Bohm and Donald Schumacher

By F. David Peat June 5, 2015

An American student, Donald Schumacher, read Bohm’s Special Theory of Relativity and was so impressed that he decided to join Bohm as a PhD student in the second half of the 1960s. Schumacher’s particular interest was in language. He had read Wittgenstein but could not persuade Bohm to read Process and Reality. However the two had very intense dialogues together in Bohm’s office. On the occasion that Hiley joined them he was somewhat swept away by the strength of their discussions.

In particular Schumacher believed that their particular use of language had createddistance between Bohr and Einstein, who had once been so close. This lead to the co-authoring of a paper, The Failure of Communication between Bohr and Einstein which was not in fact published until after Bohm’s death.

Schumacher was also interested in the effects of Indio-European languages on the nature of thought and how they could be a barrier on a deeper understanding of quantum theory – in particular their strong use of nouns which eventually led Bohm to develop his verb-based approach, the Rheomode.

Schumacher also attended talks by J. Krishnamurti and pointed out to Bohm how the Indian teacher in his communications tended to rely upon absolutes such as “utterly” and “never”. This had the effect of causing Bohm to look more critically on his discussions with Krishnamurti.

Bohr’s interactions with Schumacher was very important to him until the latter’s mental health because increasingly unstable. For example Schumacher believed that Bohr’s deep understanding of language could play a role in preventing nuclear weapons from igniting (a quantum effect) and so he tried to contact Bohr to this end. He also felt that telephones had an adverse effect on language and communication and so tried to remove them from the offices at Birkbeck College.

Bohr became increasingly distressed at what he must have felt was the “contamination” of mental illness and placed a strong barrier between himself and Schumacher, rejecting the young man in very vigorous ways. In the end Schumacher’s illness became so severe that it was necessary for him to fly home and receive treatment. Nevertheless, despite his breakdown he had become a very important influence on Bohm and his concerns with language and communication.