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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Quantum physicist David Bohm on thought, time and space

David Joseph Bohm (20 December 1917 – 27 October 1992) was an American-born British quantum physicist  who made contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to the Manhatten Project. His theories are profoundly similar to many Zen writers.

Warning, there are a lot of words below. Don't want to read? Then do Zazen! Your choice! 

Thought as a System
Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only man and nature, but among peoples, as well as people, themselves. Bohm: "So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction." He goes on to ask:
What is the source of all this trouble? I'm saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That's part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It's like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it's far over 20%.
In Bohm's view:
...the general tacit assumption in thought is that it's just telling you the way things are and that it's not doing anything - that 'you' are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don't decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us. Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn't know it is doing something and then it struggles against what it is doing. It doesn't want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call "sustained incoherence".
Bohm thus proposes in his book, Thought as a System, a pervasive, systematic nature of thought:
What I mean by "thought" is the whole thing - thought, felt, the body, the whole society sharing thoughts - it's all one process. It is essential for me not to break that up, because it's all one process; somebody else's thoughts becomes my thoughts, and vice versa. Therefore it would be wrong and misleading to break it up into my thoughts, your thoughts, my feelings, these feelings, those feelings... I would say that thought makes what is often called in modern language a system. A system means a set of connected things or parts. But the way people commonly use the word nowadays it means something all of whose parts are mutually interdependent - not only for their mutual action, but for their meaning and for their existence. A corporation is organized as a system - it has this department, that department, that department. They don't have any meaning separately; they only can function together. And also the body is a system. Society is a system in some sense. And so on. Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thoughts, "felts" and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society - as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times. A system is constantly engaged in a process of development, change, evolution and structure changes...although there are certain features of the system which become relatively fixed. We call this the structure.... Thought has been constantly evolving and we can't say when that structure began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before. Now, I say that this system has a fault in it - a "systematic fault". It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say "I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem". But "my" thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I'm trying to look at, or a similar fault. Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates. (P. 18-19)

We always take time for granted. And we take for granted the notion that everything exists in time. We don’t realize that time is an abstraction and a representation, but we believe that time is of the essence - reality - and that everything is existing in time, including thought. 

But what suggests itself is that psychologically - and perhaps eventually for the deepest level physically - we can’t use time as the essence. Rather the moment now is the essence, because all the past and the future that we will ever know are in this moment. The past and the future are now, in so far as it has left any impression, whatever has happened is now. And our expectations are now. Thus we could say that now is the starting point.


David Bohm uses the word truth in the same way that we use the word reality. He uses the phrase what is or that which is as we use the word Dharma.

“I think that the idea that there is an abstract truth - somewhere, somehow, sitting there waiting for us to get hold of it - is the same as the idea of ultimate knowledge. Truth is something more vital. It has to be that sort of movement which doesn’t deceive itself. And then it has to fit, cohere with ‘that which is.’

Truth is a perception, and is simultaneously an action. Truth is not information about what is. But rather truth is a key factor in what is.

The source of truth must be like the source of insight - beyond that which thought can grasp. 

Truth is not just floating out there abstractly, but truth actually is. That is to say, truth is a factor in actuality. Truth meets that which is, it touches that which is. Truth is a part of that which is. Truth is a movement or act within that which is. It actually is.

The perception of truth is an actual act which changes things; its not merely that it is the truth about something which is different.

Truth acts from moment to moment is what I am trying to say. Truth is the action from moment to moment.”...
...from Wikipedia and Eido Michael Luetchford  in


And on the same storyline, here's John Daido Loori's take on truth:

"Get rid of that want. When you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. When you live, just live. When you die, just die. Whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not, whether you cling or not, that’s the way it is.
See this for yourself. When you go against this truth, all the barriers appear, and pain and misfortune are created. It doesn’t have to be this way. When it rains, open an umbrella. If you don’t have an umbrella, you’ll get wet. Perfect and complete, just as it is. Like tossing a ball on swift-flowing water, moment to moment, non-stop flow.
The question is, how do we do it? Zazen. Simple zazen. The first thing you learn in practice. Moment-to-moment zazen. Moment-to-moment letting go and coming back, again and again, to the breath, to the koan, to awareness. Be the great perfect mirror of samadhi. It doesn’t just happen. You need to do it, and you need to do it now, not tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. By its very nature it doesn’t exist. There’s only now.
So please, do it now. Your practice is right now. Your life is right now. If you miss right now, you miss the whole thing. Be free. Realize that you are free. That freedom is inherent in the life of each one of us. Somehow along the way we’ve buried it, we’ve lost it in that maze of stuff that we’ve created for ourselves. Unload the baggage, take off the blinders. Manifest your life in the ten directions. Realize that your life is the ten directions, from the very beginning, lacking nothing."...from Moment to Moment Non-Stop Flow in Zen Mountain Monastery

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1 comment:


    "Mind is not only the result of the interaction of the organism with the environment, from the uterus until death, but also the reflection of the basic organization of the universe: holokinesis, which from the implicit order of the universe becomes explicit as matter, mind and cosmic energies."

    Dr. Rubén Feldman González.
    Starter Holokinetic Psychology.
    Candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 through 2011