In this inaugural podcast episode we highlight the relevance and urgency of David Bohm’s work to the crises facing humanity. Bohm, who was an exceptionally gifted natural scientist, proposed a shared, common source to the problems of humanity and he produced a clear and compelling picture of how all of this was taking place. A brief history of the David Bohm Society is also provided and its purpose clarified.
This is the first episode of “More Important Than Physics”, the podcast of the David Bohm Society.
In producing this audio program, we seek to articulate a vision that presents the many crises facing humanity as fundamentally solvable.
A different kind of mind is possible, we suggest, one in which thought begins to become aware of its own movements.
The world of today is broken into nations, religions, and ideologies.
Division and conflict are the prevailing features of human enterprise.
But isn’t necessary that our knowledge must divide us?
Is it not possible to have a culture where minds are free to operate more subtly?
We invite you to join us in our explorations of the origin of human conflict and the barriers that prevent the liberation of intelligence.
Before I talk about the importance of Bohm’s work, I’ll briefly describe our society and its activities.
The David Bohm Society was founded in 2012. Prior to the society’s existence, there was the Bohm Krishnamurti Project, which reached its final state in 2019. The David Bohm Society has five board members spread across four countries.
The society is membership-based and we operate an email list for society members.
Some of our projects have included creating a directory of all of Bohm dialogue groups in the entire world, inventorying Bohm’s work, preserving digitizing and making available Bohm’s work, and able to locate and release several important documents and audio-visual material that would have otherwise been lost, maintaining the Bohm Krishnamurti Project, and maintaining a website on Bohm dialogue, which is separate from the website for the society.
And of course, these activities are important, but ultimately the most important work is bringing about a living example of Bohm’s proposals, and this is where the majority of our efforts go.
The name we have chosen for this podcast reflects this, more important than physics, is how Bohm, according to his own testimony, felt about these subjects at a certain point in his life after having been exposed to the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti.
We are doing our best to honor Bohm’s legacy, but as we focus on his work about the problems of humanity, we have not been able to fully cover his achievements in physics.
Thus we are seeking a board member who has a background in physics to make sure this aspect of his work is properly reflected.
Significant research and work by Basil Haile has gone on this area in the last decades.
So what is the current state of affairs? Perhaps one of the most basic facts we have is that human beings are not rational.
What humans have produced together, our culture is not rational. We pollute and poison the very planet that sustains us.
We build very advanced technology and then we use that technology to wage war and kill other human beings.
We have the means to feed everyone and still so many people go unfed and so much food spoils.
We pride ourselves on our technology and advanced knowledge, and yet there is such a radical breakdown in communication that two people with different views hardly seem to be able to speak and listen to each other.
We are all more alike than different, yet our knowledge divides and fragments us from each other in so many ways.
Of course we are capable of rationality, usually in siloed areas under the guidance of scientific methodologies, but with the scientists produced the greater society incoherently uses and abuses.
This human irrationality has always been with us, but with advancements in nuclear weapons, bio-weapons and AI, along with the effects of climate change, the urgency to address this has never been higher. The very future of our species depends on it.
So what is at the root cause of the problems of humanity?
Here I will play a clip of David Bohm speaking.
You may realize that in many ways the world is in a critical situation in the last few years or even for quite a bit longer.
Not whether nuclear problems seem to have receded to some extent, but somebody remarked there are great changes going on in Eastern Europe with certain dangers.
Over the past several thousand years there have been a tremendous amount of chaos.
You see wars and slavery and oppression and economic disorder and all sorts of things.
It seems to be led to something new now that we are now in danger of destroying the whole planet.
We have been for quite a while just by ordinary everyday activities of life.
These are more dangerous than the nuclear bombs and all the other stuff, because they are using up everything or destroying forests and agricultural and jungle and changing the climate.
I don’t want to detail it all. You must have read it.
Very severe changes could take place. Everybody agrees on that. The only question is when.
Some experts say 50 years, some say it will be longer, something it’s 100 or 200.
But if we don’t change this, it’s fairly certain that a real disaster will occur, magnet to it, we can hardly imagine.
There isn’t a lot of time.
You can say, “Well, you have all these ecological problems.
What shall we do? Shall we save the whales? Shall we save the jungle? Shall we fight to do this, this and this?”
“Oh, that’s all right, but it’s only slowing it down.”
The question is the ecology has no problem. It got along for many millions of years until we came along.
We are the problem. Why are we the problem? What’s the source of it?
I say the source of it isn’t the way we think.
