UNFOLDING MEANING (DAVID BOHM)
Ideas, concepts and theories are the stuff of thought, and thought affects the world in pervasive ways. What we think about reality can alter our relationship to it, just as what we perceive in the world around us can alter our thoughts. Thought is the ground upon which our understanding rests. With thought we see the world and in a continuing process learn to interact with that world. We can look beyond our raw perceptions and alter the course of our actions. We can solve problems; we can create new products, technologies, ways of dealing with our environment and with one another.
But much of what we think remains hidden from our conscious awareness. Within our minds we carry a record of past experience, of lessons learned, of incidents and details long forgotten. Our thoughts are colored and conditioned by such limits as our language and our culture. We interpret our experience through a mixture of conscious and unconscious memories, imaginings and desires, and with these we organize our world. Often our thoughts, when acted upon, lead to unexpected and sometimes unimagined results. They seem to contain unrecognized implications of meaning of which we knew nothing, and that appear in spite of what we might have thought was our complete understanding. How then might we evaluate our thought? How might we discover whether or not our most cherished ideas are in fact valid and relevant to the circumstance before us? What do our thoughts mean?
This book is a record of an experiment in unfolding some of the vagaries of thought—an experiment conceived and developed during the course of a weekend of conversation between forty four people gathered to meet with Professor David Bohm and to consider with him some of his ideas on a far-ranging list of subjects. All had some familiarity with his work and an interest in looking further into its implications. Many had attended various conferences, seminars and workshops where a leader, or an invited expert, either taught or guided the participants toward an increased understanding of his or her area of expertise. This weekend turned out to be very different.
David Bohm is Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birbeck College, The University of London. His work in physics has been predominantly concerned with the problem of motion and process which relativity physics deals with but quantum theory does not. Out of this interest he proposed the idea of quantum potential, a means by which the view of universal, unbroken wholeness, implicit in relativity theory, might be understood in the context of the more abstract, fragmentary approach of much of quantum mechanics. His theory of the implicit order, an approach whereby implicit potentials can be seen to unfold out of a universal, unbroken field into explicit phenomena before being reenfolded, has provided a new and valuable basis not only for new insights in physics but also for a whole range of other subjects.
For many years Professor Bohm has been especially interested in the philosophical implications of quantum and relativity physics, and with the discovering a metaphor that might make their meanings accessible to a general public unfamiliar with the mysteries of higher mathematics. His feeling has been that this is important because the mechanistic world-view that seems to dominate contemporary science and society has led to a state of increasing fragmentation, both within the experience of individual human beings and in society as a whole. The fact that this world-view is incomplete, and that it has not been widely recognized as such, has caused it to become bound up within a broad area of misunderstanding of science in general, but also—and more importantly—from a general confusion regarding the nature of thought and of its relationship to reality.
He has suggested that thought is, by nature, incomplete. Any thought, any idea, any theory, is simply a way of seeing, a way of viewing an object from a particular vantage point. It may be useful, but that usefulness is dependent upon particular circumstances—the time, the place, the conditions to which it is applied. If our thoughts are taken to be final, to include all possibilities, to be exact representations of reality, then eventually we run up against conditions where they become irrelevant. If we hold to them in spite of their irrelevance, we are forced either to ignore the facts or to apply some sort of force to make them fit. In either case fragmentation is the result.
Professor Bohm’s writings on universal wholeness, and his proposals concerning the implicate order have begun to have an influence on diverse disciplines. His ideas are central to what has become known as ‘the holographic paradigm’. These ideas, which are explained and discussed in the main text of this book, have provided a new way of understanding a great many phenomena ranging from some of the problems of quantum physics to health care, social organization, religion, and the workings of the human mind itself.
In order to provide an opportunity to inquire more deeply into some of his thoughts, The Foundation of Universal Unity invited Professor Bohm to spend a weekend discussing these thoughts with a group of people of varying ages, nationalities and professional background. The intention was to discover if, by careful attention, a new and more fruitful vision of the possibilities for a greater harmony in the individual and in society might arise.
On the llth day of May, 1984, the group gathered itself at a small, country hotel in the Cotswold village of Mickleton, Gloucestershire, England. Professor Bohm, accompanied by his wife Sarah, arrived seeming tired and preoccupied. This was to be his first experience of such a gathering. He had come prepared to give three talks, and to then develop his ideas with the group through question and answer sessions. As the weekend unfolded, though, a very different experience began to emerge both for Professor Bohm and all the participants.
The sessions developed an atmosphere of contained, mutual concern for the revelation of deeper insights. A spirit of friendship and respect between all those present emerged, and this quickly grew into a harmonious field where proposals of many sorts could be collectively investigated in safety and allowed to expand into new levels of understanding. A dialogue developed in which each participant was able to put aside his own views and listen to those of others. It became increasingly clear that no point of view was itself complete, and that a collective process of thought was the means by which understanding could be enriched. This fact became the focus of the group’s attention. No conclusions were reached nor were any programs initiated; rather the appreciation of a continual unfoldment of new insights revealed through friendly conversation was seen to be the means by which an increase of harmony might appear.
When such a process is translated into print it tends to take on the appearance of a finished product. The atmosphere out of which it emerged disappears, leaving only the arguments by which the various speakers hope to win agreement. Abstracted from the context of their creation the ideas stand naked, vulnerable to judgment, to criticism, to mere acceptance or rejection. This of course, is one reason for preserving ideas in print. As Professor Bohm suggests in the course of these discussions, ‘Ideas must be vulnerable.’
The ideas considered in these pages should be seen as part of a work in progress. They represent a slice of a creative process and they are presented not as conclusions but as an example of one way that new ideas might be raised, inquired into, and allowed to unfold further. They also introduce a new phase of Professor Bohm’s work, one in which the interactions between a group of individuals provide the focus of energy in which new meanings might be perceived, and where in his terms both the content and the context of thought enfold each other, and unfold into new meanings and insights.
