On Dialogue

By William van den Heuvel



I would like to write down some thougths that bubbled up while reading David Bohm's booklet "On Dialogue". As David Bohm pointed out, the word dialogue comes from the Greek word dia-logos. Dia usually means "through" but in connection with dialogos it is the same as the Latin word "inter"; it means "between or among".

The word

Logos means "the word". In his booklet, David Bohm says that the derivations of words often suggest a deeper meaning. So, what would be the deeper meaning of "logos"? In other words, what would be the deeper meaning of the word "word"?

According to my dictionary (Webster), the Greek used to use the word "word" in the broader sense of speaking, thinking, reckoning, reasoning, etc. The result of which is a speech, a discourse, a theory, a thought, an argument, a philosophy, etc. From this definition one gets the feeling, that "the word" is a very general notion of reasoning of any kind expressed through speaking or writing and retained in the form of a concept or a theory. That means a logos is not just a simple word in the grammatical sense; it is an intellectual concept, which holds the meaning. E.g. the concept of "logos" is such a logos. Dialogue is, therefore, an interplay of words, i.e. a flow of meaning, between or among a number of people.

The controlling principle of the universe

In ancient Greek philosophy, reason was considered to be the controlling principle of the universe. The christian theologists have interpreted this as meaning "the word of God". David Bohm often used words like "the whole" or "the unknown" or "the unlimited" or "the intelligence". I suspect that he meant roughly the same as the Greek "controlling principle of the universe" (or the christian "word of God"). The "controlling principle of the universe" could be expressed through speech or writing (i.e. making a logos or theory).

Following this line of thinking, we could say that dialogue is the means by which the whole expresses itself. That would make dialogue a play of the cosmic intelligence. Generally speaking, however, our dialogues don't exactly appear to be expressions of a very high order of intelligence: Chaos usually seems to be a better description. How can chaotic dialogue be an act of intelligence?


Let's take David's advice again and look up the meaning of the word "intelligence". The word intelligence is the present tense of inter-legere. Legere means "to choose" or "to speak". It is derived from the root leg, which is Greek for "to gather". So, intelligence (inter-legere) is "the act of gathering from between", and the intellect, being the past tense, is "what has been gathered from between". However, legere also implies the notion of "to speak". I am taking this more generally as meaning "to express". When we combine the notions of gathering and expressing we get the picture of an intelligence that is constantly gathering from between and expressing itself. What is it that is being gathered and why does it need expressing?

The cosmic order

I see a cosmic order (the whole) that is selecting and collecting things and throwing them up to see if they fit somewhere. When something fits, we have a new meaning. The new meanings emerge by thinking and talking about the things that bubble up during the dialogue. The whole, therefore, acts as a source; it constantly comes up with something for us to look at. That means, we are an essential part of this cosmic order. During dialogue we are in direct contact with the whole, which (to us) is unknown.

A dialogue is a dance with the unknown. That means, dialogue is part of a cosmic process, which is potentially creative but unpredictable (at least from our perspective). So, it's not surprising that we get unpredictable results. What appears chaotic and meaningless to us, is in fact the operation of a very high order of intelligence. Out of this "chaos" could emerge creative (but possibly subversive) insights and understandings, but only when we don't expect anything.

The frustations, disappointments, aggressions and tensions are part of the game. It tells us that we were expecting something else and were, therefore, interfering with the intelligence. However, also the tension resulting from the conflict with the intelligence means something. We cannot escape the controlling principle of the universe; it's still expressing itself, if not creatively then destructively.

Copyright © 1996 by William van den heuvel. All rights reserved. Email: w@david-bohm.net