Bohm and The Importance of Language

By Beth Macy July 1, 2015

In the words of David Peat, Bohm was obsessed with language, particularly with the derivation of words. He delved into the roots of words, not only in his writing but also in his usual manner of discourse. Peat tells a story on Bohm as well as on himself.

He liked to go on and on about the root of words. He’d say for example, “And art, take art, there are the word like artifice, and artery, and articulate, and Artemis…” And then I’d quickly throw in, “and artichoke.” “Yes, artichoke!” he’d say. Then he’d stop and laugh, realizing his having been caught in his own stream of thought. “Artichoke….”[1]

In his serious way of approaching his life work, the pursuit of science was inextricably intertwined with the processes of Bohm’s thought and language. As he spent time delving into those topics, his physicist peers must have wondered if he hadn’t fallen down a rabbit hole and gotten lost. Why would a scientist of such creativity and potential divert to topics that belong in the soft pseudo-sciences of human functioning?

But to Bohm, the questions a researcher asks and the tools used to study them, are inseparable, much as Niels Bohr had shown that the researcher, the measuring apparatus, and that which is measured together form an inseparable system. In a sense, Bohm extended Bohr’s ideas to an even more finite level to include attributes of the researcher’s own operating system. Alfred North Whitehead had said, “Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language. Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that, in a physical science, pre-existing appliances are redesigned.”[2] Surely, Bohm would have agreed, and then extended language as a prime tool of the physical sciences as well.



[1] personal conversation with David Peat

[2] Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne eds, The Free Press, New York, 1978, p. 11