David Bohm-Dialogue (Part 1 of 2)

 

Newsgroups: soc.culture.iranian

From: Sam Ghandchi

Subject: David Bohm on Dialogue

Date: Tue, 29 Dec 1998 01:40:04 GMT

 

BOHM ON DIALOGUE  

 

[By the Late Quantum Physicist/Thinker David Bohm] 

[D. Bohm/D. Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity, 1987] 

[excerpts from  PP240-271 and  PP84-87] 

 

This book actually examines some basic philosophical

Differences in the philosophy of science, such as the Karl

Popper and Thomas Kuhn theories of knowledge, and comes up

with a very interesting  philosophical perspective. 

But below my excerpts are from the books' notes on 

*dialogue*.  

 

David Bohm extensively reviews the Bohr-Einstein

communications breakdown in physics  (Niel Bohr's Quantum

Theory versus Albert Einstein's Relativity ) and makes the

following notes about dialogue: 

 

One way of helping to free these serious blocks in

communication would be to carry out discussions in a spirit

of free dialogue.  Key features of such a dialogue is for

each person to  be able to hold several points of view, in

a sort of active suspension, while treating the ideas  of

others with something of the care and attention that are

given to his or her own.  Each participant is not called on

to accept or reject particular points of view; rather he or

she should  attempt to come to understanding of what they

mean. 

 

In this way, it may be possible to hold a  number of

different approaches together in the mind with almost equal

energy and interest.  In  this way an internal free

dialogue is begun which can lead on to a more open external

dialogue.  At this stage the mind is able to engage in free

play, unimpeded by rigid  attachments to particular points

of view.  It is our suggestion that out of this freely

moving  dialogue can emerge something that is creatively

new, for example, the perception of a new  link or metaphor

between very different points of view. 

 

A form of free dialogue may well be one of the most

effective ways of investigating the crisis  which faces

society, indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness

today.  Moreover, it  may turn out that such a form of

exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental

relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of

destructive misinformation, so that  creativity can be

liberated. 

 

However, it must be stressed that what follows is not given

in the  spirit of a prescription that society can is

supposed to follow.  Rather it is an invitation to the

reader to begin to investigate and explore in the spirit of

free play of ideas and without the  restriction of the

absolute necessity of any final goal or aim.  For once

necessity and absolute  requirements or directions enter

into the spirit of this exploration, then creativity is

limited  and all the problems that have plagued human

civilization will surface yet again to overwhelm  the

investigation.  

 

[A history of the ideas presented here is then detailed]

 

...wherever fragmentation and failures in communication

arise, this clearly indicates that a  kind of dialogue

should be established. 

 

The term dialogue is derived from a Greek work, with dia

meaning "through" and logos  signifying "the word".  Here

"the word" does not refer to mere sounds but to their

meaning.   So dialogue can be considered as a free flow of

meaning between people in communication,  in the sense of a

stream that flows between banks. 

 

A key difference between a dialogue and an ordinary

discussion is that, within the latter,  people usually hold

relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their

views as they try to  convince others to change.  At best,

this may produce agreement or compromise, but it does  not

give rise to anything creative.  Moreover, whenever

anything of fundamental significance  is involved, then

positions tend to be rigidly nonnegotiable and talk

generates either into a  confrontation in which there is no

solution or into a polite avoidance of the issues.  Both

these  outcomes are extremely harmful, for they prevent the

free play of thought in communication  and therefore impede

creativity. 

 

In dialogue, however, a person may prefer a certain

position but does not hold to it  nonnegotiably.  He or she

is ready to listen to others with sufficient sympathy and

interest to  understand the meaning of the other's position

properly and is also ready to change his or her  point of

view if there is good reason to do so.  Clearly a spirit of

goodwill or friendship is  necessary for this to take

place.  It is not compatible with a spirit that is

competitive,  contentious, or aggressive.  In the case of

Einstien and Bohr, these requirements were evidently met,

at least initially.  However, because each felt that a

different notion of truth and  reality was involved, which

was not negotiable in any way at all, a real dialogue could

never  take place. 

 

This brings us to an important root feature of science,

which is also present in dialogue: to be  ready to

acknowledge any fact and any point of view as it actually

is, whether one likes it or not.  In many areas of life,

people are, on the contrary, disposed to collude in order

to avoid  acknowledging facts and points of view that they

find unpleasant or unduly disturbing.   Science is,

however, at least in principle, dedicated to seeing any

fact as it is, and to bring  open to free communication

with regard not to the fact itself, but also to the point

of view  from which it is interpreted.  Nevertheless, in

practice, this is not often achieved.  What happens in

many cases is that there is a blockage of communication. 

 

For example, a person does not acknowledge the point of

view of the other as being a reasonable one to hold,

although, perhaps not correct.  Generally this failure

arises when the  other's point of view poses a serious

threat to all that a person holds dear and precious in life

as a whole. 

 

In dialogue, it is necessary that people be able to face

their disagreements without  confrontation and be willing

to explore points of view to which they do not personally

subscribe.  If they are able to engage in such a dialogue

without evasion or anger, they will  find that no fixed

position is so important that it is worth holding at the

expense of destroying  the dialogue itself.  This tends to

give rise to a unity in plurality of the kind discussed in

Chapter 3 [entitled What is Order?].  This is, of course

quite different from introducing a large  number of

compartmentalized positions that never dialogue with each

other.  Rather, a  plurality of points of view corresponds

to the earlier suggestion that science and society  should

consist not of monolithic structures but rather of a

dynamic unity within plurality. 

