“Meaning as being in the implicate order”
A dialogue with David Bohm & Renée Weber
This dialogue can be found in the book “Quantum Implications: Essays in Honour of David Bohm”
Weber : You are more and more interested in meaning, so can we explore what meaning is; not the definitive essence of it, but why are you interested in it?
Bohm : I am interested in meaning because it is the essential feature of consciousness, because meaning is being as far as the mind is concerned.
Weber : Is meaning being?
Bohm : Yes. A change of meaning is a change of being. If we say consciousness is its content, therefore consciousness is meaning. We could widen this to a more general kind of meaning that may be the essence of all matter as meaning.
Weber : We understand the idea of meaning in the human world, but how can it apply to the non-human world?
Bohm : There are several ways of looking at it. Let’s take the notion of a cause. Now we know that Aristotle had four notions of causation; of these, the material and the efficient cause are still recognized by modern science. The other two, the formal and the final cause, are not. But if we could bring in this notion of the formal and the final cause, we might say that the form that a thing has is its cause and also its aim, its goal, its end. The two go together. If we think of the dynamics of the establishment of form, it requires some sort of end in view, so the formal and final cause must go together. This is also the basic essence of Rupert Sheldrake’s idea of the formative cause [ed. in Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation]. The formative cause is basically very similar to meaning. Meaning operates in a human being as a formative cause: it provides an end toward which he is moving; it permeates his attention and gives form to his activities so as to tend to realize that end.
Weber : So we could say, using an Aristotelian example; just as the acorn moves toward oakhood and stops growing when it reaches the oak and then continues to maintain its oakness, in an analogous way when a human purpose is achieved in an action, that action ceases and becomes something else. You are proposing this analogy?
Bohm : Yes, not only to create the thing, but to sustain it. The final cause is not only to become an oak, but to remain an oak, to carry out all the activities that are required to continue to be the oak.
Weber : Is meaning still applicable there?
Bohm : Yes, because meaning is to sustain your existence rather than to change it.
Weber : The problem is this: in giving that explanation, you are already using a teleological framework. Suppose scientists do not accept that and say that the development can be explained in terms of the first two causes only, i.e. the material cause and the efficient cause?
Bohm : Well, that’s a rather limited range, and it wouldn’t serve to explain quantum mechanics, which is fundamental.
Weber : In what way would it fail to explain it?
Bohm : Quantum mechanics has no causal explanation. It is supposed to be one of its virtues that it is entirely random and statistical and therefore there is no explanation. It has no explanation of time, how one moment becomes another. That is, quantum mechanics is a theory of one moment, of one measurement, and there’s a statistical probability of getting a certain result. Then you drop whatever you have done and start out with the next measurement, and apply statistics again. It does not explain how you get from one measurement to the other or in fact why or how any measurement produces the result that it does. It says the formula will give you the probability and that’s all there is to it.
Weber : But then you don’t have efficient causation in quantum mechanics, or even material causation.
Bohm : In a way, that’s what they say. You have no causation except a statistical one or perhaps, in Heisenberg, who has put in the idea of potentiality. But that does not make the causation very clear; it just says in some vague sense that the potential is capable of acting in a certain way and gives the statistics of that action. It doesn’t really discuss cause as such.
Weber : Isn’t that all the more reason for someone not to bring in the formal and final cause? If quantum mechanics says there is no justification for any kind of causation, why bring it in at all?
Bohm : What kind of justification does one want? Simply to say that quantum mechanics has been unable to give a cause of it? I would have an explanation of the electron in the following terms: it is constantly forming and dissolving in a similar way, and what is behind it is this formative cause; that is, a formal and a final cause constantly tending to form.
Weber : How do you visualize that?
Bohm : We might think that the present wave function is the description of a very small part of the formative field of the electron, or the system. This, at any rate, is my suggestion. Quantum mechanics has narrowed down what it can discuss and says: that’s all. Nothing else exists, and that’s all that can possibly be studied. I’m proposing that we study something else; for example, the succession of events. Let us interpret the wave function differently as representing a description of the formative cause, but as having some sort of meaning which would also tie in with things like the non-local correlation. There would be a meaning connected with the whole system as well as with any one part.
Weber : Where would the formative cause and the meaning come from?
Bohm : Where does the wave function come from? It’s just simply proposed by Schrödinger and a few other people and they say if you work with it it will
give you an answer. Nobody explains it. There is always an assumption, in every theory, from which you derive the rest of the theory.
