Comments on Bohm Dialogue

By Donald Factor

It seems to me that most of David Bohm's work proceeds from an assumption that is more metaphysical than scientific. He proposed that "all that is" which includes "all that is not" composes one unbroken whole in flowing motion. He called this "the holomovement." In other language he also called it the implicate order out of which unfolds the explicate orders of our everyday awareness.

Now the questions arise, What is the cause of any particular unfoldment? And What organises its content?

It seems evident that what we can know about this explicate order exists in our conscious awareness. If it exists anywhere else, we can know it only through inference. So, we have to take seriously the notion that all "things" -- which is, by the way, a word derived from an Old English root meaning literally "to negotiate" -- are simply abstractions made by thought and sustained by thought within certain limits. Thus the "things" that we know about; the "things" that we take for granted, and that includes our "selves", are products of the images and languages which order and create the meaning which -- since they too, are a part of this totality -- are, by definition, in a state of constant transformation. All this, I think, must be addressed if we claim to take David Bohm's proposals seriously.

But this is not to deny the possibility and the probity of making distinctions. If we are to be able to enquire into any domain of experience, the nature of our thought process makes it necessary for us to create distinctions. But if we forget that these distinctions can never be more than conveniences -- valid in a limited domain where they are actually relevant -- then we are left in a seriously incoherent predicament, and I believe that this is the case more often than not for most of us.

Our distinctions and the categories and meanings derived from those distinctions have value only to the extent that they give us an opportunity to see how that part of the system works. Thus if I am in the African bush, I would do well to distinguish a movement in the grass and the flash of something yellow with black spots against the background of the surrounding flora before a leapord leaps out and eats me. But such a distinction would more than likely be pretty incoherent across a dinner table in London. This example is, perhaps, trivial and obvious but I trust it makes a more general and subtle point about the nature of thought.

Bohm made the point that thought is a material process. It functions, in other words, at the level of the material body or, in his terms, "soma". But this process also has an aspect that he termed "significance". Significance is the part of the "soma-significant" process that invokes and produces meaning. I must pause to apologise here because "meaning" is yet another term that has to be taken into account in this model. And it is important to keep in mind that it is only a model -- a collection of distinctions that allow us to predict the directions of a part of the overall flow and to perhaps participate more intelligently and coherently in that flow -- for we are clearly something more than mere floatsom or jetsome driven by an all powerful stream flowing from somewhere to somewhere else or in strange or infinite loops.

So this brings us to dialogue, a form of activity aimed at learning how to participate in this holomovement more intelligently. The methods of this sort of dialogue have already been well documented and are widely available, but the meaning of the activity is subject to constant appraisal and reappraisal. For me this aspect of dialogue is what gives it value, excitement and broader significance in the larger picture beyond the individual group that gathers to talk together. For in the idea of the implicate order there is not only the unfoldment into the explicate but a re-enfoldment back into the implicate which, in the non-local and probably non-temporal, domain of the implicate brings about changes in each succeeding unfoldment which are intrinsically unpredictable, but none-the-less highly significant, at least, in their potential.



Donald Factor, 1997-12-28