It is we are thinking that it’s led us to believe that we could just exploit the earth indefinitely.
As we believe we can have wars indefinitely and we can do all sorts of things indefinitely that we’re used to doing.
This is all a certain way of thinking.
The first characteristic of this way of thinking is just fragmentation, which means breaking things up or smashing things up.
It doesn’t mean dividing things.
You can divide between the sheep and the goats or anything like that.
You know, useful plants and use in dangerous plants.
This is quite all right. But if we divide between things that are united, then we say we try to smash them.
They agree with our division.
Between nations, I say we have actually a tight connection.
It’s not a loose connection. Everybody depends on everybody else economically.
The ecology is all one.
Yet every nation says it’s sovereign, which means it can do exactly what it likes. Nobody can tell it what to do.
That’s been a principle for a long, long time.
People find it hard to change. You see the Brazilians are cutting down their jungle, some of them.
But they object to our talking about it because they say you, Northerners who are prosperous, are producing a lot more carbon than oxide than us.
Why do you tell us what to do with our jungles, which anyway is ours?
We would probably answer back who are you to tell us what to do with our industries.
But as long as we are pretending we are all separate.
We can all do what we like. But you see, it can’t be done.
That pretends that we are separate as a way of thinking.
You see, nations were invented by thought.
There was a time every nation was invented by somebody thinking.
We’ve got a nation. We’ve got a lot of nations now that didn’t exist 100 years ago.
And just people declared we exist and that’s it.
And you say everything must be sacrificed for that nation.
We must destroy the world for that nation. And so on.
You see, we also have fragmentation all around in between religions, between families, between ideologies, between different professions.
You see, everything is broken up. Everything which is really united is in our thought all broken up.
So we have a fictitious way of thinking.
And if we think in a fictitious way, we are going to get in trouble.
So the question is, why do we have this? See, this fictitious way of thinking breaks things up wrongly and unites them wrongly.
It says nations are united. You see, they’re all one.
But they’re not. Inside each nation is tremendous division. You can see it obviously.
So they pretend there’s unity where there is none and they pretend there’s division where there is none.
And everybody sees it that way.
Well, the question is, why are we doing it?
Because of our thinking, right?
We’re used to thinking that way, we’re thinking that way for ages.
And it seems people now defend that way of thinking.
See, if you tried to really question that people would get annoyed, right, they would finally say you’re making trouble.
They kept it up and so on and so on.
The fact is that they’re making trouble, right? They’re getting ready to destroy the whole planet, not really the human race, but everything else.
In order to go on with their habits of thought and all the other things that I’ve got used to, right?
And why is it necessary to address this? I hope the answer to this is obvious.
But what might be less obvious is the fact that no one that we’re aware of is addressing the problems of humanity at this root level.
All efforts to solve humanity’s shared problems are further downstream from their source.
If the proposal about thought being at the source of human incoherence is correct, then it’s a crisis we are all facing presently, a crisis that is compounded by the fact humanity is oblivious to its cause.
And in Bohm’s own words, if I’m right in saying that thought is the ultimate origin or source, it follows that if we don’t do anything about thought, we won’t get anywhere.
We may momentarily relieve the population problem, the ecological problem, and so on, but they will come back in another way.
So I’m saying that we have to examine this question of thought.
Bohm also once gave the analogy of building faulty dams.
When a faulty dam breaks in the moment and a wall of water is coming out uncontrolled, there’s little you can do.
But if we are continuously building faulty dams, because we have wrong knowledge and a wrong approach for how to build dams, they clearly to address this fault, one must perceive the error in one’s thinking and approach, and one must also perceive the relationship between this error and the outcome that may happen much later on, the outcome of the dam breaking.
And then with this new evidence, one must adjust their thinking and build a different kind of dam.
But this new dam may have a different or more subtle kind of defect.
So there’s no end to this watching and perceiving what is actually happening.
Everything out there in the world, apart from nature, basically almost all of human enterprise and culture flows from our thinking.
Every instance of war, ethnic cleansing, or discrimination against a group was only possible because of a particular set of shared beliefs, assumptions, and values.
Or in other words, culture was a vehicle that held the result of our thinking, and that collectively guided our actions.
Same with the harm we caused the environment.
This too is dependent on our thinking and our beliefs and our dispositions towards it.
If we perceive clearly the necessity of our planet and nature to sustain us and keep us healthy, we would not pollute it and poison it like we do.
Instead, nature is often seen as a resource to exploit for personal gain and without much thoughts about the long-term consequences of doing so.
And this ability to act with selective blindness when it profits us is a limitation of our thinking.