In a conversation between forty five people there is much apparent clumsiness. People do not share their thoughts aloud in perfect sentences of a sort that the reader of a book might ordinarily demand. There are many false starts, many incomplete proposals. Often in the course of these sessions, questions are raised, or statements made, that seemed irrelevant; but just as often, these opened the way to new and deeper levels of understanding. In attempting to document the proceedings I have tried to preserve as much as possible of the flavor of the event. I have opted for a balance that might make the ideas intelligible, while preserving something of the flow of interaction between the participants that was central to the experience. I have used the term ‘Question’ to mark the contributions by participants other than David Bohm, although only in the early stages of the dialogues did they particularly tend to take the form of questions. As the conversations progressed they became, simply, parts of the emerging whole.
I have only been able to include here the dialogues in which the entire group was present. In addition to these main discussions there were other sessions in which the larger group split into three smaller groups, and of course there were numerous more intimate conversations over meals, and so on.
The Implicate Order: A New Approach To Reality
Professor Bohm: Throughout history there has been a succession of world views; that is, general notions of cosmic order, and of the nature of reality as a whole. Each of these views has expressed the essential spirit of its time, and each of them in its turn, has had profound effects on the individual, and on society as a whole, not only physically, but also psychologically and ethically. These effects were multiple in nature, but among them, one of the most significant is notions of universal order.
I’ll begin by giving two examples of world views that are of key importance in this discussion. The first of these is the ancient Greek notion of the earth as the center of the universe, and the seven concentric spheres in the heavens in an order of increasing perfection of their natures. Together with the earth, they comprised a totality that was regarded as an integral organism, with activities they regarded as meaningful.
As suggested, especially by Aristotle, each part had its proper place in this organism, and its activity was seen as an effort to move toward that proper place and to carry out its appropriate function. Man was thought to be of central importance in this whole system, and this implied that his proper behavior was to be regarded as correspondingly necessary for the over-all harmony of the universe.
Now in contrast, in the modern view the earth is a mere grain of dust in an immense universe of material bodies—stars, galaxies, and so on—and these, in turn, are also constituted of atoms, molecules, and structure built out of them, as if they were parts of a universal machine. This machine, evidently, does not constitute a whole with meaning—at least, as far as can now be ascertained. Its basic order is that of independently existent parts interacting blindly through forces that they exert on each other.
The ultimate implications of this view of universal order are, of course, that man is basically insignificant. What he does has meaning only in so far as he can give it meaning in his own eyes, while the universe as a whole is basically indifferent to his aspirations, goals, moral and aesthetic values, and, indeed, to his ultimate fate. It is clear that these two views will, in the long run, have very different implications for our general attitude toward life, which can be profound and far reaching. For example, a man tends to feel much more at home with an organic point of view—organismic.
…for the present I’ll…call attention to the fact that a mechanistic notion of order has come to permeate most of modern science and technology, and for this reason has begun to affect the whole of life.
Now it’s in physics that the mechanistic world-view obtained its most complete development, especially during the nineteenth century when its triumph seemed almost complete. From physics, mechanism has spread into other sciences and into almost all fields of human endeavor—that is, the mechanistic attitude. So some examination of the form that mechanism has taken in physics is called for if we are to understand what has by now become a more-or-less dominant world view which deeply affects all of us. In this examination the correctness and necessity of mechanism has to be evaluated and criticized, especially with regard to whether or not the actual state of knowledge in physics continues to sustain and support this view, as well as to whether or not alternative views are possible.
I’ll begin by listing the principal characteristics of mechanism to make this idea more clear, and contrast its main features with those of an organismic type. Now firstly, the world is reduced as far as possible to a set of basic elements. Typically, these have been taken as particles, such as atoms, electrons, protons, quarks, and so on. But you can also add various kinds of fields that extend continuously through space, such as electromagnetic and gravitational. Secondly, these elements are basically external to each other, not only in being separate in space but, more importantly, in the sense that the fundamental nature of each is independent of that of the other. Therefore the elements don’t grow organically as part of a whole, but rather, as I suggested earlier, they may be compared to parts of a machine. The forms are determined externally to the structure of the machine in which they’re working. Now finally, as I also pointed out earlier, the elements interact mechanically, and are therefore related only by influencing each other externally—for example, by forces of interaction that do not deeply affect their inner natures.
In contrast, in an organism, the very nature of any part may be profoundly affected by changes of activity in other parts, and by the general state of the whole, and so the parts are basically internally related to each other as well as to the whole. Of course in a mechanistic view the existence of organism is admitted since it is obvious. But it is assumed, in the way I just described, that ultimately you can reduce it all to molecules such as DNA and proteins, and so on. So eventually the organism is a convenient way of talking about a lot of molecules. They may even say that some new properties and qualities have emerged, but they are always implicit in the molecules. In addition, it’s admitted that this goal of a complete mechanistic description is yet to be fully achieved, as there is much that is still unknown. So it’s essential for the mechanistic-reductionist program to assume that there is nothing that cannot eventually be treated in this way.
Of course, there is no way to prove this assumption. So to suppose that this assumption holds without limit is an article of faith which permeates the motivation of most of modern science and gives energy to the scientific enterprise. This is a modern counterpart of earlier faith in religious belief based on more organismic types of view, which also in their time gave energy to vast social enterprises. That is, we have not lost the age of faith; we have really changed from one faith to another. And faith is, according to Tielhard de Chardiin, just holding the intelligence to a certain world view—that’s his definition of faith.
