The Flow of Meaning

The following piece was presented by William van den Heuvel on the "Weekend of Dialogue" held at Windsor (England) on the 7-8th of June, 1997. The weekend was dedicated to the work of David Bohm and was organized by the Scientific and Medical Network.

The flow of meaning

David Bohm pointed out, that dialogue means "the flow of meaning between or among us". But meaning can only flow between or among us when we listen and respond to each other. Only when that is the case, are we dialoguing. So, the emphasis is on the flow of meaning.


l Iike to think that just as there is a natural tendency for water to flow towards the sea, there is also a natural tendency of meaning to flow towards a state of coherence.

In the case of water, the gravity of the earth will ensure that it reaches the sea all by itself (as long as it not blocked anywhere). In a similar way, meaning will also flow towards a state of coherence as long as it is not being blocked anywhere.

Therefore, dialogue should be free to unfold itself. I mean, it should not be enforced, or controlled, or restricted or limited in any way. It is a bit like exploring into unknown territory: we don't know what we're going to find, but we'll find it when we go there. With dialogue we also don't known where it is leading to, or where we end up, but we'll discover it by doing it.

That also means, nobody should use dialogue to bring about a certain result. That is because any form of direction, or even expectation, will only interfere with the natural flow of meaning, which has to find its own way.

Coherence is not something that can be brought about by human beings. Any direct attempt to bring about coherence is already incoherent because we don't really know what coherence is, and, therefore, we would probably just be imposing our own views, which again will only interfere with the free flow of meaning. In this context, David Bohm once said to me: "If you try to do something you're already doing the wrong thing".

The only positive thing we can do is not to stand in the way (of the flow of meaning). That means, if we listen and respond to each other without resistence then the coherence will come by itself, almost like a side effect.


Coherence has its own natural attraction because that is the way of the least resistence. If there is resistence then the meaning can not flow and therefore there will be no coherence. So, the key factor here appears to be resistence, or rather non-resistence.

There seems to be a direct correlation between coherence and non-resistence. Incoherent meanings will cause friction. It costs a lot of energy to sustain incoherent meanings and therefore, they will ultimately disappear (when they run out of energy).

There may well be some people who have reached coherence. But the question is; if there is this natural attraction towards coherence, why don't we all reach it? In my view, this indicates that the meaning is not flowing freely. I.e. it must be blocked somewhere.

It seems to me that we should be helping each other to look for the blocks That means, in dialogue, we should pay close attention to our personal reactions and see where and when we get a sense of resistence or reluctance or when we get irritated and start defending something. Each such reaction could betray the presence of a block.

There shouldn't be any blocks in our minds because they interfere with the natural intelligence of the mind, which requires the meaning to flow freely.

As long as these blocks are there we will be resisting the flow of meaning towards coherence. And that means dialogue is not possible (because, by definition, dialogue is the flow of meaning). At most we would be having a discussion but, as David Bohm pointed out, a discussion can sometimes come very close to percussion or even concussion. And then we will have blood flowing rather than meaning.

The meaning has to flow not only among us, but also through us. If we cannot find and dissolve the blocks in ourselves we will continue to resist the flow towards coherence, thereby sustaining the incoherence in ourselves. As a result, we will continue to propagate our own incoherence into the rest of the world.

The nature of the blocks

So, what is the nature of these blocks? Apparently, they are in our minds, but how do they get there? Where do they come from?

I am going to say that these blocks don't come from anywhere but they are there because we have created them ourselves. We have created them perhaps unconsciously as a result of painful memories, or else we have created them consciously by our own thinking. In either case, the blocks are mental blocks, created by the mind itself. So, in a sense, the mind is blocking itself.

But that would seem to suggest that these blocks could also be dissolved again: if they are created by our own thinking we could dissolve them again by reconsidering our thoughts. And if they were created by painful memories we could dissolve them by properly suffering the pain.

Once the blocks are gone, there will be no more resistence to the free flow of meaning, and consequently the natural intelligence of the mind will be restored. There is a certain healing effect in non-resistence. I hope, I will be able to say a few words about this at the end.

At first sight, one might be inclined to think that dissolving these mental blocks shouldn't be a terribly big problem but in actual practise it turns out to be one of the most difficult things to do. I wonder why?

The master block

The main problem, as far as I can see, is that there appears to be a kind of master block, which blocks all attempts to dissolve our blocks. This master block protects, as it were, all the other blocks, and that's why they don't go away. So, the first thing to do, is to explore a little into the nature of the master block. If there is such a thing as a master block then it must be at a very deep and fundamental level.

Some of the most fundamental things I can think of, are our notions of truth and reality. We have a unshakeable faith in our belief that our beliefs are true, and we are convinced that our realities are really real. But the deeper question is; how can we be so certain of these certainties?

