While the lives of every scientist featured in this issue were touched in some way by the great spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti, no scientist enjoyed a more intimate and enduring association with him than the late David Bohm.
Bohm and Krishnamurti first met in 1961 and their friendship, although it suffered a major crisis in 1984, ultimately lasted until Krishnamurti's death two years later.
Bohm began his scientific career as a protégé of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the coordinated scientific effort known as the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons during World War II. By the time of his first encounter with Krishnamurti, Bohm had already gained an illustrious if somewhat controversial reputation as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of our era. He had developed the theory of the plasma—the fourth known state of matter, after the solid, liquid and gaseous states—and his analysis of the plasmatic behavior of electrons in metals had laid the foundation for much of solid-state physics. Bohm was also a central and outspoken participant in the ongoing debate which to this day surrounds quantum theory, and the creator of several provocative quantum "interpretations." While teaching at Princeton he had befriended Albert Einstein, who having spent years searching unsuccessfully for his own alternative to the generally accepted version of quantum mechanics, reportedly referred to Bohm as his "intellectual successor" and proclaimed, "If anyone can do it, then it will be Bohm."
But David Bohm is perhaps best known, especially among nonscientists, for a theory which was as much the expression of a lifelong spiritual quest as it was the fruit of profound scientific insight. This was his theory of the implicate order,
founded on a vision of wholeness, or totality, in which matter and consciousness are united. Bohm appears to have been obsessed, even as a child, with the notion that we live in a universe in which matter and meaning are inseparable, and his use of the word "totality" to describe aspects of his scientific work during his first private meeting with Krishnamurti reportedly inspired Krishnamurti to jump out of his chair and embrace him.
When I read Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order
I often had similar feelings. The breadth and integrity of his vision is powerfully reflected in his reasoning, which is at once lucid, spacious, precise and deeply, mysteriously moving. Reading Bohm, one is stunned time and again by his ability to connect orders of phenomena which are staggeringly diverse, and by his passion for revealing the interrelatedness and dynamic cohesion of a world customarily viewed as a form of mechanized chaos in which humans are destined to play little part. Wrenched away from a vantage point of isolation and separateness, one discovers oneself to be deeply implicated in an indivisible universe which is at once palpably real and eternally mysterious, a single multidimensional event without beginning or end.
To many of Bohm's colleagues, however, his insistence that the universe is both
inherently orderly and impossible to fully understand was irritating rather than inspiring. Recalling a personally frustrating interview with Bohm in his recent book The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age,
science writer John Horgan remarks that "Bohm was desperate to know, to discover the secret of everything, whether through physics or . . . through mystical knowledge. And yet he insisted that reality was unknowable—because, I believe he was repelled by the thought of finality." Horgan's premise, not uncommon these days, is that within twenty years science will have answered every important question known to man. But what Bohm manages to communicate quite clearly in their interaction is his view that final answers are not as important as an approach to understanding the world we live in which is not dependent on fixed ideas or conclusions. It was characteristic of Bohm to insist that the fixed ideas which underlie scientific hypotheses are not aids but obstructions to clarity, and that a methodology which combines discipline with openness would be better equipped to keep pace with the truth that is revealed as scientific investigation progresses and deepens.
But flexibility without rigor, so common in spiritual life, Bohm found equally inadequate. In an interview in the journal ReVision
in 1981, he said: "Insofar as the mystic chooses to talk about his experience . . . he has to follow the rules governing the domain of the ordinary, that is, he has to be reasonable, logical and clear." And in this respect Bohm demanded no more of mystics than he did of contemporary quantum physicists, many of whom, in light of the paradoxical findings about the subatomic domain, have either dispensed with the need for concrete explanations or developed theories and even cosmologies more mystifying than the most esoteric visions of religious or spiritual figures. Ironically, it was Bohm's demand for purely physical explanations of quantum phenomena which in this case caused many of his colleagues to shun him.
Yet among those scientists who did appreciate his call, Bohm generally inspired great loyalty. One such scientist is the author and physicist F. David Peat, who as a young man listened with rapt attention to Bohm's explanations of quantum mechanics on BBC radio little knowing that several years later he would meet his hero seemingly by chance, that they would then become close friends and colleagues, that they would write a book together (Science, Order and Creativity),
and that he himself would ultimately write Bohm's biography, Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm,
which was published this past November.
The author of several books, Peat is a man of wide-ranging interests whose explorations of modern physics, visual art, Jungian psychology and Native American spirituality have taken him all over the world. Our interview was conducted by telephone from Pari, the Italian village near Siena where he currently lives. It was a pleasure to be able to speak about David Bohm with someone who knew him so intimately and whose recollections of him were so fresh in his mind. As our conversation makes clear, Peat's outlook on life reflects Bohm's influence in many important respects.
is a full and candid portrait. While much of Bohm's work is breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring, and clearly the product of unstinting integrity, Peat is also clear-eyed and honest about his friend's shortcomings. "Bohm lived for the transcendental," he writes, "his dreams were of the light that penetrates. . . . Yet his life was accompanied by great personal pain and periods of crippling depression. He never achieved wholeness in his own personal life and the fruits of that life, which are still with us, were gained only at great sacrifice."