Now how far can this modern faith in mechanism be justified? Of course, there is no question that it works in a very important domain. It has brought about a revolution in our mode of life. Indeed, during the nineteenth century, as I said, there seemed to be little reason to doubt this faith, because what appeared to be several centuries of successful application leading to vast vistas in the future. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that physicists of the time commonly had an unshakable confidence in the correctness of this whole thing. And I may illustrate this by referring to Lord Kelvin, one of the leading theoretical physicists of the time, who expressed the opinion that physics was more-or-less complete in its development. He therefore advised young people not to go into this field, because further work in it would only be a matter of refinements in the next decimal points.
He did however mention two small clouds on the horizon. These were the negative results of the Michaelson-Morley experiment, and the difficulty in understanding black-body radiation. Now we have to admit that Lord Kelvin was at least able to choose his clouds properly, because these were precisely the points of departure for the radical revolution in physics brought about by relativity and quantum mechanics, which overturned this whole conceptual structure. Now this clearly illustrates the danger of complacency about our world views, and makes it evident how necessary it is to constantly have a provisional, inquiring attitude toward them. That is, in some sense, we have to have enough faith in our world-view to work from it, but not that much faith that we think it’s the final answer, right?
I couldn’t here go into a detailed explanation of how this all took place—this change in view—but I’ll give now, beginning with relativity, a brief, non-technical sketch.
I can start by saying that relativity introduced a number of fundamentally new concepts regarding space, time and matter, which are quite subtle. The main point for our purposes here is that the notion of separate and independent particles as basic constituents of the universe had to be given up. The basic notion instead was the idea of the field that spread continuously through space. Out of this you had to construct the notion of the particle. I could illustrate these ideas in terms of an analogy of a flow of fluid such as a vortex. Now within this fluid there is a recurrent, stable pattern. You may abstract it in your mind as a vortex, though there is no vortex. There is nothing but a flowing pattern of water. But a vortex is a convenient word to describe that pattern.
Now if you take two vortices close together, they modify each other producing a different pattern, and eventually, if you bring them together, they merge into one vortex. So you can see, there is an inherent interaction of these patterns, but the basic reality is unbroken wholeness in flowing movement. Separate entities such as vortices, are relatively constant and independently behaving forms abstracted by the mind from the whole in perception and in thought.
This was of course, well known to nineteenth century physicists, but it was generally thought that real fluids such as water were constituted of myriad elementary particles which flowed only in an approximately continuous way, like grains of sand in the hour-glass. The reality underlying the microscopically observed fluid was considered to be a structure of discrete, mechanical elements in the form of particles. But on the basis of the theory of relativity Einstein gave arguments showing that such elementary particles would not be consistent with the laws of physics as developed in his theory. So instead, he proposed a set of continuous fields pervading all space, in which particles would be treated as relatively stable and independent structures in limited regions in which the field was strong. Therefore each particle is explained as an abstraction of a relatively independent and stable form, as with the vortex, spread out through space with no breaks anywhere. The universe is seen as unbroken wholeness in flowing movement.
Such an approach contradicted in an important way the assumption of separate, elementary particles as constituents of the universe, that had been characteristic of the mechanistic view. But still, this theory retained some of the essential features of mechanism, because the fields at different points were regarded as separately existent, and not internally related in their basic nature, and not related to the whole. It was still not anything like the organismic view. The assumption was that these fields are connected only locally—only by infinitesimal steps. The over-all field was viewed as a type of mechanical system that was more subtle than a set of particles, but the field approach was still an important step away from the mechanistic world view, even though it still remained within its general framework.
The quantum theory, however, actually overturned mechanism in a much more thorough way than the theory of relativity. I’ll give here its three main features. First of all, all action was in the form of what is called discrete quanta. For example, one found that the orbits of electrons around the nucleus would have to be discrete, as there were no allowed orbits in between, and yet, somehow, the electron jumped from one to the other without passing in between—according to this view. And the light shown on these things was also shown in the form of quanta, and in fact, every form of connection of energy was in the form of quanta. Therefore you could think of it as an interconnecting network of quanta weaving the whole universe into one, because these quanta were indivisible. So this led to some sort of indivisibility of the universe—though it doesn’t show up in large scale because the quanta are very small and, once again, it looks continuous, like the grains of sand in the hour-glass.
Secondly, all matter and energy were found to have what appears to be a dual nature, in the sense that they can behave either like a particle or like a field—or a wave—according to how they are treated by the experiment. The fact that everything can show either a wave-like or a particle-like character according to the context of the environment which is, in this case, the observing apparatus, is clearly not compatible with mechanism, because in mechanism the nature of each thing should be quite independent of its context. But it is quite like an organism, because organisms are very dependent on their context.
The third point is that one finds a peculiar new property which I call non-locality of connection. In other words, the connection can be between two particles at considerable distances in some cases. This violates the classical requirement of locality—that only things very close to each other can influence one another.
There is another point we can bring out in this connection, which is that the state of the whole may actually organize the parts, not merely through the strong connection of very distant elements, but also because the state of the whole is indifferent to exactly where the parts are. These are some new features. And all of this shows up in understanding chemistry for example. So when the chemists are using their laws, what underlies them is this peculiar quantum mechanical feature.
Now I want to show how this contradicts the basic mechanist assumption. Firstly, the action is through indivisible quanta, so as I said, everything is woven together in indivisible links. The universe is one whole, as is were, and is in some sense unbroken. Of course, only under very refined observation does this show up. Now the second point was the wave-particle nature, and the third was non-locality. So you can see all these things deny mechanism.
The people who founded quantum mechanics, such as Schrodinger, Dirac and Pauli, and so on all understood this; but since that time this understanding has gradually faded out as people have more and more concentrated on using quantum mechanics as a system of calculation for experimental results, and each time a new text book is written, some of the philosophical meaning gets lost. So we now have a situation where I don’t think the majority of physicists realizes how radical the implications of quantum mechanics are.