It’s clearly not rational yet, it’s very prevalent.
And this is the problem.
We’ve been acting like we can go on like this forever.
And for a while, before we had advanced technology, it appeared like perhaps we could.
But now with the global population we have, and the potential for weapons to literally end the human race, we’re now running up against the shortcomings of thought.
Our lack of metacognition is the very factor that may be our collective undoing.
So it’s necessary to give attention to all of this because that may be the only way out for humanity.
How can we pursue other approaches, but not this one?
It doesn’t make sense.
We’re not suggesting that this is the area that everyone should be exploring.
Quite the opposite.
We need a large number of people exploring down different lines and sharing their findings with each other.
But given that what Bohm put forward is the best vision and explanation we’ve encountered for both what is going wrong in human culture, for how to begin to generate coherent culture, we must find a way to seriously expose these proposals.
Before I talk about how all of this might be addressed, I want to share a short quote by Bohm.
There may be no pat political answer to the world’s problems.
However, the important point is not the answer.
Just as in dialogue, the important part is not that the particular opinions, but rather the softening up, the opening up of the mind and looking at all of the opinions.
So our goal here is to not posit a series of steps that can be mechanically followed to solve a particular problem.
We’re instead taking a different approach.
First, we must change what things mean for our actions flow from our meaning.
We’re not trying to impose a new meaning through our thinking.
Rather, by deeply understanding through perception the actual state of affairs, new coherent meanings will emerge.
Secondly, we’re more interested in how to bring about the quality of mind and the removal of enough barriers and rigidity so that this mind, this collective mind can begin to address our problems.
You can come up with a great plan, but if the meanings people hold remain the same and incoherent.
And if intelligence is blocked from operating, then the plan will have little success and cannot be manifested.
But if you actually get people together and show that a totally different way of living is possible and document this and share it, then maybe from that spark a different kind of fire can be started.
This is all experimental.
No promises are being made.
No certainties are being asserted, except for this.
It’s very clear that if humans continue as we have, then it’s only a matter of time before calamity strikes, our incoherent culture cannot continue unabated if we care about our future.
David Bohm stated that we could say virtually all the problems of the human race are due to the fact that thought is not proprioceptive.
So any approach to our collective problems must explore this question, can thought become proprioceptive?
And by proprioceptive here, we mean, again, sharing a quote of Bohm, thought lacks proprioception, and we have got to learn somehow to observe thought.
In the case of observing the body, you can tell the observation is somehow taking place.
Even when there is no sense of a distinct observer.
Is it possible for thought similarly to observe itself, to see what it is doing, perhaps by awakening some other sense of what thought is, possibly through attention?
In that way, thought may become proprioceptive.
It will know what is doing, it will not create a mess.
No problem will be solved if the problem itself is never seen for what it actually is.
So surely a necessary starting point is having a real understanding of what is at the root of our problems.
This is an issue in human culture, and this is a systemic fault in thought.
We see neither the process nor the end result of our own cognition.
We get caught up in the middle part, the content of our thinking, and before and after, what goes on, we only have the faintest sense.
Almost all of what we take grievance with can be traced back to our thinking.
But we don’t see this fact, and we externalize the source of our problems.
I’m going to read another quote from Bohm here.
“If our troubles originate in a kind of ocean of thought and language, in which we are submerged, but of which we are only dimly aware, we would seem reasonable to begin immediately to inquire into the actual function of thought and language.
To do this requires, of course, that we give this function our serious attention.
We do give such attention to a vast range of things, including nature, technology, politics, economic, society, psychological problems, and so forth.
By shift thought and language be the one field left to function automatically and mechanically without serious attention, so that the resulting confusion creates most of what we try to do in all other fields.”
So we see the starting point is giving attention to thought as a process.
We say process because we’re not just interested in the content, the thoughts themselves, but also and more importantly, in the generation and movement of thought.
But here we can get into trouble quickly.
You can ask ten different people to observe their thoughts, and then gather them up and ask them to share their findings.
There often be no consensus and no shared understanding of what is going on with thought.
Thought is subtle, it moves quickly, it takes a great deal of energy to observe it.
And one can think they’re observing thought when they’re actually engaging in self-deception.
The very fact of the limited metacognition that occurs in culture should be our first indicator that is not easy or common to be aware of thought’s movements.
Thus it’s important we establish a coherent, verifiable way of going into all of this.
The practice, the people actually giving attention to what is going on inside and outside of themselves will always be the most important factor.
