum theory could discuss the smallest particles of matter—the elementary particles. But in what domain did these particles exist? If matter could be broken down, what about space and time? Did there exist something below space, something out of which space itself was formed? Bohm believed there was and called this pre-space. With his colleague, Basil Hiley, he looked to create a theory of pre-space. Pre-space itself would be built out of what are called non-commuting algebras.

In 2000 I held a meeting of artists and scientists in the October gallery, London. The meeting was informal with no fixed agenda, just the opportunity for people to meet and gather in small groups to talk. One afternoon Basil Hiley and I were talking about pre-space when the sculptor, Antony Gormley, joined us. Gormley was very interested in space as much of his work dealt with the inner space of the body. For a time he listened to us and then asked when we meant by algebra. We told him that the famous mathematician, David Hilbert, called it a “relation of relationships.” Gormley liked this.

Back in his studio Gormley began work on a piece he was going to call Quantum Cloud. It consisted of a large number of straight metal rods, welded together. At first sight the sculpture looks like a jumble but, viewed from a certain angle, it has the appearance of a human figure.

Don’t read it Bohm

By David Peat February 18, 2014

One of Bohm’s earliest contributions when a member of Oppenheimer’s group was a theoretical investigation of proton-deuteron scattering. Bohm completed his research, wrote up his findings and gave a seminar to Oppenheimer’s group. This was also the period in which the Manhattan Project was starting with Oppenheimer as director and most of his group were members of the project.

Bohm was not allowed to join, moreover he was forbidden to even read his own report on proton-deuteron scattering. Why was there such a bizarre decision that a scientist could not read his own work?

Bohm’s father, Shmuel Dum, was born in the town of Munkacs which lay on the border of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. His parents died and Shmuel was brought up by Jewish families in the town who thought that the boy’s future lay in the New World. And so Shmuel set sail for America and landed at Ellis Island. At Ellis Island the authorities told him that Dum was not a good name to use in the US and so he chose the name of Bohm.

By the time of the Manhattan Project Munkacs was now in an area occupied by the Nazis and David Bohm was seen as someone compromised because he had relatives in Nazi occupied territory. As a result he was not given security clearance and could not therefore join the Manhattan project or read his own report on proton-deuteron scattering.

Bohm and the Arts

By David Peat February 12, 2014

When Bohm was a member of Oppenheimer’s group he was exposed to classical music. Oppenheimer himself loved music and believed that Beethoven’s Third Symphony was one of the world’s great masterpieces. When I was with Bohm I took him to several concerts, one was a performance of Bach’s Musical Offering in London, and when he was visiting me in Ottawa, I took him to Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the National Art’s Centre. He was particularly struck by the end of the opera when the Don refuses to repent and is consumed by fire.

As to art, when we were at the Bailey Farms, in Ossining, I arranged a trip to New York and together we visited the Museum of Modern Art. Bohm was particularly interested in Picasso and the paintings from his various periods. However, I had the distinct impression that Bohm was not so much seeing the art himself, but through the eyes of Charles Biderman. (Biderman was an artists and author of “The New Cezanne” and Bohm had had a long correspondence with him.

As to literature we never had a discussion of novels or theatre. Neither did Bohm mention any films. However he did make a point of mentioning that he would watch Dr Who on television!

Bohm and the Blackfoot

By David Peat February 6, 2014

Back in the 1980s I received a phone call from someone called Leroy Little Bear inviting me to a circle on the Blackfoot lands in Alberta. It was a meeting of the World Wide Indigenous Network run by Apela Colorado. I went to the meeting and over the next years had many meetings with Leroy as well as attending the Blackfoot Sun Dance.

As it turned out Leroy had also read some of David Bohm’s writings and wanted to meet with him. As a result in 1992 he and I arranged a meeting at the Fetzer Institute in Michigan of Native Elders and Western scientists, and other Western thinkers. Most of the Native Elders were speakers of the Algonquian family of languages – Cree, Blackfoot, Mic Mac, etc. During the meeting Bohm learned of their strongly verb based languages.  In turn, their world view was that of eternal flux and change. Thus a person’s name may change during their lifetime depending on their deeds. Likewise these languages did not lead to the formation of fixed categories. In English for example we put trout, salmon, pike etc into the category of “fish” but exclude eels and frogs. But for the Blackfoot they would refer to “processes in water” and rather than a category of “trees” there would be the sound the wind makes in the leaves.

Bohm was amazed to learn of these languages, for they recalled his earlier experiments with the Rheomode in language. In addition he felt their world view was very much in harmony with his conception of the quantum theory.