Now quantum mechanics also says that we don’t have complete determinism. That is, the laws are only determined statistically. You cannot tell exactly what is going to happen from these laws. Now this is important too, but perhaps it’s less radical than some of these other things, because even from a classical point of view, you can think of laws that are not completely deterministic, such as what’s called Brownian motion. So the lack of complete determinism is less radical a change than these others that I’ve mentioned.
Now how do quantum mechanics and relativity bear on each other? The first point is that the basic physical concepts are quite contradictory. Relativity requires strict continuity, strict determinism, and strict locality. In quantum mechanics, you have to say the opposite—discontinuity, non-determinism, and non-locality. The physical concepts of these two theories have not been brought together, although people are working out equations and methods of doing it mathematically. But the physical meaning has never been made clear.
If you want to look at relativity and quantum theory as being together coherently, we may ask a new kind of question. Instead of focusing on how the theories differ, let’s ask what they have in common. What is common to both is unbroken wholeness of the universe. Each has this wholeness in a different way, yet if wholeness is their common factor, that’s perhaps the best place to start.
We’ve seen that each world view holds within itself its own basic notions of order. So we’re naturally led to the question: Is it possible to develop a new order that is suitable for thinking about the basic nature of the universe of unbroken wholeness? This would perhaps be as different from the order of mechanism as the latter is from the ancient Greek order of increasing perfection. Now we won’t necessarily return to ancient Greek or organismic theories, but to something new, perhaps different from both.
This brings us to the further question though: What is order? Now we do presuppose that there is some kind of order—so a general and explicit definition of order is not actually possible. You see, to begin you must already understand something about order, because just to talk, you must have some understanding of what order is and what meaning is. You can take a few examples to illustrate this—the order of numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4; the order of points on a line; the order of functioning of a machine; the subtle order of functioning of an organism; the many orders of tones in music; the order of language; the order of thinking, and so on. You see, there are all sorts of orders that are more and more subtle. The notion of order covers a vast and unspecifiable range. So I’ll take for granted that we already know, tacitly, something of the notion of order. And then our whole point is to bring it out.
Most of this tacit notion of order is based upon perceptual experience, as you see from the examples. One could ask if there is not an analogy in our experience that would discuss the order of unbroken wholeness. Here I could point out that the operation of scientific instruments has often played a key part in helping to make certain notions of order clear. The lens, for example, is a device that makes an image.
Point P is imaged by the lens into point Q, roughly—it’s not exact. Now, in this way you can consider together all the image points Q, and you’ll have a photograph of the object. This constitutes a kind of knowledge of the object in which we are stressing the point-to-point correspondence between the image and the object. Therefore, you are stressing the concepts of points. With the aid of telescopes, microscopes, very fast and slow cameras, and so on, this kind of knowledge through correspondence of points, could be extended to things that are too far away, too small, too fast, too slow, and so on, to be seen with the naked eye. Eventually in this way you would be led to think that everything could ultimately be known in the form of separate elements. This shows that instruments based on the lens have given a great impetus to the mechanistic way of thinking, not only in science, but in every phase of life.
I could ask: Have any instruments been developed that would similarly help point vividly to the way of thinking that is compatible with unbroken wholeness? Now it turns out that there are several. I’ll begin describing the holograph which was invented by Dennis Gabor. This name is based on two Greek words—holo meaning whole, and graph meaning to write. The holograph writes the whole. From this point of view a lens could be called a ‘merograph,’ which writes the parts, and a telegraph, I suppose, writes far across. This instrument depends on another device called a laser, which produces a beam of light in which the waves of light are highly ordered and regular, in contrast to those of ordinary light where they are rather chaotic.
Light from a laser falls on a half-silvered mirror. Part of the wave reflect and part of them come straight through and fall on the object. The waves that strike the object are scattered off it, and they eventually reach the original beam that was reflected in the mirror and star to interfere, producing a pattern of two waves superimposed. It’s a very complex pattern, and it can be photographed. Now the photograph doesn’t look like the object at all. It may be invisible, or it may look like a vague indescribable pattern. But if you send similar laser light through it, it will produce waves that are similar to the waves that were coming off the object, and if you place your eye in the right spot you will get an image of the object which will apparently be behind the holograph, and be three-dimensional. You can move around and see it from different angles, as if through a window the size of the beam.
The point is that each part of the holograph is an image of the whole object. It is a kind of knowledge which is not a point-to-point correspondence, but a different kind. By the way, if you use only a part of the holograph, you’ll still get an image of the whole object, but you’ll bet a less detailed image, and you’ll see it from a more limited set of angles. The more of the holograph you use, the more of the object you can see, and the more accurately you can see it. Therefore every part contains information about the whole object. In this new form of knowledge information about the whole is enfolded in each part of the image. I can give an idea of enfoldment in a preliminary way by thinking of taking a sheet of paper, folding it many times and, say, sticking pins in it, cutting it, and unfolding it, and you’ve made a whole pattern. So the pattern is enfolded, then it unfolds. In some sense the holograph does that.
Of course, in this example the photograph is only a static record of light, which is a movement of waves. The actuality that is directly recorded is the movement itself in which information about the whole object is dynamically enfolded in each part of space, while this information is then unfolded in the image. A similar process of enfoldment and unfoldment can be seen to run through a wide range of experience. For example, the light from all parts of the room contains information about the whole room and, in a way, enfolds it in this tiny region going through the pupil of you eye, and it is unfolded by the lens, and the nervous system—the brain—and somehow, consciousness produces a sense of the whole room unfolded in a way which we don’t really understand. But the entire room is enfolded in each part. This is crucial, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand what the room was—the fact that there is a whole room, and we see the whole room from each part. The light entering a telescope, similarly enfolds information about the whole universe of space and time. And, more generally, movements of waves of all sorts enfold the whole in each part of the universe.
