David Bohm

From Academic Kids

David Joseph Bohm (December 20, 1917 Wilkes-Barre, PAOctober 27, 1992 London, UK) was an American quantum physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to scientists working on the Manhattan Project.



Youth and college

Born at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Bohm attended Pennsylvania State College, graduating in 1939, and then heading west to work with theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer, first at the California Institute of Technology for a year, and then at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with a few of Oppenheimer's other graduate students (Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, Joseph Weinberg, and Max Friedman, all of whom lived in the same neighborhood), Bohm became increasingly involved not only with physics, but with radical politics. Like many young idealists in the late 1930s (including Oppenheimer himself), Bohm and his colleagues gravitated to alternative models of society, and became active in organizations like the Young Communist League, the Campus Committee to Fight Conscription, and the Committee for Peace Mobilization (all of which the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover would brand as Communist fronts).

Work and doctorate

Manhattan Project Contributions

During World War II, the Manhattan Project mobilized much of Berkeley's physics research in the effort to produce the first atomic bomb. Though Oppenheimer had asked Bohm to work with him at the Los Alamos, the top-secret laboratory established in 1942 to design the bomb, the head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, would not approve Bohm's security clearance, after tip-offs about his politics (Bohm's friend, Joseph Weinberg, had also come under suspicion for espionage).

Bohm remained in Berkeley, teaching physics, before completing his Ph.D. in 1943, under an unusually ironic circumstance. -- According to Peat (see reference below, p.64), "(t)he scattering calculations (of collisions of protons and deuterons) that he had completed proved useful to the Manhattan Project and were immediately classified. Without security clearance, Bohm was denied access to his own work; not only would he be barred from defending his thesis, he was not even allowed to write his own thesis in the first place! To satisfy the university, Oppenheimer certified that Bohm had successfully completed the research. He would later, however, work on the theoretical calculations for the Calutrons at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, used to electromagnetically enrich uranium for use in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Victim of McCarthyism

After the war, Bohm became an assistant professor at Princeton University, where he worked closely with Albert Einstein. In May, 1949, at the beginning of the McCarthyism hysteria period, the House Un-American Activities Committee called upon Bohm to testify before it— because of his previous ties to suspected Communists. But Bohm pleaded the Fifth amendment right to decline to testify, and refused to give evidence against his colleagues. In 1950, Bohm was charged for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and was arrested. He was acquitted in May, 1951, but Princeton had already suspended him. After the acquittal, Bohm's colleagues sought to have his position at Princeton re-instated, and Einstein reportedly wanted Bohm to serve as his assistant; however, the university did not renew the contract. Bohm then left for Brazil to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo.

Quantum theory and Bohm-diffusion

Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. While still a post-graduate at Berkeley, he discovered the electron phenomenon now known as Bohm-diffusion. His first book, Quantum Theory published in 1951, was well-received by Einstein, among others. However, Bohm became dissatisfied with the orthodox approach to quantum theory, which he had written about in that book, and began to develop his own approach (Bohm interpretation)— a non-local hidden variable deterministic theory whose predictions agree perfectly with the nondeterministic quantum theory. His work and the EPR argument became the major factor motivating John Bell's inequality, whose consequences are still being investigated.

The Aharonov-Bohm effect

In 1955, Bohm moved to Israel, where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who became an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957, Bohm moved to the UK. In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, he discovered the Aharonov-Bohm effect, showing how an electro-magnetic field could affect a region of space in which the field had been shielded, although its vector potential did exist there. This showed for the first time that the vector potential, hitherto a mathematical convenience, could have real physical (quantum) effects. (Later, pre-discoverers emerged: Werner Ehrenberg and Rory Siday, who had published a paper a decade before. See Peat, page 192.) He held a research fellowship at University of Bristol until 1961, when he became Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College of the University of London, a post he held until his retirement in 1987.

Bridging science, philosophy and cognition

Bohm's scientific and philosophical views were inseparable. In 1959, he read a book by the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. He was impressed by the way his own ideas on quantum mechanics meshed with the philosophical ideas of Krishnamurti. Bohm's approach to philosophy and physics receive expression in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and in the book Science, Order and Creativity.

The holonomic model of the brain

Bohm also made significant theoretical contributions to neuropsychology and the development of the holonomic model [1] (http://www.acsa2000.net/bcngroup/jponkp/#chap4) of the functioning of the brain. In collaboration with Stanford neuroscientist Karl Pribram, Bohm helped establish the foundation for Pribram's theory that the brain operates in a manner similar to a hologram, in accordance with quantum mathematical principles and the characteristics of wave patterns. These wave forms may compose hologram-like organizations, Bohm suggested, basing this concept on his application of Fourier analysis, a form of calculus that transforms complex patterns into component sine waves. The holonomic brain model developed by Pribram and Bohm posits a lens defined world view— much like the textured prismatic effect of sunlight refracted by the churning mists of a rainbow— a view which is quite different from the more conventional "objective" approach. Pribram believes that if psychology is to understand the conditions that produce the world of appearances, it must look to the thinking of physicists like Bohm.

