Rolf Von Eckartsberg

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David Bohm's Suggestive Metaphors and Constructs

A Psychological Reading.


Dr. Rolf Von Eckartsberg

Summer 1983 APA Convention, Anaheim, CA

We live in a syncretic and integrative age. It is an era of the crossfertilization of metaphors from discipline to displine. Metaphors, as figures of speech, serve to enlarge our horizons by relating the unknown to the known by the magic verbal formula: "It is like . . . " Metaphors facilitate the expression of essential likeness or similarity of meaning between two domains. Language grows and expands meaning by means of metaphors. My approach in this paper is to present some fertile concepts from the "New Physics" as mediated by David Bohm and to interpret them in their metaphoric relevance and challenge to psychology leading to a fruitful dialogue across disciplinary boundaries aiming at mutual enrichment. It seems to me that nuclear Physics phenomena leud themselves especially well as metaphors for the human psyche of our age.

In David Bohm we meet a theoretical physicist who also uses psychological language and constructs because he believes and argues convincinqly that there is a common ground out of which both matter and consciousness emerge as two aspects of one and the same underlying undivided total movement which Bohm names: the holomovement, undivided wholeness in flowing movement.

The foundation and fundamental feature of Bohm's cosmology is the claim that reality is one, an unbroken, undivided wholeness which is the background for everything in the universe, underlying both matter and consciousness, providing the raw material for all manifest entities and events, begetting, sustaining, and governing everything by its enduring connection with it in the deep-structure of the whole. This nonmanifest matrix Bohm terms the enfolded or implicate order. It manifests itself in various states of matter-energy, from the very gross, dense, and stable matter perceived by our senses in the space-time domain - the explicate order - to the more subtle sensibly inaccessible matter as we move inward to the implicate order, and finally to a highly conscious, ordered, spiritual dimension deep within the holomovement. This latter lies beyond language, and we can at best refer to it in metaphors. Among these is the idea of order, which, by definition prevails in the spiritual energy active in the depths of the holomovement. (Weber, 1981, p. 124).

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Bohm's distinction between explicit and implicit order parallels our psychological distinction between conscious and unconcious processes and it may be hel Dfil to use this way of speaking about our psychological life because we may thus be able to give up some frozen meanings and find common ground, for instance, between the various species of depth psychology, phenomenology, and transpersonal psychology. As David Bohm describes the intention of his last book: Wholeness and the Implicate Order, 1980, he is primarily concerned with the basic question of:

"How are we to think coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it?" p X,

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The pursuit o this question leads Bohm to his fascinating insights into the implications or relativity and quantum theory if one thinks their findings through, rigorously, namely the existence of a frequency domain in the region beyond 10-17 cm which is our current experimenta limit in high energy particle physics, the limit of available high energies to break the adhesive forces. The holomovement is the dynamic realm in which and through which everything manifests. Its potential for manifestion in the tangibleexplicit order - the domain of perceptual consciousness - is based upon its implied and enfolded order, in which everything is connected and a-cus interrelated. All matter is thus a dynamic unfolding organic whole; all consciousness, of all individuals, the collective consciousness of mankind, is thus in total interconnection, producing energy-like fields like the "sorrow of mankind," and, one would presume, although Bohm does not discuss this, the collected "love and hate of mankind." These realities are all manifestations and reverberations that enter the matrix-flow of the holomovement, which Bohm also metaphorizes as "the cosmic sea of energy" or "the plenum," radiant energy. This energy also manifests in the world as compassion, in terms of human consciousness i.e. in the ethical domain. The question of morality and ethics is always considered by Bohm, because he ultimately thinks in terms of an ethical ideal and principle, the Holomovement, which is the highest possible harmonious dynamism conceivable and experientiable. We could say that for David Bohm, holomovement is the God-power and the godexperience, pure encounter with the sacred awesome presence of radiant energy, beyond any division and beyond any verbal categorization. The holomovement manifests in mystical or artistic experience.

As an original voice and in concert with others who are also building the dynamic conceptualization of the "New Age" or "New Physics" paradigm, we find David Bohm in as yet uncharted regions at the interface of physics, psychology, and religion, in theo-dimensional reality (von Eckartsberg 1981a.) which he tries to articulate in an original saying and language without the explicit help of denominational-religious language. What is particularly challenging in Bohm is his vision of an imminent unified field theory of realit in the equations of which human consciousness -and pres r also human moral action-must have a prominent role, something like a unified field theory of consciousness. The physicist Bohm challenges us as psychologists to contribute.

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From the uncertainty principle we know that the observer is implicated in the observation procedures of natural reality, committed to a perspective, point of view, or measurement focus. The observer is aqent in the construction of his or her reality. This holds true even more for the realm of social reality which is always addressing pre-interpreted realities - the intentions that guide the action-which are organized in a political manner and differentiated in terms of interest groups.