I am beginning to wonder, if our sense of certainty could possibly be the master block. If that is the effect of our certainty then we certainly have a problem.

Alternative to truth and reality

I don't know if the truth is truely true, and if reality is really real. But it looks to me that if we are confused on this level then we are confused at a very fundamental level. So, let's take a closer look on this level. Perhaps, we are getting closer to the root of the problem.

What I want to do now, is to try to develop a view that provides an alternative to the idea of truth and reality. That means, what I am going to say is not true, and it is not about something that is real. That is important because otherwise we would just be creating another block.

The intention is; to develop a view that removes the blocks in our mind because that is what makes us resist the flow of meaning

The computer virus

Some of you may have heard something about the computer virus. A computer virus is, of course, not a real virus but it behaves (in some sense) like a real virus;

A computer virus is actually a small program that is capable of propagating itself from one computer to another one via a diskette or through the internet. Once the virus has managed to get inside, it begins to work. As a result the computer starts behaving strangly, like loosing information, or making mistakes, or stopping altogether.

But, I have noticed that people sometimes also behave as if they are infested by something like a computer virus. So, I was wondering if maybe, there could be something similar to a computer virus in our mind: a mental virus.

I am a computer freak by profession, so the idea of applying the notion of "computer virus" to human consciousness was only a small step. But instead of calling it "mental virus", I call it the "Virtual virus" (because it is a more general term). Anyway, that's how the virtual virus was discovered.


The word 'virtual' means "effective". 'Virtually' means effectively.

The word 'virtual' is used very often in connection with computers. When you read a computer magazin, almost everything seems to be virtual these days.

In the computer world, the word 'virtual' is used to denote anything software-like, whereas the word 'real' refers to the hardware. If we transpose this idea to human beings we would say, virtual is mental, and real is bodily.

Almost everything has some real aspects and some virtual aspects. A real aspect is its physical component, and a virtual aspect is its effectiveness, or its purpose or its value. One could also say, the virtual aspect is its significance, and the real aspect is only the hardware that makes it possible.

signa-somatic order

David Bohm had a similar notion which he called "the signa-somatic order". Soma is the same as what I call real, and Signa is the same as what I call virtual. So, Bohm's signa-somatic order is virtually the same as what I call "the virtual order".

Please note, we are not introducing new Cartesian dualities to fragment the whole, but rather we're just developing different views to highlight different aspects of one and the same whole. I think, that is consistent with the idea of wholeness.


In the early days of the computer, virtual things were called "electronic". E.g. "email" (electronic mail) was coined in those days. But even today people still continue to call things "electronic". For instance, we now have "electronic banking".

The stockmarket in Zürich, Switzerland, doesn't exist anymore, at least not really (not in a physical sense): It is what they call an "electronic stockmarket" now. There are no more people shouting around as they still do at the New York Stock Exchange. It's not only that the stocks are virtual but the "stockmarket" itself is somewhere in the computer, and all the transactions are done through a terminal.

Personally, I don't like the word electronic very much, because it still has something of the physical about it: an electron is a physical entity (not that I have ever seen one). So, I think, it is more consistent to say "virtual", rather than "electronic".

The virtual virus

A virtual virus is just a thought that thinks it's true; it takes itself for real. Such an idea can propagate itself from one person to another, like a real virus or like a computer virus.

The point about the virtual virus is that it is not a real virus. If it were, it could be investigated scientifically under the microscope, but you won't find a virtual virus that way. You won't find anything that is virtual that way because virtual things are not made of matter (not even electrons).

Nevertheless, they are highly dangerous because they are capable of making us crazy; they can easily turn us into violent monsters.

Somebody send me an email a few days ago. It was from someone who lives in New mexico, USA. This is what he said:

"There is a place here in New Mexico called Black Mesa. It is a dark table montain near Espangola New Mexico. Around 400 years ago missionaries came to the pueblo there under the eyes of the inquisition and with an entourage of soldiers. The indians surrendered to this expeditionary corp after a siege. The priests baptized the babies and young children and then promptly killed them. This was done so their souls would go to heaven before being exposed to the "devil practices" of these indians. The men had their feet crushed so they could not escape and were used as slaves. The women were forced into prostitution for the army."

You see, this virtual virus is not a joke. Many hundreds of millions of people have already been killed by this mysterious virus, and no doubt, countless more will follow because it is still not generally recognized that a mysterious virus is at the root of all this insanity. This virtual virus is actually much more lethal than the aids virus.

So, that seems a good reason to investigate how such a "non-existent" virus can be so powerful, and how it can be so effective in hiding itself from our conscious awareness.

Virtualistic perception

As I just said, the virtual virus does not really exist. That's why scientists can not find it in the laboratory. To be able to find a virtual virus, we don't need any special instruments, but we need a new kind of perception that will enable us the see things that are not real but virtual.