Bohm would have clearly liked to pursue these ideas but his health was increasingly compromised and he died several months later. At our next meeting of Native Elders an empty chair was left for Bohm’s spirit.

The Aharonov-Bohm Effect

By David Peat January 31, 2014

An explanation of the A-B effect, as it became know, would be quite technical so below I give only a brief overview of the physics involved.

When Bohm moved to Israel he encountered two outstanding students, Yakir Aharonov and Gideon Carmi which he then took with him to Bristol University. Aharonov for his part was interested in what is known as the Vector Potential. Bohm encouraged him and so the two began to work together.

The vector potential is a way of interrelating electrical and magnetic fields. According to orthodox physics this vector potential has no real, material existence but is simply a mathematical device for linking two sets of equations. Aharonov did not agree and believed that the vector potential had an actual existence.  Working together Aharonov and Bohm proposed that the vector potential could exert an effect on an electron has it travels through a screen with two slits. This suggestion was of course rejected by main stream physics until an experimental physicist, Robert Chambers, devised an experiment that would illustrate the effect: the A-B effect. His result was at first rejected but subsequent experimentalists continued to show that this was a real effect and Aharonov and Bohm’s work was deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize. They were nominated on several occasions and I can remember Bohm being tense in the days leading up to the prize’s announcement.

They never did get the prize and one explication involves an experimental physicist, Rory Siday, who had noticed a bizarre effect when working with an electron lens. Siday took his result to the great Max Born who became angry and said that no such effect existed. At the time Bohm and Aharonov did not know about this work and some speculate that the Nobel Prize was not awarded because of a degree of controversy over who first  discovered the effect.

David Bohm Inner Explorer: Creativity Beyond Boundaries – Bohm, Einstein, Krishnamurti

By David Schrum January 24, 2014

David Bohm was an explorer in fundamental physics who felt that it had lost its way. He saw that researchers at the forefront were no longer deeply interested in creative insight into fundamental processes and structures but were satisfied merely to produce algorithms, without much concern about why these mathematical forms produced results. Bohm looked to earlier greats in physics who had gone beyond the forms and norms of the science that had preceded them and who, through revolutionary insight, had created an understanding that was profoundly new. Bohm also studied creativity itself. He came to feel that true creativity must reach beyond the boundaries of our entire framework of thinking in order to discover something not bound by that.

I recall Bohm pointing out that society tends to have a sense that our universe is pretty much in principle known, in the sense that we have a well-defined concept of reality and a relatively fixed framework of thinking. For Bohm, deep creativity demands that we go beyond that definiteness and that we appreciate the universe as mysterious, as had Newton and Einstein, and as did he. As well, Krishnamurti, with whom he had for years explored the nature of mind, emphasized the necessity of “freedom from the known” in order to significantly explore and to come upon something fundamentally new. Continue reading

David Bohm Inner Explorer: Beyond Word and Concept

By David Schrum January 18, 2014

An explorer with many facets, David Bohm is noted as a physicist, philosopher, and developer of the dialogue process. As he communicated with ease using the concepts relevant to each area, he is often understood by those who work within these boundaries, quite intellectually, as a man of concepts, which certainly he was. Yet there is also David Bohm, the spiritual explorer.

Spirituality is by its nature difficult to discuss, because it reaches beyond the manifested order, hence beyond the embrace of concepts and words. According to Bohm “spirit means that which is nonmanifest, but which moves the manifest.” In considering David Bohm as a spiritual explorer, it is important to note that he himself did not divide matter and spirit but considered the material order and the order of mind to be a unitary field, in which “mind grows out of matter and matter contains the essence of mind”, with no real separation of domains. Continue reading

David Bohm Inner Explorer: Fellow Traveller with Einstein

By David Schrum January 13, 2014

Albert EinsteinFor David Bohm reality was subtle beyond measure and inexhaustible. This perception Bohm and Einstein held in common. For both, nature was not limited but deep beyond the grasp of our faculties of comprehension. Einstein said that he considered Bohm as his spiritual successor, and in this sense they were indeed spiritual father and son. Bohm sometimes spoke of Einstein’s view that nature in its depths is mysterious.

To Einstein the mysterious is the most beautiful experience we can have. This sense of the unfathomable “stands at the cradle of true art and true science … something we cannot penetrate … only accessible to our reason in [its] most elementary forms.” To him “Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly,” and for him sufficient is “an inkling of the marvellous structure of reality.” Continue reading