This principle of enfoldment and unfoldment may be observed in a more familiar context. For example, information out of which a television image is formed is enfolded in a radio wave which carries it as a signal. The function of the television set is just to unfold this information and display it on the screen. The word ‘display’ also means to unfold, but for the purpose of showing something, rather than for its own sake. This is especially clear in the older television sets that had an adjustment for synchronism, so when they went out of adjustment you could see the image folding up, and as you readjusted it, it unfolded.
In the mechanistic world view all these examples are well known, but they are explained by saying that the primary reality is ultimately the basic set of independently existing elements—particles and fields—while the enfoldment and unfoldment is only a secondary aspect. They say it’s not very important. What I’m suggesting here is that the movement of enfolding and unfolding is ultimately the primary reality, and that the obejcts, entities, forms, and so on, which appear in this movement are secondary.
Now how is this possible? As I’ve already pointed out, quantum theory shows that the so-called particles constituting matter are also waves similar to those of light. One can, in principle, make holographs using beams of electrons, protons, and so on, as well as sound waves—which has been done. The key point is that the mathematical laws of the quantum theory that apply to these waves, and therefore to all matter, can be seen to describe just such a movement in which there is continual enfoldment of the whole into each region, along with the unfoldment of each region into the whole again. Although this may take many particular forms—some known and others not yet known—this movement is universal as far as we know. I’ll call this universal movement of enfoldment and unfoldment ‘the holomovement.’
The proposal is that the holomovement is the basic reality, at least as far as we are able to go, and that all entities, objects, forms, as ordinarily seen, are relatively stable, independent and autonomous features of the holomovement, much as the vortex is such a feature of the flowing movement of a fluid. The basic order of the movement is therefore enfoldment and unfoldment. So we’re looking at the universe in terms of a new order, which I’ll call the enfolded, or the implicate order.
The word ‘implicate’ means to enfold—in Latin, to fold inward. In the implicate order, everything is folded into everything. But it’s important to note here that the whole universe is in principle enfolded into each part actively through the holomovement as well as all the parts. Now this means that the dynamic activity—internal and external—which is fundamental to what each part is, is based on its enfoldment of all the rest, including the whole universe. But of course, each part may unfold others in different degrees and ways. That is, they are not enfolded equally in each part. But the basic principle of enfoldment in the whole is not thereby denied.
Therefore enfoldment is not merely superficial or passive but, I emphasize again, that each part is in a fundamental sense internally related in its basic activities to the whole and to all the other parts. The mechanistic idea of external relation as fundamental is therefore denied. Of course, such relationships are still considered to be real but of secondary significance. That is, we can get approximations to a mechanistic behavior out of this. That is to say, the order of the world as a structure of things that are basically external to each other comes out as secondary and emerges from the deeper implicate order. The order of elements external to each other would then be called the unfolded order, or the explicate order.
The usual way of looking at things is, therefore, turned upside-down, and that’s how we arrive at the notion of the implicate order. The holograph is, of course, only a particular example of an implicate order. Its value in the present context is that it provides a good analogy as to how the implicate order is relevant to the quantum behavior of matter. The analogy is particularly good because, as I’ve said, the laws of propagation of the kinds of waves that are associated with basic quantum laws are also capable of being compatible with the theory of relativity, and therefore we see that the implicate order is able to have a significant bearing on both of these two most fundamental theories of modern physics.
But of course, analogies are necessarily limited, since by their very nature they are similar only in some ways to what they are representing and are different in other ways. One of the principle limits of the analogy of the holograph, at least as it’s usually analyzed, is that it does not adequately take into account all of the quantum properties of the waves that are involved. In particular, what it fails to consider is that the energy of the waves is in discrete units, or quanta, called photons. Now usually there are so many of them that this is not important. But if we wanted to be very accurate, this would be important. The holographic analogy still misses some some of the essential features of quantum mechanics. To make an accurate analogy one would have to also use modern, relativistic quantum theory, and this would lead to questions that are much too abstract and complex to be treated here. But the point about analogies is that they are always limited, and that if they were not limited, they would not be distinguishable from the thing itself. So we can keep on using analogies which are almost like metaphors to help get across what is meant.
Now as another analogy, I think you’ve all seen computer games. You have a television screen which you could call an implicate order because, as I’ve explained, out of this can be unfolded all sorts of forms according to what goes in. but if this screen is connected to a computer, then the computer will unfold forms, for example, spaceships and so on, according to its program, and you can see now that the computer enfolds the information needed to determine the spaceships. So there are two implicate orders—one, the implicate order of the screen, and two, the way in which the information is enfolded in the computer. Thirdly, there are the buttons that the player presses, and then we have the person who plays it—that’s the third implicate order. He enfolds further, and he of course, is affected by what’s on the screen, and so it goes around. So the three together make a kind of unit. And it becomes so absorbing that in some cases they really are a unit. Now this is a good analogy as to how the quantum mechanical field theory works, because the first implicate order is like the field, and there is a super-implicate order which organizes the field into discrete units which are particle-like. Without that super-implicate order however, the field would just spread out without showing particle-like qualities.
It’s possible to produce an indefinite number of additional analogies, but what I want to do instead is to discuss the more general significance of the implicate order beyond physics. What I want to say is that if you look beyond physics you will find orders similar to this implicate order are really quite common in experience. In fact, this idea of enfoldment is an ancient idea. It was known in the East a long time ago.