I call this new kind of perception: "the virtualistic mode of perception" to distinguish it from "the realistic mode of perception", which is for seeing things that are real.

In the realistic mode of perception we perceive physical things through the senses, but in the virtualistic mode of perception we perceive mental things that are already in the mind, That's why we don't need any senses or instruments to see virtual things.

The power of the virtual

I would now like to show how the virtual virus can be so effective. And then I'll show how we can develop an immunity against this virus. It only takes another 5 minutes .

Remember, the essential point about "virtual" is the effectiveness. The question is; if virtual things have no physical existence how can they have any effect at all?

The physicists only explain how things really work, but there is apparently no comparable theory how things work virtually. Yet, we all know from personal experience that virtual things like thoughts, ideas, concepts, beliefs, etc. can have a very powerful effect. So, how does that work?

The presentative and the reactive system

To explore this question I would like to start with an image of two systems that mutually feedback into each other. One is "the presentative system" and the other is "the reactive system". The presentative system produces a presentation, and the reactive system produces a reaction.

The reactive system only sees the presentation displayed by the presentative system. That is what it goes by., and that's what it reacts to This display is somewhat like a "virtual reality" in computers. The reactive system reacts only to this virtual reality, not to the real reality.

However, the response turns into a real biochemical and electrical reaction, which is physical and can be measured by instruments. So, whatever is presented in the virtual reality will cause a real reaction.

The purpose of presentative and reactive system

The purpose for developing this notion of "presentative and reactive system" was to enable us to picture intuitively how the mind can act on the brain (and through the brain on the rest of the body).

We can see that the mind can cause physical reactions by displaying virtual objects in the virtual display. So, whatever we think or believe will appear in the display and will therefore have a corresponding physical effect. By displaying different presentations, we get different reactions. When the system displays some fantasy as real then we get a reaction as if it were really real.

So, if we think that something is true then that will have a strong effect on the system. Depending on the nature of the truth, the reaction could be strong enough even to cause real physical damage. That would be an extreme case, but even when it is not quite so extreme, it can still cause subtle brain damage.

It is highly dangerous to believe that something is true. A truth has a tendency to remain true forever, especially truths that can not be falsified. This will have a stagnating effect on the mind and, in the long run, it will also have a rigidifying effect on the body.

So, by presentating itself as a truth, the virtual virus can make us both mentally ill as well as physically ill. What is more, the natural intelligence of the mind and the body can not work properly because everything is blocked. Hence, the immunity system is also being prevented from healing the damage.

the virtual anti-virus

Fortunately, the same system that generates virtual viruses can also generate a virtual anti-virus. The virtual anti-virus is a virus killer (a virucide).

The virtualistic mode of perception enables the presentative system to create the virtual anti-virus. In fact, this notion of the virtual order already is the anti-virus. So, if you have grasped what I have been saying so far then the virtual anti-virus has been forming in your mind as you were listening.

the virtual immunity system

The virtual anti-virus is our virtual agent that is going to track down and destroy all those virtual viruses in our mind. It works by removing the false sense of reality or truth from the virtual viruses. These socalled realities are only attributes that have been attributed (or imputed) by the mind itself.

By becoming aware of the attributed or imputed nature of these socalled "realities", we also become aware of our own contribution to the problem. We are attributing the attributes, and that means we could stop doing it! By withdrawing the atttributed reality, our socalled "realities" no longer appear real. The sense of reality has gone and therefore the reactive system will no longer respond as if they were real.

A virtual virus that has lost its "reality" attribute is no longer a virtual virus but an ordinary virtuality. When all those ideas, beliefs, truths, convictions, opinions, etc. are properly perceived as virtualities (instead of realities) then we actually have a more accurate perception of the situation.

All those socalled "realities", that were blocking the natural intelligence, will now be exposed as dangerous illusions. This exposure is the result of the virtualistic mode of perception and that will make them melt like snow in the sun. That will be the end of all religious, political and social crazinesss

The virtual self

It will also be the end of my self because the self as "really me" is also a virtual virus, and that will die along with all the other virtual viruses. What remains is a virtual self that knows it's virtual and not real. Therefore, it won't present itself as real and therefore it won't stir up emotional reactions or produce psychological pain.

The healing effect of the virtual anti-virus will revolutionize our consciousness. Because we no longer have to be afraid of reality. We are not going to get hurt or insulted or ridiculed by things that are not real. And for the same reason we are not compelled to defend ourselves. That means, we can let go of our blocks, including the main obstacle, which is myself.

And that means the meaning can flow again, and that means we can now begin to dialogue.

That's it. Thank you for your patience.

William van den Heuvel, Mai 1997

Copyright © 1997 by William van den Heuvel. Email:
Update 2007-10-16