Weber : You’re suggesting that what the formative causation, and the notion of the formal and final causes would add is explanation, meaningfulness, context and philosophical content.
Bohm : And possibly some other content, so you could handle a broader range of questions.
Weber : Can you give an example?
Bohm : Time, for example. Present quantum mechanics cannot handle time. It can only discuss one moment, compute the probability of that moment, then take another moment and compute its probability, and so on.
Weber : All of it discrete, whereas your proposal would provide a binding whole in one large context. To return to the same question, is there meaning in the non-human world, the world of nature, and in the universe as a whole?
Bohm : That’s what I’m proposing; not only that there is a meaning to it, but rather that it is meaning. We began by proposing that human consciousness is its meaning, not to say that it has a meaning, but it is its meaning. According to what it means, that is what it is.
Weber : What it means to whom? To us? Or to some other context?
Bohm : Let’s think about ourselves for a moment. If we say something has a meaning, who is the person to whom these meanings are being attributed?
Weber : To the individual, to the subgroup, to the culture…
Bohm : What is the culture but a whole set of meanings? If you change the meaning, you have changed the culture. If you change the meaning of the life to the individual, he is different.
Weber : People get around this by saying ‘Meanings are subjective, they have a place in the human world, but not in the subatomic world or in the cosmological world.’
Bohm : We have a hidden meaning perhaps and we should explore meaning there too.
Weber : That’s what you are saying. You’re extending meaning to the large, to the small and to the in-between, which is the human scale. You say that
meaning is being. One can see that in the psychological world and in the social world quite clearly, but less so in the physical world.
Bohm : If the electron were determined by a meaning, that would be its being. If there is a formative cause for the electron, the formative cause is what the electron is.
Weber : But one might question the validity of the analogy. The fact that the meaning of the human being is its being you can document, and you’ve done it with many good examples, from psychosomatic medicine, for example. But it is much harder to see in what way the meaning of the electron becomes its being, because the electron doesn’t assign its own meaning the way a human being does.
Bohm : I don’t think the human being assigns his meaning. I think it happens naturally.
Weber : Is its being, you’re claiming.
Bohm : Yes, it is its being. To propose that we assign meaning presupposes another being who decides what the meanings are going to be for him. I don’t think anybody functions that way. That is, he’s got his meanings from the culture, from the society, or else from his perceptions, and so on. He doesn’t choose his meanings; he is his meanings.
Weber : It is clear in the inner domain. What is not clear is, is it analogous? Since we attribute meaning to the world of nature and to the electron, does the electron also attribute it to itself? That would be the analogy carried through.
Bohm : I think the word ‘attribute’ is causing trouble. In a vague sense, of course, sometimes we can consciously attribute meaning. But in general we don’t attribute it; we simply react with meaning, as in the example of someone who perceives a shadow as a threatening figure and whose biochemistry instantly changes.
Weber : So meaning, as you are using it, is not reserved for what is self-reflective and self-conscious in a human sense.
Bohm : For example, if a person is conditioned to look at things in a certain way, he doesn’t deliberately assign meaning; he immediately sees it that way and has no choice about it. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it.
Weber : You are proposing that in the subatomic world, something like that also happens.
Bohm : It’s primarily unconscious in the subatomic world. If we say that 99.99 per cent of our meanings are not conscious, we don’t choose them, they just take place. That’s the analogy. I would say that the degree of consciousness of the atomic world is very low, at least of self-consciousness.
Weber : But it’s not dead or inert. That is what you are saying.
Bohm : It has some degree of consciousness in the sense that it responds in some way, but it has almost no self-consciousness.
Weber : Is it possible to state what the meaning of that kind of being is? You started to say that time has something to do with it, and coherence and development.
Bohm : Yes, the coherence of large systems. The formal and final cause determine fundamentally what a thing is. They determine how it acts, how it grows, how it sustains itself, where it will end, what it will become, and what it gives rise to. Therefore, that is what it is, right?
Weber : And you’re saying that this is really embedded within the subatomic and cosmological world itself?
Bohm : Yes. My proposal is that everything is of that nature. The wave-function resembles information with meaning and is much more than a description of things as hard material objects. Its multi-dimensional character is a sign that it cannot be put into ordinary space but that meanings are specifically multi-dimensional. Therefore in this view space and time themselves would be some kind of meaning. We attribute meaning—our minds attribute meaning—in a certain way, even if not consciously. But that meaning infuses its intention and action towards the world. In so far as there’s a consistency between these two, then that system has some stability.