If you take the example of a living being such as a plant grown from a seed, the seed makes a very small contribution to the substance of the fully grown plant and to the energy needed to make it grow. These come from the air, the water, the soil and the sunlight. According to the modern ideas of genetics, the seed has information, if you like, in the form of DNA which is transmitted to the matter our of which the plant is eventually formed. Now we have already been led to use the notion of the implicate order for matter in general,. We see how it is constantly enfolding again into the background. You may think of an electron as unfolding from this background at a particular position, then it folds back in again, and another unfolds nearby, and it enfolds again, and another one, and another one, and gradually it looks like a track of a single electron. You can see the discontinuity here because the places of unfoldment need not be continuous. And you can understand why there can be discontinuity and also continuity—wave-like qualities—coming from the unfoldment. So we see that inanimate matter is constantly recreating itself through enfoldment and unfoldment—replicating itself, if you will—in the form of inanimate matter. That’s the proposal. Now with the further information from the seed, it unfolds to make a plant instead, which can then make seeds for new plants. You can look at it as a continuous process of unfoldment that can be modified by new orders coming from the genetic structure, so that it will unfold into a considerably different being.
Let’s go on to discuss consciousness, which we take to include thought, feeling desire, will, impulse to act and unspecified set of further features, such as awareness, some of which we may discuss. The question is: Do we find implicate order in consciousness? To answer this question I first will consider the process of thought. In describing this process we may refer to thoughts that are implicit. The word ‘implicit’ has the same root as implicate, and this suggests that a given thought may somehow contain other thoughts that it implies—that is, that it enfolds. Such implication may be, in some cases, equivalent to entailment or inferences if it obeys the laws of logic. But this is only a special case of implication, like that of a regular track. There may be implications which produce very regular tracks, or more irregular tracks, so that there could be leaps in thought, and so on. So implication has a much wider range of meanings, going from mere association to a sense that one goes with another, to a tacit, or unstated, ground of reason supporting the thought that is implied. All of these may be regarded as enfolded within the thought in question and are regarded as enfolded within the thought in question and are capable of emerging from it through unfoldment.
Here I could add that language, which is essential to the communication of thought and to its precise determination, may also be seen an an implicate order. After all, the word is only a sign or symbol of very little significance in itself. What is more important is its meaning. Generally this is determined only by a much larger over-all context. For example, the meaning of a given word may be effected by other sets of words, not only near to it but even quite far away, and this suggests that the meaning of each word, and indeed each combination of words, such as a sentence or a paragraph, is ultimately unfolded into the whole content that is communicated. Such a notion is suggested even more strongly by the fact that often one can sense that the whole sequence of words seems to flow out of a single momentary intention without the need for conscious choice for their order, essentially as if they had unfolded from something that was already there in the intention.
As a further interesting example, there is the fact that without the need for a search in memory we can sense whether a word is in common usage in the language or not. Thus nouns formed out of verbs, such as ‘alternation,’ generally have in common usage verbs that correspond with them, such as to alternate. We know immediately though, that in certain cases they do not. For example, ‘alteration’ does not have the corresponding form, ‘to alterate.’ You don’t have to search to find that out. So it suggests that some features of language are, as it were, enfolded in the whole, although that doesn’t necessarily explain all of them.
The immediate availability of this knowledge, then, suggests that you can think of the totality of a given language as an undivided whole from which the various words and their potential meanings unfold. A reasonable case can therefore be made for the proposal that thought and language form an implicate order. But these also enfold feelings, and vice versa, feelings enfold thought. Language, you see, is implicit in feelings and thoughts and words. The thought of danger unfolds into the feeling of fear, which unfolds into words communicating the feeling, and to further thoughts, and you see all of this mutual enfoldment.
Thoughts and feelings also enfold intentions. These are sharpened up into a determinate will and the urge to do something. Intention, will and urge unfold into more action, which will include more thought if necessary. So all the aspects of the mind show themselves as enfolding each other, and transforming into each other through enfoldment and unfoldment. And therefore we have a view in which the mind is not regarded as broken up dualistically or multiply into independently existent functions or elements like thought and feeling, because in enfoldment each aspect is internally related to the other rather than externally.
If you’re attentive you can see quite a few other things that indicate this enfoldment. I would like to suggest we consider listening to music. Your attention shows that while any given note is being played several preceding notes are still present in awareness as a kind of immediate after-echo, or reverberation. This is to be distinguished from memory, which is recalled or re-collected from a more permanent repository. Remembering notes a minute apart is not perceived as music, and most of the music is then lost. The notes must somehow be present together. One can sense that each note, as it starts as it starts to fade and turn into a diminishing sequence of after-echos, is in some way enfolding into various aspects of consciousness including emotions, associations of various kinds, impulses to move, and so on.
I’m suggesting here that this may be seen as a kind of enfolded order. That is to say, one can sense the co-presence of after-echos and other derivatives of several notes in different degrees of enfoldment. This is similar to the structure of the enfoldment of many waves into one in a holograph. The essential point is that the simultaneous co-presence of several notes, and possibly in some sense even some distant ones, has its origin in the sense of flowing movement of the theme, along with the preservation of its essential identity, which explains why notes that follow each other only after long intervals generally convey neither a sense of flowing movement nor a preservation of identity.
Now there is another example, brought up by Michael Polanyi, of bicycle riding. In order to remain stably upright, one must turn into the direction in which one is falling. Polyani has pointed out that a simple calculation based on the laws of physics shows that, if the bicycle is ridden properly, its angle of tilt and the angle at which the wheel is turned are related by a certain formula. But of course, any attempt to follow this formula would get in the way of actually riding the bicycle. What is of key significance is that the over-all movement that results and brings about approximately following the formula is the outcome of an entirely different level of activity involving muscles, nerves and brain. It is extremely complex and subtle, and evidently you cannot describe it in any explicit way. Polyani called this ‘tacit knowing,’ rather than explicit knowing. I would like to propose that this may be regarded as a kind of implicate order which unfolds into an explicate order of the motion of the bicycle as described by the formula. The law of the explicate order therefore emerges as an abstraction of what is actually a certain feature of a much larger implicate order.