Thought As a System (TAS)

Bohm showed a deep concern for humankind and life in general, and was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only Man and nature, but among Peoples, as well as people, themselves. Bohm: "So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction." An he goes on to ask: "What is the source of all this trouble? I'm saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That's part of our tradition. Yet is looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It's like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, its far over 20%."

In Bohm's view: "the general tacit assumption in thought is that it's just telling you the way things are and that its not doing anything - that 'you' are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don't decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us."

"Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn't know it is doing something and then it struggles against it is doing. It doesn't want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call 'sustained incoherence.'"

Bohm proposes thus in his book "Thought as a System" (TAS) a pervasive, systematic nature of thought:

What I mean by 'thought' is the whole thing - thought, 'felt', the body, the whole society sharing thoughts - it's all one process. It is essential for me not to break that up, because it's all one process; somebody else's thought becomes my thought, and vice versa. Therefore it would be wrong and misleading to break it up into my thought, your thought, my feelings, these feelings, those feelings. I would say that thought makes what is often called in modern language a SYSTEM. A system means a set of connected things or parts. But the way people commonly use the word nowadays it means something all of whose parts are mutually interdependent - not only for their mutual action, but for their meaning and for their existence. A corporation is organized as a system - it has this department, that department, that department... they don't have any meaning separately; they only can function together. And also the body is a system. Society is a system in some sense. And so on.
Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thought and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society - as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times. Thought has been constantly evolving and we can't say when that system began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before.
Now, I say that this system has a fault in it - a 'systematic fault'. It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say "I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem". But 'my' thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I'm trying to look at, or a similar fault.
Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates.

Bohm Dialogue

In his later years, he developed the technique that has become known as "Bohm Dialogue", in which equal status and "free space" form the most important prerequisites of discourse. He believed that if carried out on a sufficiently wide scale, such dialogues could help overcome fragmentation in society.

Later years

Throughout his life, Bohm suffered from bouts of depression, which seemingly worsened with age. He underwent psychoanalysis with Patrick de Mare. In May, 1991, he was admitted to the "old age psychiatry"— de Mare declared Bohm suicidal. Bohm stayed in the hospital until the end of August 1991. He remained on medication (sertralin). (For details see F. David Peats's biography.)

David Bohm died of a heart attack in London on October 27, 1992.


  • A biography of Bohm by F. David Peat (http://www.fdavidpeat.com/): Infinite Potential: the Life and Times of David Bohm, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1997. ISBN 0-201-40635-7.
  • For information on his work at Berkeley and his dealings with HUAC see Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller, New York: Henry Holt, 2002. ISBN 080506589X.
  • Bohm, David. Quantum Theory. New York: Dover. 1989, original publication 1951. ISBN 0-486-65969-0.
  • Bohm, David. Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. 1957. reprint Philadelphia: U of Pa Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8122-1002-6
  • Bohm, David. The Special Theory of Relativity. 1965. New York: W.A. Benjamin.
  • Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. 1980. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-0971-2.
  • Bohm, David. Unfolding Meaning: a weekend of dialogue with David Bohm. ed Donald Factor. Gloucestershire: Foundation House. 1985. ISBN 0-948325-00-3
  • Bohm, David and F. David Peat. Science, Order and Creativity. London: Routledge.
  • Bohm, David. Thought as a System. 1992. London: Routledge. A transcription of a seminar held in Ojai, California from November 30 to 2 December 1990.
  • Krishnamurti, Jiddu and David Bohm. Limits of Thought: Discussions. London: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-19398-2.
  • Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm. London: Routledge, 1987. Edited by B.J. Hiley and F. David Peat. ISBN 0-415-06960-2.
  • Bohm, David and B.J. Hiley. The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory. London: Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-12185-X. final work.
  • Albert, David Z. "Bohm's Alternative to Quantum Mechanics", Scientific American, May, 1994.

External links

  • More about David Bohm's ideas on Dialogue at a site (http://www.muc.de/~heuvel/dialogue/) maintained to carry on his concepts of Dialogue.
  • A site that compiles bits and pieces of David Bohm's life and work in form of texts, audio, video, and pictures : the David_Bohm_Hub (http://www.thinkg.net/david_bohm/)
  • Two groups on the internet address Bohm-Dialogue: The first discusses Dialogue as a Theory. (http://lists.cometsite.com/mailman/listinfo/bohm_dialogue).
  • The second, TT, short for The Table. (http://thinkg.net/TT) "does" Bohm Dialogue online through means of text, images, sounds, etc.
  • David Bohm and Krishnamurti  (http://thinkg.net/david_bohm/martin_gardner_on_david_bohm_and_krishnamurti.html). Skeptical Inquirer, July, 2000, by Martin Gardner.

See also

it:David Bohm pt:David Bohm


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