Weber : So one philosophical import of this view is that nothing in the universe, and that includes the domain of nature, is neutral or value free in the positivistic sense.
Bohm : In so far as meaning is value, yes. There may be all kinds of implicit values, in the way things behave.
Weber : To simply describe them in the positivistic fashion is not to understand them, according to this view.
Bohm : Yes. That would be to see them outwardly.
Weber : And mechanically. In that case, the inner impulse that you are describing, the telos, is then overlooked and not understood.
Bohm : Yes. There is an interesting point—even in mechanics and physics—things can always be looked at in both ways. The laws of Newton, which we look at as mechanical and causal, when put into Lagrangian form, take a teleological form which is equivalent to saying that the particle now moves to minimize a certain function called a Lagrangian which is integrated over time. It has to do with long periods of time as if it had an end in view to keep its Lagrangian as small as possible. The interesting point is that not all of Newton’s laws take that form. It’s possible to get many equations that cannot be put in that form; all the laws having to do with the fundamental particles take that form, which suggests that that form has some importance. It has never been explained why that form should be there. Most physicists always start with the Lagrangian nowadays; ‘we must find a Lagrangian,’ it’s a sort of universal principle. But why there should be a Lagrangian, nobody ever says, or can say.
Weber : What is the significance of this?
Bohm : It would be part of a view that says that the whole principle of movement is that it contains this end in view, so that it would be quite natural to put the laws in that form. There are some laws, when put in that form, that are indistinguishable from laws of a mechanical nature.
Weber : So that the mechanical laws can mask or cover up these teleological ones.
Bohm : They are a special case of the teleological laws. It will not work the other way round.
Weber : But to you, the teleological laws are primary and the mechanical laws may in fact be teleological, the universe’s way of implementing its purpose. Is that the idea?
Bohm : Yes, that is what I am proposing.
Weber : So the cosmology you’re proposing is meaning, inherently.
Bohm : Yes. In that sense, meaning is the essence of reality.
Weber : That’s a marvelous thought. If someone were to try to pin you down and say ‘What is the meaning of it: is it development, is it self-awareness through time and variety,’ what would you answer?
Bohm : We have to discover that. There is no fixed meaning. That is its characteristic, that there is no final meaning. The whole point of meaning is that the content is in a context, which in turn is in a context, and therefore meaning is not final. We are always discovering it, and that discovery of meaning is itself a part of the reality.
Weber : The discovery of meaning, and the creation of meaning. Of course the question is: Do we discover meaning or do we create meaning?
Bohm : We can look at it both ways. We discover meaning in some sense, but whatever we discover we also create some idea as to how we are going to put it—the way it is going to be abstracted from the context.
Weber : In your earlier implicate order philosophy you proposed terms like intelligence, order and compassion when applied to the universe as a whole. Would those be a part of the meaning of the universe as it unfolds itself?
Bohm : Yes, intelligence is part of this process of the perception of meaning. In fact when you say ‘I understand’ you really say T see the whole meaning of this.’
Weber : You say that if meaning changes, being changes. Does this mean that as we understand, as this holomovement understands itself more deeply and more in detail through history, its being becomes clearer or fuller?
Bohm : Yes. A change of order. Any change of understanding is a change of being, at least of the creatures who are doing it and of all that they affect.
Weber : Isn’t this analogous to Hegel?
Bohm : Yes, I think the point Hegel made was that analysis doesn’t necessarily mean breaking things into bits, but rather unfolding the meaning. He made the interesting point that analysis is at the same time synthesis, because when you have unfolded the meaning, the being has changed and something has been added to it. It unfolds a meaning which is another order of being.
Weber : That’s the synthesis.
Bohm : Yes, the analysis is at the same time a synthesis.
Weber : It also unifies things.
Bohm : There is a larger being which includes the analysis and the material analyzed. Instead of saying that the analysis is just about the thing analyzed, the analysis is a change in the thing analyzed.
Weber : So this links change, permanence, development and significance, all in one?
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : You are after all a quantum physicist. Is meaning in some way analogous to energy, or could it be like the charge on matter?