Evidently this kind of tacit knowledge is very important in every phase of life. In fact, without tacit knowledge ordinary knowledge would have no meaning. In fact, when we talk, most of the meaning is implicit or tacit. In fact, even to talk or to think—although thinking may be very explicit as it forms images—the actual activity of thinking is tacit. You cannot say how to do it. If you want to walk across the room, you cannot say how it comes about, right? It unfolds tacitly.
On the basis of all of this I would then propose for further discussion the notion that both mind and matter are ultimately in implicate orders, and that in all cases explicate orders emerge as relatively autonomous, distinct and independent objects, entities and forms, which unfold from the implicate orders. This means that the way is opened up for a world view in which mind and matter may consistently be related without adopting a reductionist position.
Here we are going to say that mind and matter both have reality, or perhaps that they both arise from some greater common ground, or perhaps they are not really different. Perhaps they interweave. The main point, though is: because they have the implicate order in common it is possible to have a rationally comprehensible relationship between them. In this way we can leave open the possibility of acknowledging the differences that may be found between the mental and material sides without falling into dualism.
This question of how mind and matter are related has long been one that has perplexed those who have seriously inquired into it. Descartes gave an especially clear and sharp formulation of the difficulties. He considered matter as extended substance—that is, existing spread out in space in the form of separate objects. Mind he discussed in terms of thinking substance which is not separate and extended—that is, thoughts of distinct objects are not themselves spread out. You see, we can make clear and distinct thoughts, yet they don’t exist as separate and extended elements in any kind of space.
Descarte felt that the two substances were so different that there was no way to formulate their relationship clearly. The problem of how they are related was to be solved by bringing in God who created both, and who is thus the ground of their connection—that is, God puts clear and distinct thoughts into our minds which may correspond correctly to the separate objects of space. He also thought that maybe the pineal gland would connect mind and matter, but that’s not very consistent because he only puts the problem into the pineal gland and doesn’t say how it can do that—connect such different things.
Since the time of Descarte the idea that the problem of this kind can be solved by an appeal to the action of God has been dropped. But it has not generally been noticed by those who go on with Cartesian mind-matter duality that this leaves the whole problem of how the two are related unsolved. Or perhaps it has been noticed, but it has been more or less put aside.
The implicate order suggests a possible solution of this Cartesian duality which has pervaded much of human thinking over the ages. Instead of saying that there are two orders—the explicate order of extended structure, and something like an implicate order of thinking—we are proposing, to a large extent, on the basis of an understanding of recent developments in physics, that matter also is that way. And if we were to extend it to say that brain matter and nerve matter are that way, then in some way perhaps, mind and matter interweave. And perhaps something analogous to mind might exist in inanimate matter, at least implicitly, just as life is implicit in inanimate matter. Given a seed it forms animate matter instead.
And somehow mind is implicit in inanimate matter. Given the proper conditions it unfolds and forms living beings who might even be conscious. And that might suggest—that is something we’ll go into—that the mental and the material are two sides of one reality.
The division between mind and matter, or the observer and the observed, has produced very serious consequences in attempting to see that the world is a whole, because even if your are thinking of wholeness, you are thinking of an observer who is looking at this wholeness, and this creates a division. This starts to break up the whole, because you identify with one part of it, and then there is another part you are not identified with, and therefore the whole is broken up into two. And then this breaks up further, because there are many observers, and each observer is an external object for all the others. The many parts obtained in this way are related, and you have to break things up even more in order to understand their relationships. So the implicate order can be important as a way of seeing how this particular problem might be dealt with.
But let me emphasize that to have an approach of wholeness doesn’t mean that we are going to be able to capture the whole of existence within our concepts and knowledge. Rather it means firstly that we understand this totality as an unbroken and seamless whole in which relatively autonomous objects and forms emerge. And secondly it means that, in so far as wholeness is comprehended with the aid of the implicate order, the relationships between the various parts or sub-wholes are ultimately internal. This notion is suggested also by an organismic point-of-view; but as I’ve said, there is no way to exclude the possibility that organisms have a mechanistic base in their supposed constituent particles. But if we say that the particles themselves haven’t got a mechanistic basis, they why should the organisms have it? It would be peculiar to say that the particles of physics are not mechanistic, but as soon as they make organisms they are mechanistic.
It is important to keep in mind here that the whole and its parts are correlative categories—that each implies the other. Something can be a part only if there is a whole of which it can be a part. To understand this correlation of whole and parts, I want to return to the notion of the holomovement. Within the holomovement, as I’ve said, each part emerges as being a relatively independent, autonomous and stable sub-whole, and it does so by virtue of the particular way in which it actively enfolds the whole and therefore all the other parts. Its fundamental qualities and activities both internal and external are essential to what it is and are thus understood as determined basically in an internal relation, rather than in isolation and external relation.
This internal relationship is most directly experienced in consciousness. The content of consciousness of each human being is, evidently, an enfoldment of the totality of existence, physical and mental, internal and external. This enfoldment is active in the sense that it enters in a fundamental way into the activities that are essential to what a human being is.
A human being is part of the Whole…He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
According to the content of his consciousness he acts, whether it is right or wrong. Each human being is therefore related to the totality, including nature and the whole of mankind. He is also therefore internally related to other human beings. How close that relationship is, has to be explored. What I am saying is that the quantum theory implies that ultimately the relationship of parts and whole—of matter in general—is understood in a similar way.
And perhaps I should also add here that in each sub-whole there is a certain quality that does not come from the parts, but helps to organize the parts. So the implicate order does not deny the significance of parts or sub-wholes, but rather it treats them in its own way as relatively stable, independent and autonomous. Wholeness is seen as primary while the parts are secondary in the sense that what they are and what they do can be understood only in the light of the whole.