But this must be combined with observation and documentation and evaluation by the methods of science so this phenomena can make it into the greater culture.
We set at the start of this podcast that the human problem is solvable.
We’re not asserting this as an absolute truth, but rather we must assume that it’s possible to prove it otherwise, because if we assume it’s not possible, then that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And we have all seen examples of humans on a very small local scale engaging in pockets of coherent culture in rational activity.
If it can happen on the small scale, then we should assume it may be possible in the larger scale, that is, in the greater culture.
Holding assumptions is not fundamentally a problem, as long as one does not defend their assumption against evidence that it’s wrong.
And here in this area, it’s absolutely essential that a group of serious people explores the promise of sustained, advanced metacognition to radically transform human culture.
We have so many other proposals being explored.
Isn’t it bizarre that there hasn’t been a serious investigation of this proposal?
Every other subject that we study and seriously explore depends on our cognitive and metacognitive infrastructure.
Virtually all of our human activity depends on it, too.
The survival of our species even may depend on that.
But we’re not saying this exploration will be easy.
We expect there to be difficulties at the start.
And we are all situated and conditioned within a profoundly incoherent and unhealthy culture, shedding the heritage and fog of that is a heroic task in and of itself.
We must come together in person and explore these proposals.
We must have a physical space where people can interact in a way that is not possible in the current culture.
There will be much need for communicating virtually with all those interested across the globe, but the real work must be in person in our day-to-day life and functioning.
This highlights one of the first difficulties.
There is no such centers for this, and it’s uncommon for even a handful of people to be together in the same geographic area and share this interest seriously.
Bohm described this local work as taking place in a microcosm, and if enough people got together in that microcosm, they would be able to represent the problems of the world as a whole.
And if we can change, transform, or unfold coherent culture in this microcosm, then perhaps this could later move to the greater culture.
This microcosm is not sustained by ideology or some kind of imposed authority.
It’s a free space that has the intention to explore human relationship and the cognitive barriers to cooperation.
This space has the missing puzzle piece of a collective intention to give attention to the process of thought.
And if advanced metacognition is a kind of tacit skill, then perhaps it could be shared more easily in a space like this.
This space also makes more likely the sharing of mind, which is different and more important than the sharing of knowledge of our opinions.
To have a group of people sharing in perception of the same thing with a similar intensity is in and of itself a form of sharing and shared meaning.
And we must start with meaning because if our meanings are incoherent, then we won’t reach truth.
Another key feature of the approach that Bohm proposed is exploring the collective dimension, the social culture dimension of human activity.
It’s long been a maximum in the physics community that quantitatively larger systems are qualitatively different, even when there’s only a single building block.
Anytime humans get together, the problem of communication emerges, which is really just differences in knowledge, beliefs and values and so forth.
This has been a constant factor in human interaction, so constant you think we would have found a more clear way to describe this issue and overcome it.
This is where Bohm’s proposal of dialogue comes in.
While dialogue may be a familiar word, what Bohm was proposing by using that word was something radically new and different.
Bohm’s dialogue is about slowing down thought and perceiving its activity in a group’s setting, which is necessary as thought is a collective activity and in Bohm’s words.
We should keep in mind nonetheless that the dialogue is not only directed to solving the ills of society, although we do have to solve those ills, but that’s only the beginning.
When we have the very high energy of coherence, we might go beyond just being a group that could solve social problems.
Possibly it could make a new change in the individual and a change in the relation to the cosmos.
Such an energy has been called communion. It is kind of participation.
The early Christians at a Greek word, “kino noya”, the root of which means to participate.
The idea of partaking of the whole and taking part of it, not merely the whole group, but the whole.
This is what I mean by dialogue.
I suggest that through dialogue there is the possibility for transformation of the nature of consciousness, both individually and collectively.
And on that note, I’m going to be bringing this episode to its conclusion.
This will be the first of many episodes. Our episodes are not released on a fixed schedule, but we do aim for one a month.
However, we will not always make that.
You can find our podcast on major platforms such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify, under the title “More Important Than Physics”.
There’s also a listing of our podcasts on the website for the David Bohm Society.
Please do visit that website and consider subscribing to our newsletter if you have not already.
We announce new podcast episodes, amongst other things, on our newsletter.
We are a membership-based society. Please consider supporting us by becoming a member.
Click on the link that says “Join” on our website for more information.
We also maintain a listserv for email communication for society members.
Lastly, I want to thank Billy Stiltner for permission to use his very unique music in our podcast.
You can find Billy’s music on Bandcamp by searching for his name.
Thank you for listening.