Bohm : No, information is a very condensed form of meaning that has to be unfolded. Information by itself may be irrelevant or just wrong, but information is the form within, virtually. But obviously that form as the meaning is not complete without the whole meaning and all the contexts spreading indefinitely. So the concept of information is very limited without adding and bringing in the meaning.
Weber : Concepts in particle physics, like spin or charm, would be limited and you are saying they are true, but there is more meaning than that. What would be appropriate words besides development or time that one could apply to those?
Bohm : I don’t know. The point is that we think of these meanings as signasomatic, in the sense that the significance affects the soma. The spin, the significance of spin, implies some somatic consequences. The result of observation is to change the meaning and therefore change the being. There is a great analogy between how analysis, which adds further meaning, is a change of being, and the observation adds some meaning and therefore there’s a change of being. It gives a good image of how the observer and the observed are one.
Weber : That’s an example of the claim that the observer and the observed are one?
Bohm : Yes. The point about meaning is that once you bring in the signasomatic side of meaning you can see that meaning is the observer. Thought producing meaning is the observer, but the observer is the observed, because that meaning is inseparable from the somatic and it unfolds immediately into consequences which are observed, hence physical.
Weber : It illustrates in what way the observer is the observed, but it also leaves open what being is because you are saying that being is knowing about being.
Bohm : Being and knowing are inseparable.
Weber : Exactly.
Bohm : Meaning is something like the form which informs the energy, so it will actively direct the energy and shape it.
Weber : This view assigns a highly active role to human beings. Isn’t that the implication of what you are saying?
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : Every time meaning changes for us, we’ve changed what being is for us.
Bohm : Yes, and also what it is in itself; the whole being of whatever being is, has changed. The question is: How important is the change, and we don’t know that. But at first you might say because it is so small it is not a very significant change. But the size of the change is not always significant.
Weber : A so-called small effect can have far-reaching consequences?
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : You used an example yesterday of size as a poor indicator of importance; people said, if we just split one or two atoms, that’s nothing.
Bohm : Yes, they might have said ‘This can have very little effect.’
Weber : And they were wrong!
Bohm : I don’t know if they said it, but if they had said it, that would have been an analogy.
Weber : I was going to ask you at what level of organization meaning comes in, but that’s obviously the wrong question, from what we’ve been saying.
Bohm : Meaning organizes everything.
Weber : If somebody would use meaning as a synonym for cosmic intelligence or cosmic mind or something like that, how would you respond?
Bohm : Mind and matter are inseparable, in the sense that everything is permeated with meaning. The whole idea of the somasignificant or signasomatic is that at no stage are mind and matter ever separated. There are different levels of mind. Even the electron is informed with a certain level of mind.
Weber : It’s a beautiful and poetic metaphor, but specifically in what way can one say that the electron is somehow infused with mind?
Bohm : In so far as any meaning determines what it is, how it acts and so on, it is behaving in a way similar to how a mind acts.
Weber : As a philosopher I can see that this part of your work, your implicate order philosophy, relates to historical philosophy in several ways. I think the developmental side is reminiscent of Hegel, but the new concepts of somasignificance and the signasomatic really evoke Spinoza. Like him, you conceive matter and consciousness as two aspects of one being.
Bohm : Yes. We haven’t penetrated that ultimately—the mystery of it may go further—but as far as I can see consciousness contains a self-awareness. This sort of process without self-awareness—it’s hard to know if you would call it consciousness—but you can call it a kind of mind in the sense that the computer is almost a kind of mind. This would be far more subtle than a computer, but it would still not be self-aware.
Weber : It would be aware, but not aware of being aware.
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : That comes in at higher levels of organization. One can see how this works by applying it to a human organism; there it’s more clear-cut. For every state of mind there’s a state of body and vice versa, like in Spinoza.
Bohm : It’s also very subtle levels of being, within the implicate order, which may not even be located in the body, in the sense that it may be affected, rather as Sheldrake is suggesting, by fields which are not local.
Weber : These fields affect us and we affect them; it’s a mutual interpenetration and exchange.
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : Are you proposing something like a meaning field?
Bohm : Yes, that’s exactly it. You could say (and Sheldrake seems to agree with this) that the morphogenetic field is a field of active meaning—meaning in the signasomatic and somasignificant sense.
Weber : It may sound naive, yet somebody might ask ‘How did it get there?’