I could summarize this in the principle: The wholeness of the whole and the parts. And the opposite principle: The partiality of the parts and the whole. Both principles have their place. But I will make an assertion: The need to accentuate the wholeness of the whole and the parts.
This assertion is needed, because we have to be careful not to assert wholeness too strongly, or else we will just simply create opposition to something that is perfectly valid, namely mechanism in a limited area. The difference is not whether the parts are included, but what is given primary emphasis. This is rather as in a musical composition, where the entire meaning depends upon which theme has a major or dominant role, and which is minor or secondary. This is a basic feature of communication at the metaphysical level. To some extent it’s an art form. You cannot get a precise communication, but it is implicit or tacit, what is being communicated. And therefore the form in which it is put is crucial. The form must be appropriate to the content.
There is a danger in seeing mechanism as totally destructive and saying that we must only discuss the whole. For that also is a partial view and, it is almost another form of mechanism. So we are just asking: Where do we put the ultimate emphasis? But of course, if you don’t want to do metaphysics, which is a view of the nature of reality as a whole, then you don’t have to accentuate either principle. You’ll say, you’re just going to take these two principles as practical principles to apply to wherever you think they’re appropriate. Then they become maxims, which may apply here or there. You choose your maxim according to where it works. However, we’ll see as we go along that this attitude cannot be maintained indefinitely, and that ultimately we must regard one of these two principles as the major theme and the other as the minor theme.
This approach of wholeness could help to end the far-reaching and pervasive fragmentation that arises out of the mechanistic world view. One can obtain a further understanding of the nature of such fragmentation by asking, what is the difference in the meanings of the word ‘part’ and ‘fragment.’ A part, as I said—whether mechanical or organic—is intrinsically related to the whole, but this is not so for a fragment. As the Latin root of the word indicates, and as the related English word ‘fragile’ shows, to fragment is to break up or smash. To hit a watch with a hammer would not produce parts, but fragments that are separated in ways that are not significantly related to the structure of the watch. If you cut up the carcass of an animal as in a butcher shop, this produces not parts of the animal but fragments again. So what I’m trying to say is that we have a way of thinking that produces irrelevant breaks and fragments, rather than seeing the proper parts in relation to the whole.
Of course there are areas where it is appropriate to produce fragments. If you can crush stones in order to make concrete, that’s perfectly alright. There are things that should be broken down into fragments. But what I’m discussing here, quite generally, is an inappropriate kind of fragmentation that arises when we regard the parts appearing in our thought as primary and independently existent constituents of all reality including ourselves—that is, that corresponding to our thoughts there is something in reality. Then a world view such as mechanism, in which the whole of existence is considered as made up of such elementary parts, will give strong support to this fragmentary way of thinking. And this in turn expresses itself in further thought that sustains and develops such a world view. As a result of this general approach, man ultimately ceases to give the divisions the significance of merely convenient ways of thinking, indicating relative independence or autonomy of things, and instead he begins to see and experience himself as made up of nothing but separately and independently existing components.
Being guided by this view, man then acts in such a way as to try and break himself and the world up so that all seems to correspond to this way of thinking. He therefore obtains an apparent proof of his fragmentary self-world-view, but he doesn’t notice that it is he himself, acting according to his mode of thought, who has brought about the fragmentation which now seems to have an autonomous existence independent of his will and desire.
Fragmentation is therefore an attitude of mind which disposes the mind to regard divisions between things as absolute and final, rather than as ways of thinking that have only a relative and limited range of usefulness and validity. It leads therefore to a general tendency to break up things in an irrelevant and inappropriate way according to how we think. And so it is evidently and inherently destructive. For example, though all parts of mankind are fundamentally interdependent and interrelated, the primary and overriding kind of significance given to the distinctions between people, family, profession, nation, race, religion, ideology, and so on, is preventing human beings from working together for the common good, or even for survival.
When man thinks of himself in this fragmentary way, he will inevitably tend to see himself first—his own person, his own group—he can’t seriously think of himself as internally related to the whole of mankind and therefore to all other people. Even if he does try to put mankind first, he will perhaps think of nature as something different to be exploited to satisfy whatever desires he may have at the moment. Similarly he will think body and mind are independent actualities, thought and feeling, and so on, and he begins to think to divide these up, each to be treated separately. Physically this is not conducive to over-all health, which means wholeness, and mentally, not to sanity which also has a similar meaning. This is shown, I think, by this ever growing tendency to break up the psyche in neuroses, psychosis, and so on.
Well, to sum up, fragmentary thinking is giving rise to a reality that is constantly breaking up into disorderly, disharmonious and destructive partial activities. It therefore seems reasonable to explore the suggestion that a mode of thinking that starts from the most encompassing possible whole and goes down to the parts as sub-wholes in a way appropriate to the actual nature of things, would help to bring about a different reality, one that was more harmonious and orderly and creative. And in this discussion here, I have tried to show that physics provides some justification for doing this. And in fact it is more justified than the mechanistic view if you go into physics deeply. But of course before it really changes things—to think differently—this thought must enter deeply into our intentions, actions, and so on—our whole being: That is, we will actually have to mean what we are saying. To bring this about requires an action going beyond what we have just discussed. The main point then is that your world views—it’s really a self-world-view because it includes yourself—have a tremendous effect on you. Even people who don’t think they have self-world-views have them tacitly. And the general prevalence of mechanism has helped has helped to give rise to fragmentation. The fact is however that even when people held an organic point of view in ancient Greece they also fragmented, so there’s more to it than that. The self-world-view has to be pursued carefully into the whole question of the division of mind and matter to see how fragmentation comes about. Such fragmentation doesn’t come only from philosophical views, but philosophical views can either contribute to it or contribute the other way. But of course, to understand this whole question, much more is required.