Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society

September 2013 – Vol. 16 Issue 7

News and Views

Two Scientific Ideas of David Bohm

David Bohm was one of the most distinguished theoretical physicists of his generation, a fearless challenger of scientific orthodoxy. Underlying his innovative approach was the fundamental idea that beyond the visible, tangible world there lies a deeper, implicate order of undivided wholeness. He is remembered above all for two radical scientific theories: the causal interpretation of quantum physics, and the theory of the implicate order and undivided wholeness. The causal interpretation of quantum theory, he said, "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. He rejected the view that their motion is fundamentally uncertain or ambiguous; they follow a precise path determined not only by conventional physical forces but also by a more subtle force which he called the quantum potential. The quantum potential guides the motion of particles by providing "active information" about the whole environment. Bohm gave the analogy of a ship being guided by radar signals.

The quantum potential pervades all space and provides direct connections between quantum systems. In 1959 Bohm and Yakir Aharonov discovered an important example of quantum interconnectedness: 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. In 1982 an experiment to test quantum interconnectedness was performed by a research team led by Alain Aspect. The results clearly showed 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, including Bohm, regarded these "nonlocal" connections as absolutely instantaneous.

In the 1960s Bohm took a closer look at the notion of order. He saw a device on television: two concentric glass cylinders, the space between them filled with glycerin. If a droplet of ink is placed in the fluid and the outer cylinder is turned, the droplet is drawn out into a thread that eventually becomes so thin that it disappears from view; the ink particles are enfolded into the glycerin. 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 a state of "disorder" but possessed a hidden order.

In Bohm's view, all the separate objects, entities, structures, and events in the visible or explicate world around us are relatively autonomous, stable, and temporary "subtotalities" derived from a deeper, implicate order of unbroken wholeness.

Bohm used the illustrate the implicate order. Like the ink drop dispersed in the glycerin, its 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. 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 encoded within each region of the photographic record. Bohm suggested that the whole universe can be thought of as a kind of giant, flowing hologram, or holomovement, in which a total order is contained implicitly in each region of space and time. 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 recrystallizing.

The quantum potential proposed in the causal interpretation corresponds to the implicate order. But Bohm suggested that the quantum potential is itself organized and guided by a superquantum potential representing a super-implicate order. He proposed that there may be an infinite series of implicate or "generative" orders, some of which form relatively closed loops and some of which do not. Higher implicate orders organize the lower ones which in turn influence the higher. He believed that life and consciousness are enfolded deep in the generative order and are therefore present in varying degrees of unfoldment in all matter, including "inanimate" matter such as electrons or plasmas. He suggested that there is a "protointelligence" in matter, so that new evolutionary developments do not emerge in a random fashion but creatively as relatively integrated wholes from implicate levels of reality. The mystical connotations of his 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. The ground is always one."

Bohm believed that the general tendency for individuals, nations, groups, etc., to see one another as fundamentally separate was a major source of conflict. It was his hope that one day people would come to recognize the essential interrelatedness of all things and would join together to build a more holistic and harmonious world. – David Pratt

Theosophical Views

Buddhism in Different Terms

By Sally Dougherty

Those learning about Buddhism in English can get fresh insight from different translations of its common terms. In a series of lectures given in 1999, scholar Robert Thurman presented some thought-provoking ways of looking at this stream of thought.

In his first sermon after becoming enlightened, Buddha outlined what are usually called the Four Noble Truths. Prof. Thurman prefers the translation: Four Facts for Noble Beings. The Sanskrit word translated “truth,” sat, more commonly means reality, how things actually are, rather than a statement of doctrine. Arya or “noble” was applied to them-selves by the light-skinned Vedic invaders from central Asia who conquered the darker-skinned Indians. By Buddha’s time, some 1,000 years later, the two groups had mixed and arya was a class term referring to the two upper castes of priests and warriors/rulers. Buddha, however, used arya to mean a discerning person, someone moving toward enlightenment. The English word noble underwent a similar change, from aristocratic to meaning of admirable character.

Instead of holding that the facts or truths are noble, Prof. Thurman sees them as facts that apply to noble beings, as opposed to ordinary self-absorbed ones. What then are the Four Facts for Noble Beings? They appear in the form of a medical diagnosis: symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis and cure. The symptoms or first fact is that for unenlightened beings life is duhkha: suffering, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anxiety. The second fact, the diagnosis, asserts that this pervasive unsatisfactoriness has a cause: thirst and attachment. Prof Thurman relates this cause to the normal egocentric state that makes each of us see ourselves as the single most important being in the universe, with everyone else as mere supporting players or objects. Separate from all other beings, we feel in competition with them, grasping at life but on some level knowing that one against all is a losing battle. We seek to hold onto good things while avoiding all we dislike. Of course we are not objectively the center of the universe, and constant change presents us with things we wish to avoid and alters what we wish would remain the same. This constant flux combined with attachment to pleasure and existence makes life unsatisfactory for a noble being who is not content with egocentricity.

The third fact, the prognosis, is hopeful: there is a way to release ourselves from this relentlessly self-focused state with its thirst and attachment. Through their own efforts people can achieve an enlightened consciousness. How? The fourth fact is the prescription: the eightfold path for noble beings. Traditionally the items have been translated as right views, right speech, etc. Many Buddhist translations now use “perfect” or “complete” for the Sanskrit samyag because it is not a matter of right vs wrong but of being fully realized. Prof. Thurman prefers “realistic” because we are trying to make our actions accord with the way reality actually is.

First on the Eightfold Path is realistic views. This step means recognizing that we are not the most real and important being in the cosmos, so that in time we experience others as equally central and their perspective as of equal value with our own. Realistic views is an antidote for the belief that all beings are radically distinct from each other. Although only fully realized in an enlightened being, it is the guiding principle underlying the other seven practices: realistic resolve, realistic speech, realistic conduct, realistic livelihood, realistic effort, realistic mindfulness and realistic concentration, which are to be developed simultaneously rather than one after the other. These disciplines lead us to see and conform to the universe as it is, which is enlightenment.

The Buddha also extended the Hindu term dharma, from the root dri, “to hold” (which recalls religion’s Latin root religio, “to bind”). Dharma is multifaceted, but in Hinduism it came most often to refer to carrying out caste duty and religiously prescribed rites and norms. These factors hold individuals and their spiritual progress subordinate to the collective interest in binding society together. For Buddha, however, dharma is the universal law of karmically determined rebirth where each person’s highest duty is to seek enlightenment. The story we have of Buddha’s life illustrates this, as he rejected his traditional dharma both as a member of the ruling caste by abandoning the throne and as a husband, father, and son by leaving his family to seek enlightenment. These are radical moves in any society, then and now. The community of monks and nuns he set up also required people to give up caste and normal social obligations and relationships. As such, this new Buddhist community was a subversive force within Indian culture.

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