Bohm : One theory is that it accumulates gradually. In discussions with Sheldrake, for example, one idea that has come up is that meaning is constantly operative at different levels. It works from the implicate to the explicate, but there is also a projection out of the implicate to the explicate and an introjection back into the implicate order. If we keep on introjecting similar content, it will build up a certain meaning.
Weber : So the meaning field is the consequence both of an inner impulse which somehow it is, and of what it has undergone in history, and in human
Bohm : One can see that in human beings clearly; if nature is similar to us, then it should be happening there too.
Weber : That is one of the beautiful aspects of this world view. It envisions a universal coherence and points to an all-encompassing principle that runs throughout the system; it doesn’t just start at the human or organic level. You are saying that it exists on all levels. Applied to the very large scale, what would a cosmologist say, for example, of the constant making and unmaking of galaxies and stars?
Bohm : We haven’t gone into it sufficiently to see how it would work there. The universe is supposed to have started from this big bang. We might say that that is the formation of a certain meaning and a certain structure of meaning which unfolds. There could be other universes, within this sea of infinite energy. Let’s look at basics—meaning, energy, matter and, ultimately, self-awareness. Meaning infuses and informs energy, giving it shape and form. Now a certain from is matter, which is energy which has stabilized into a regular form, more or less stable, with some independence. But there must be a meaning that is behind it. In terms of quantum mechanics I would say there will have to be some development of the wave function beyond the present theory which is just what that is, i.e. it would be a formative cause, a field of meaning.
Weber : The field of meaning would be displayed, to use your terminology, by the explicate or the material.
Bohm : Yes, that is the display.
Weber : This is the point on which people are going to have to shift in their thinking: it doesn’t only have meaning when it comes out of the enfolded order; meaning runs through the implicate order as well as the explicate order, at all levels.
Bohm : Yes. In fact you could think of the whole series in seeing one level of the implicate as the signasomatic consequence of the next level, which is less subtle, right?
Weber : Yes.
Bohm : There could be many levels, an indefinite set of levels of implication.
Weber : Would the signasomatic principle function all the way through?
Bohm : Yes, because something is somatic relative to something which is more subtle.
Weber : So this would function in the non-human world, the subatomic world, too, and would apply at all the levels of implication, inner and outer.
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : It’s dazzling and one can’t help but draw the conclusion that you are saying: This is a universe that is alive (in its appropriate way) and somehow conscious at all the levels.’
Bohm : Yes, in a way.
Weber : That’s what I take this to mean.
Bohm : We don’t know how far the self-awareness would go, but if you were religious, you would believe it in the sense of God, or as something that would be totally self-aware.
Weber : You mean, as a whole. The question is: Is there a significance to the holomovement as a whole?
Bohm : Yes, that is a question of what proposal we want to explore. People have, in effect, been exploring notions of that kind in religions. One view is to say that the significance is similar to that of ourselves in a sense that Christians would say that God is a person.
Weber : Or, anyhow, a being.
Bohm : Well, they say three persons, the Trinity, which are one. Anyway, it’s something like a human being, or rather the other way around; that man is the image of God. That implies that there is a total significance. If you say Atman, in Hinduism, something similar is implied.
Weber : Atman and Brahman, seen as identical; the micro- and the macrocosm.
Bohm : Yes, and Atman is from the side of meaning. You would say Atman is more like the meaning. But then what is meant would be Brahman, I suppose; the identity of consciousness and cosmos.
Weber : Looked at from the so-called subjective side it would be Atman; that would be the meaning. And what is meant is the objective.
Bohm : Meaning in this sense that the somasignificant and signasomatic unite the two sides. This claims that the meaning and what is meant are ultimately one, which is the phrase ‘Atman equals Brahman’ of classical Hindu philosophy.
Weber : It’s an identity-thesis claim. To relate this again to what some of the great philosophers of the past have said: somasignificant and signasomatic—aren’t they your way of working out your own creative concepts for what Spinoza meant by mind and body, and what Hegel meant by subject and substance?
Bohm : Yes, this is a way of understanding how these are related, extending the understanding, or extending the meaning.
Weber : It has plagued philosophers through the ages that there are these two ways of apprehending reality. You are proposing that signa and somatic are somehow the very fabric of everything in the universe and that this gets expressed in appropriate ways at different levels of organization.
Bohm : Yes, and that the bridge is the energy which creates the soma and regulates it and so on.
Weber : Let’s pursue this idea of a bridge of energy.
Bohm : The energy which is informed with meaning.