Becoming conscious involves the construction of the mening of the situation which then provides the ground upon which action is conceived and initiated. We perceive through the "psychic grids" (Bruteau, l979) of our theorles, ideologies, belief systems and emotionally invested value commitments. Such operative presuppositions, such implicit and pre- or unconscious paradigm-commitments and life-style investments cannot be completely bracketed and put out of play, although we can discipline ourselves somewhat to bracked them, for instance, in the phenomenological manner. They have to be mapped or indexed such that they can be recognized and entered into our formulations of a unified theory of reality. We talk of the relevance of consciousness in terms of paradigms (Kuhns, 1962) which rule our thinking, our reality-exploration, and our world-shaping activities. Our difficulty is the inherent poly-paradigmatic nature of our knowing. There are always many ways of looking at something and of basing one's action on one's interpretation and perception.

We have to acknowledge the coexistence of paradigms as a multi-dimensional conver sational or hermeneutical field, parts of which are in competition flicting dialogue with each other. This amounts to a politics of hermeneutics which is waged by the various paradigm- and "conviction-communities" (Bruteau, 1979). "The truth" as objectivity as fixed, does not exist. Truth is a ruling ideal which motivate our participation in serious and challenging dialogue with one another hoping to achiev agreement and censensus or mutual recognition of differences. To include a self-reflective dimension, to include the thinker, (i.e. consciousness) and conviction communities (i.e. language communities and networks) in a unified field theory of reality constitutes a radical challenge to our prevailing notions of objectivity. Between subjectivity and objectivity lies the middle ground of political and economic speaking, the realm of vested interests and group-alignments, of "some" (Ogilvy, 1377) based on hermeneutical pluralism and rhetorical power which then have consciousness- and action- consequences which cannot be ignored or avoided. Exclusive emphasis on either consciousness -idealism- or matter -realism or materialism- is no longer adequate. We know that "reality" is mediated by consciousness and language, that both matter and consciousness mutually imply one another and affect one another. There must be an intimate kinship, a common principle between them. They must both be differential manifestions of something which constitutes both. Bohm articulates this as the implicate order or holomovement, a super-aynamic conceptualization of reverberatory fields. Bohm writes:

"Relativity and quantum theory agree, in that they both imply the need to look on the world as an undivided whole in which all parts of the universe, including the observer and his instruments, merge and unite in one totality. In this totality, the atomistic form of insight is a simplification and an abstraction, valid only in some limited context.

The new form of insight can perhaps best be called Undivided Wholeness in Flowinq Movement. This view implies that flow is, in some sense, prior to that of the "things" that can be seen to form and dissolve in this flow. One can perhaps illustrate what is meant here by considering the "stream of consciousness." This flux of awareness is not precisely definable, and yet it is evidently prior to the definable forms of thoughts and ideas which can be seen to form and dissolve in the flux, like ripples, waves and uortices in a flowing stream. As happens with such patterns of movement in a stream some thoughts recur and persist in a more or less stable way, while others are evanescent.

The proposal for a new general form of insight is that all matter is of this nature. That is, there is a universalflux that cannot be defined explicity but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux, In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather, they are different aspects of one whole and unbrokel movement." (1980, Page 11.)

This conception regarding the existence and power of a superordinate but implicit reality that affects us is similar to the view proposed by "Transperson Psychologist" who express their vision of an emergent new paradigm in the folowing statement:

"Many definitions of transpersonal psychology exist. Their common features include the following ideas: That a transcendent reality underlies and binds together all phenomena, Ihat inuiviuudls Call experience directly this reality which is related to the spiritual dimension of human life: that doing so involves expansion of consciousness beyond ordinary conceptual thinking and egoawareness, that such experiences are usually defined in biased language, and that one major task of transpersonal psychology is to bring these ideas into psychological language and a scientific framework." (Statement of Transpersonal Psychology Intersect Group 1982.)
David Bohm can help us psychologists with felicitous conceptualizations and suggestive metaphors, allnough he warns us that any formulation is bound to be provisional and must be supercded as our reality-comprehension expands. He presents the more open-ended creative relativistic epistemology which would allow us to transcend all frozen ideologies by saying that:

"New state of affairs may emerge in which both the world as we know it and our ideas about it undergo an unending process of Yet further change. (Bohm, 1980 p. 213.)
In his book Bohm presents the evidence for his cosmological sketch of the holonomic universe from two sources: Physics and consciousness.

  1. The "new physics" is expressed by relativity and quantum-theory which he wants to bring into an integrative relationship by postulating the holocosmic domain. Although the holomovement is itself n-dimensional and thus cannot be grasped by three-dimensional Cartesian thinkinq, we can nevertheless surmise that the holocosmic domain lies in the regions beyond 10-17cm scale, our current physical experimental limits set by the scope and energy output of our accelerators. Bohm argues that there must be smaller magnitudes, certainly down to the level of 1O-27, a bench-mark limit of shortest wavelength having to do with the "zero-point energy of space," a limit at which all traditional notions and measurement of space and time become undefinable and a completely different order of reality prevails. Extending the holographic model of the brain-consciousness relationship formulated by Pribram, Bohm claims that in the holocosmic niverse everything is a-causally connected and that each part contalns the whole in a implicate fashion, creating the attributes, we might add, that are tradiionally associated with our Western God, omniscience, omnipresence, and eternity.
  2. The other source of evidence is from the spiritual traditions, from contemplative, meditatie and intuitive knowledge and insiht that there i a divine cosmic energy to be contacted in the depth with oneself which is of a divine universal nature, radiant energy, also referred to experientially as love and compassion.

Part II

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