Bohm and the implicate order
Based on ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ by David Bohm
Bohm argued that both relativity and quantum theory meant that any analysis of the physical world into distinct, well-defined parts was no longer relevant. He suggests that the structure of holograms gives an insight into his concept of undivided wholeness.
In his description of holograms, coherent light from a laser passes through a half-silvered mirror, with part of the beam falling onto a photographic plate, while the other part illuminates a particular structure. Light reflected from this structure also reaches the plate where it interferes with the light waves arriving from the half-silvered mirror. When this photographic plate is lit by laser light a wave front is created, which is seen to have a similar form to the light coming off the illuminated structure. This allows an observer to see the whole of the structure in three dimensions. If only a small part of the photographic plate is illuminated, the whole structure is still visible although less sharply defined.
Bohm argues that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the structure and its image, and the interference pattern in each region of the photographic plate relates to the whole of the structure. This lack of one-to-one correspondence is a function of the wave property of light, a property that is common to all other quanta. It is suggested that experiments with quanta are all more akin to a hologram than to classical observations through a lens. From this it is suggested that modern physics refers to an undivided whole rather than discrete autonomous particles and objects separated by space and time.
The implicate order
This concept of an undivided whole is argued to render inappropriate the Cartesian system of coordinates. Instead the features of the structure are described as being enfolded in a ‘implicit’ sense into each region of space and time – hence the ‘implicate order’. Similarly with TV and radio, the information is considered to be enfolded into the implicate order of the transmitted signal. Receivers of the signal unfold it into the explicate order of visual image or audible sound. The unfolded explicate order is seen as a subset of the more fundamental implicate order. Light, radio waves etc. that carry enfolded information are referred to as the ‘holomovement’, which is viewed as an unbroken totality. The implicate order usually goes unnoticed because we are habituated to the explicate order.
Bohm and consciousness
Bohm understands consciousness in terms of the implicate order. It is suggested that a common ground between the matter and consciousness might be found within the implicate order. The difficulty in reconciling matter and consciousness comes from the fact that they are experienced as something quite different from one another. Descartes pointed to the ‘extended substance’ of matter and the ‘thinking substance’ of consciousness. Bohm sees ‘extended substance’ as a manifestation of the explicate order, which is only a subset of the more fundamental implicate order. Consciousness is, however, viewed as part of the implicate order. The distinct nature of ‘thinking substance’ implies that consciousness exists only in a realm where extension and separation had no significance. Bohm identifies this with the implicate order.
In Descartes’ format, the extended and the thinking substance have no relationship, but Descartes thought that God could resolve this. The distinction between the two only becomes a problem if God dies.
‘Since then (17th century), the idea that God takes care of this requirement has generally been abandoned, but it has not commonly been noticed that thereby the possibility of comprehending the relationship between matter and consciousness has collapsed’.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order
The implicate order is seen by Bohm as the fundamental reality, and it seems like a hope rather than an argued case that consciousness can be understood in terms of this fundamental reality. Bohm takes off from here to discuss Karl Pribram’s idea that the storage of memories in the brain is not in individual neurons, but instead that the information is enfolded over the whole brain or perhaps just the whole cortex. Storage of memories is seen as resembling a hologram in function. When the brain is suitably activated, it responds with a pattern of neural energy constituting an experience. This can, however, fuse with new sensory inputs from the external environment.
Flow in consciousness
Bohm went beyond this holographic notion to argue for a concept of ‘flow’ in consciousness. With the example of hearing music, when a particular note is played, a number of the previous notes are still reverberating in consciousness. The presence of the reverberations is argued to be responsible for a sense of flow, movement and continuity, and is associated in his scheme with emotional responses. The music is argued to be sensed as different but interrelated transformations of sounds. In listening to music, one is argued to be directly perceiving an implicate order. Similarly, the perception of actually separate visual images on cinema/TV/computer screens as wholes is argued to be an experience of the implicate order.
Movement and consciousness
Our experience of movement is argued to be the implicate order as experienced in our thoughts. Movement is comprehended in terms of inter-penetrating and intermingling elements in different degrees of enfoldment. Moments in time cannot be fixed exactly, but covers a variable extended period. Moment by moment material that was implicate becomes explicate, while previously explicate material becomes implicate again. The material that gets manifest in the explicate order is based mainly on memory being fused with new sensory information.
Bohm says that Piaget showed that infants had an immediate awareness of movement, but only later grasped notions of space, time and causality. It is suggested that the moment of consciousness cannot be related to specific measurements of space and time, but to a region that is slightly extended in both space and time. He likens this idea to Leibniz’s monads except that the monads were permanent rather than transient. In fact, the idea may be closer to Whitehead’s ‘actual occasions’.