Weber : Would it be right to call that the efficient cause?
Bohm : Yes, I think that is the nearest to Aristotle’s efficient cause. The soma is the material cause.
Weber : And the signa is the formal-final cause?
Bohm : Yes. The somasignificance would be the formal-final cause. The significance is both the form and the end.
Weber : So psychosomatic implications, of which you gave examples earlier, hold true even on the cosmological scale?
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : Could one put into words the idea of a meaning or a purpose for all this? You once suggested greater clarity of the universe about itself.
Bohm : That could be part of its end. Maybe an end of greater order, greater clarity, an end to create something.
Weber : So that meaning and being become transparently clear to the organism at all the levels of itself?
Bohm : That would be part of the end. I don’t know how to put the end yet. The end could be said to be love, it could be said to be order, harmony, but the end could also be said to be the process itself.
Weber : Spinoza would have liked that. He said that the universe doesn’t have to have a reason, it is, and that’s enough. Although you start out from physics, your view seems to be similar to that.
Bohm : Yes, because it’s not to say that it has a meaning, but it is its meaning. We are trying to be more clear as to what this meaning is, because then it will have changed our being.
Weber : You are a physicist, yet so much of this sounds like what a mystic would say: that in the mystical experience there simply is profound and selfevident meaning, without utilitarian overtones. Isn’t that what you are saying?
Bohm : Yes, utility is only a small part of meaning. Utility is a meaning, but it’s a rather restricted meaning. The question is: Useful for what? It always occurs in some context—without the context we cannot discuss utility.
Weber : Archibald MacLeish defines poetry in that way. He says: ‘A poem should not mean but be.’ So the meaning is its being. To shift to another question: are time, history and development necessary for the evolution of form and consciousness?
Bohm : That needs exploration. Somebody like Krishnamurti and some other people like the mystics would say that it has nothing to do with it. That is one approach. On the other hand, we have to understand the meaning of time more deeply. We have hardly touched it so far.
Weber : As a human species, you mean?
Bohm : Yes. We have to see more deeply the meaning of time—the relation between time and the timeless. What is called eternity does not mean all time, but what is beyond time. Is there meaning beyond time? That is one of the questions. Perhaps the mystic would say that there is.
Weber : In fact, the mystic would say that the profoundest sense of meaning arises beyond time.
Bohm : And that meaning is being beyond time.
Weber : That is the classical mystical position.
Bohm : But time is also meaning and the question is ‘How are the two related?’ I think that we have hardly begun to touch that.
Weber : Would you care to make some tentative statement about how time is related to meaning and being?
Bohm : In so far as meaning is telos, which we will now put in terms of time, it may be something deeper than that, beyond time.
Weber : Of which this is just the outcome.
Bohm : Yes. We haven’t fully understood what time is—to see how it emerges from what is beyond time—that is one of the questions that needs exploration.
Weber : How would one even begin such an exploration?
Bohm : For example, we could consider orders that are beyond time, from which the time order might emerge; an implicate order that is beyond time that would be possible to have a sub-order of time emerging from it.
Weber : It would be beyond time, yet be the source of it in some way?
Bohm : Yes.
Weber : Would this be the super-implicate order or beyond that?
Bohm : It might be beyond that. There would have to be an implicate order from which time itself emerges. The distinction between the significance and its somatic consequences is one which we make in thought only. They merge and flow into each other. But time itself arises out of that sort of distinction because we say there’s meaning and the end—in so far as the end is not yet realized—is time. If the end were immediately realized, we would not have time.
Weber : Time is like the expression of the gap between this being and its becoming, that being.
Bohm : Yes. If we say that there are enfolded in being potential ends which are not yet realized, that begins to provide the ground for time.
Weber : If we look at it cosmologically and philosophically, it brings up the question, ‘Is there something incomplete or unrealized in this whole cosmos that would bring about this gap between what being is and what its becoming will be—a necessary enfoldment of it?’
Bohm : In so far as meaning is incomplete it inevitably implies time. The mystic might say that perhaps the total is complete and does not involve time, but that there is another set of meanings which is not complete which does involve time. Here it becomes a question of value. The mystic might place the highest and supreme value on the one that does not involve time and may tend to give much smaller value to the one that does. On the other hand, we must explore that to see if the mystic is always right.
Weber : All the more so because your whole philosophy seems to grant genuine status to the world of history and changing development as part of the meaning of the whole thing.