 

One of the major barriers to this sort of dialogue is the

rigidity in the tacit infrastructure of the  individual and

society, which has been discussed throughout this book. 

The tacit infrastructure of society at large is contained

in what is generally called culture.  Within each society,

however, there are many subcultures, which are all somewhat

different, and which are  either in conflict with each

other, or more or less ignore each other as having mutually

irrelevant aims and values.  Such subcultures, along with

the overall culture, are generally  rigidly restricted by

their basic assumptions, most of which are tacit and not

open to  awareness and attention.  Creativity is therefore,

at best, an occasional occurrence, the results  of which

are quickly absorbed in a fairly mechanical way into the

general tacit infrastructure. 

 

At present, a truly creative dialogue, in the sense that

has been indicated, is not at all common,  even in science. 

Rather the struggle of each idea to dominate is commonly

emphasized in  most activities in society.  In this

struggle, the success of a person's point of view may have

important consequences for status, prestige, social

position, and monetary reward.  In such a  conditioned

exchange, the tacit infrastructure, both individually and

culturally, responds very  actively to block the free play

that is needed for creativity. 

 

The importance of the principle of dialogue should now be

clear.  It implies a very deep  change in how the mind

works.  What is essential is that each participant is, as

it were,  suspending his or her point of view, while also

holding other point of view in a suspended  form and giving

full attention to what they mean.  In doing this, each

participant has also to  suspend the corresponding

activity, not only of his or her own tacit infrastructure

of ideas, but  also of those of the others who are

participating in the dialogue.  Such a thoroughgoing

suspension of tacit individual and cultural

infrastructures, in the context of full attention to  their

contents, frees the mind to move in quite new ways.  The

tendency toward false play that  is characteristic of the

rigid infrastructures begins to die away.  The mind is then

able to respond to creative new perceptions going beyond

the particular points of view that have been suspended. 

 

In this way, something can happen in dialogue that is

analogous to the dissolution of barriers  in the "stream"

of the generative order that was discussed in the Chapter 5

entitled Generative  Order in Science, and Consciousness. 

In the dialogue, these blockages, in the form of rigid  but

largely tacit cultural assumptions, can be brought out and

examined by all who take part.   Because each person will

generally have a different individual background, and will

perhaps  come from a different subculture, assumptions that

are part of a given participant's  "unconscious"

infrastructure may be quite obvious to another participant,

who has no  resistance to seeing them. 

 

In this way the participants can turn their attention more

generally  to becoming aware, as broadly as possible, of

the overall tacit infrastructure of rigid cultural  and

subcultural assumptions and bringing it to light.  As a

result, it becomes possible for the  dialogue to begin to

play a part that is analogous to that played  by the immune

system of the  body, in "recognizing" destructive

misinformation and in clearing it up.  This clearly

constitutes a very important change in how the mind

works. 

 

[He explains the overcoming of individual and social

consciousness as a result of such a  dialogue].  Only a

dialogue that can, at the same time, meet the challenge

both of  uncovering the intellectual content of a rigidly

held basic assumption and of "defusing" the  emotional

charge that goes with it will make possible the proper

exploration of the new order  of mental operation that is

being discussed here. 

 

It is possible to have such dialogues in all sorts of

circumstances, with many or just a few  people involved. 

Indeed even an individual may have a kind of internal

dialogue with himself  or herself.  What is essential here

is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is, in

short,  the ability to hold many points of view in

suspension, along with a primary interest in the  creation

of a common meaning.  It is particularly important,

however, to explore the  possibilities of dialogue in the

context of a group that is large enough to have within it a

wide  range of points of view, and to sustain a strong flow

of meaning.  This latter can come about  because such a

dialogue is capable of having the powerful nonverbal effect

of consensus.  

 

In the ordinary situation, consensus can lead to collusion

and to playing false, but in a true  dialogue there is the

possibility that a new form of consensual mind, which

involves a rich  creative order between the individual and

the social, may be a more powerful instrument than  is the

individual and the social, may be a more powerful

instrument than is the individual  mind.  Such consensus

does not involve the pressure of authority or conformity,

for it arises  out of a spirit of friendship dedicated to

clarity and the ultimate perception of what is true.  In

this way the tacit infrastructure of society and that of

its subcultures are not opposed, nor is  there any attempt

to alter them or to destroy them.  Rather, fixed and rigid

frames dissolve in  the creative free flow of dialogue as a

new kind of microculture emerges. 

 

People who take part in such a dialogue will be able to

carry its spirit beyond the particular  group into all

their activities and relationships and ultimately into the

general society.  In this  way, they can begin to explore

the possibility of extending the transformation of the mind

that  has been discussed earlier to a broader sociocultural

context.  Such an exploration would  clearly be relevant

for helping to bring about a creative and harmonious order

in the world.  It  should be clear by now that the major

barriers to such an order are not technical; rather they

 lie in the rigid and fragmentary nature of our basic

assumptions.  These keep us from  changing in response to

the actual situations and from being able to move together

from  commonly shared meanings. 

 

Dialogue, in the sense that has been discussed here, may be

able to contribute in a very  significant way to clearing

up the "pollution" or "misinformation" in social and

cultural  spheres.  But humanity does not live only in

these spheres.  Broadly speaking it has three  principal

dimensions-the individual, the social, and the cosmic-and

each of which of these  must receive appropriate

attention.  [Finally the book discusses each of the above

spheres and the significance of dialogue  between

religions, schools of science and schools of 

psychology.]