Bohm : Yes. See, there is a kind of meaning that is incomplete, and the question is what is its value? That’s our first question. The mystic may be undervaluing that.
Weber : Filtering it out as if it were an accident of the universe.
Bohm : At least, a great many mystics may do that. On the other hand, in the Christian tradition, and the Jewish one probably, time and history have a very great significance.
Weber : Your implicate order philosophy says that genuine understanding of the holomovement requires one to look at both the temporal and what is beyond time, together. You are suggesting a synthesis, a holist approach to this question.
Bohm : Yes. If we were to take this view of Hegel’s about analysis, that analysis is the enfoldment of what is to be analyzed, and that at the same time is a synthesis. It enriches the thing, it adds to the thing that is being analyzed. It adds meaning and therefore adds being.
Weber : So concerning the question raised earlier, ‘Do we discover or do we create meaning?’ it is as if in discovering it we create it or create it in us.
Bohm : Not only that, but we enrich it; we create something which has not been there.
Weber : We add to it.
Bohm : Yes. We are a part of it and it is part of us.
Weber : Since any meaning that we grasp in it changes its being, this makes us partners in the evolution of the universe?
Bohm : Yes, that’s the proposal. Therefore if we take that complete universe of the mystics and let it unfold in time, then that unfoldment is similar to analysis. It unfolds what is implicit. As Nicholas of Cusa said, eternity both enfolds and unfolds time. We may add that unfoldment enriches what was enfolded. It adds meaning to it and therefore being.
Weber : Since the point of departure of your whole philosophy is not crude materialism to begin with, being transcends the visible, the tactile and all that.
Bohm : Yes, and space and time. In fact the visible and the tactile are the outcome of meaning, in this generalized sense.
Weber : They are derivative, and the generative orders are these invisible realities.
Bohm : Yes, at least in some sense; if we see the meaning of something, that thing has in some way been changed. But the question is: How significant is the change? That is something that needs to be explored. You say that is a small change, probably, but it may not be so small in its full implications.
Weber : You are proposing that its magnitude is overlooked.
Bohm : Magnitude may not be the significance.
Weber : I don’t mean quantity-wise, but its significance.
Bohm : Its significance is overlooked. Teilhard de Chardin has proposed something like this; when you study science it gives an account and explains everything except the human being in his essence. One view of it is to say that’s not a very important oversight. Or else one may say, gradually we’ll take care of it. But the other view is to say that though it looks small, it may be that it reveals what is much more significant.
Weber : Is there an analogy in the world of physics?
Bohm : Just what I said earlier, i.e. those small atoms disintegrating, revealing something much more significant.
Weber : What does all this imply for the human world? Looking at the universe in this way changes our lives in what way?
Bohm : It’s hard to say at first, but it will clearly imply something very different, a different attitude in the sense that we won’t give that much primary weight to the external and the mechanistic side—the side of fragmentation and partiality. Also, it encourages us much more toward a creative attitude, and fundamentally it opens the way to the transformation of the human being because a change of meaning is a change of being. At present we say because of the confused fragmentary meanings we have a confused fragmentary being, both individually and socially. Therefore this opens the way to a whole being, in society and in the individual.
Weber : It also seems to bring in ethical responsibility, because if we are, or can be partners in, helping to transform being through our meanings, wouldn’t that imply that what we think and feel counts?
Bohm : It counts. When you say responsibility, the key word is response. Nobody can be responsible who is unable to respond. If you ask somebody who is unable to respond to be responsible, you have not responsibility, but probably guilt. As long as the meaning is confused, nobody can respond to all this. His response is going to be very limited and therefore that responsibility is very limited.
Weber : To relate it to human psychology and transformation, the key seems to be the Socratic maxim ‘Know yourself,’ go inward, and also ‘Observe.’
Bohm : And also outward. The outward and the inward are one part of one total meaning.
Weber : You are really saying our being is meaning. The whole world is meaning.
Bohm : Yes. The being of matter is its meaning; the being of ourselves is meaning; the being of society is its meaning. The mechanistic view has created a rather crude and gross meaning which has created a crude and gross and confused society.
Weber : This view, your view, would make human beings feel rooted and have their dynamic place in the whole scheme of things.
Bohm : At least they would have a chance to find it there. It’s a view within which it makes sense to observe to find out where your place is.
Weber : Beautiful!