Sunday, March 27, 2011

David Bohm and the "Implicate Order" Behind What We See

In re-introducing his theory of the "Implicate Order" in his later work, "Unfolding Meaning," theoretical physicist and spiritual iconoclast, David Bohm highlighed the differences between the two leading strains of what may be called the 'New Physics' - relativity theory and quantum mechanics - two physical theories that still challenge scientists to synthesize their findings in a true "theory of everything."
"Relativity requires strict continuity, strict determinism and strict locality. In quantum mechanics you have to say the opposite - discontinuity, non-determinism and non-locality. The physical concepts of these two theories have not been brought together, although people are working out equations and methods of doing it mathematically. But the physical meaning has never been made clear."
[David Bohm, "Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue," p. 8.]
Of course, written in 1985, this description of the state of theoretical physics continues to hold true today. Although there have been a host of contender theories, like 'string theory' and the 'multiverse theory,' none has been accepted as closing the theoretical gap between relativity and quantum theory.

There has not yet emerged a consolidated, unified theory that accounts for both the macrocosmic effects of relativity theory and the microcosmic effects of quantum mechanics. Moreover, and one cannot but speculate that this is a result of not being able to reconcile relativity and quantum theory, science has not yet been able to formulate a unified theory that explains how the force of gravity is related to the electro-magnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear forces in a true "Unifiied Theory, or 'theory of everything."

David Bohm (right) in dialogue with spiritual teacher, Jiddu
Krishnamurti, with whom Bohm collaborated for many years.

Bohm suggests the problem is that we are looking at the phenomena of an "explicate order" only, and that beneath this explicate order" there exists an "Implicate Order" that truly forms the fabric of our 'reality.' "If you want to look at relativity and quantum theory as being together coherently," he observes, "we may ask a new kind of question. Instead of asking how the theories differ, let's ask what they have in common."

"What is common to both is [the] unbroken wholeness of the universe. Each has this wholeness in a different way," Bohm notes, "yet if wholeness is their common factor, that's perhaps the best place to start."

And, indeed it is from this "unbroken wholeness" of the universe, that many subsequent researchers and theoriststs have started. But with the continuing failure of such de riguere and exotic attempts as "string theory" and "multiverse theories" to reconcile these two great branches of modern physics - and, even more so, to give us a plausible "picture" of what the substratum of our glimpsed "reality" is - Bohm's notion of an as-yet unobservable "Implicate Order" remains convincing.

Indeed, it is echoed in the words of Bernard d'Espagnat, the French physicist and winner of the prestigious 2009 Templeton Prize (for research at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion), who "developed the idea that the reality revealed by science offers only a 'veiled' view of an underlying reality that science cannot access, and that the scientific view must take its place alongside the reality revealed by art, spirituality, and other forms of human inquiry."

"Quantum mechanics allows what d'Espagnat calls 'weak objectivity,'" writes David Lindley in ScienceNow, "in that it predicts probabilities of observable phenomena in an indisputable way. But the inherent uncertainty of quantum measurements means that it is impossible to infer an unambiguous description of 'reality as it really is.'" D'Espagnat "has proposed that behind measured phenomena exists what he calls a 'veiled reality, that genuinely exists, independently of us, even though we lack the ability to fully describe it."

"D'Espagnat's writings on quantum mechanics lay out with great clarity the genuine puzzles that quantum mechanics presents," says Jeffrey Bub, of the University of Maryland. "But," Lindley notes, there is a certain skepticism "about finding common ground among notions of reality from art, science, and spirituality." As Bub remarked to Lindley, just because there's something strange about the physical world that quantum mechanics isn't telling you, "it doesn't follow that those gaps can be filled with poetry."

And yet, in close resemblance to Occam's famous 'razor,' a certain "elegance" of theory is one factor that science seems to favour in selecting one scientific paradigm for another. And in that "elegance" there appears what may almost be thought of as "the art of science." In suggesting his notion of what  constitutes an "Implicate Order" out of which our 'reality' is unfolded (or what d'Espagnat would qualify as falling behind the "veil") Bohm's technical language and vision have an artistic feeling and dynamism of their own:
" . . . (T)he movement of enfolding and unfolding is ultimately the primary reality, and . . . the objects, entities, forms, and so on, which appear in this movement are secondary.

. . . (Q)unatum theory shows that the so-called particles constituting matter are also waves similar to those of light. One can, in principle, make holographs using beams of electrons, protons, and so on, as well as sound waves -which has been done. The point is that all mathematical laws of the quantum theory that apply to these waves, and therfore all matter, can be seen to describe just such a movement in which there is a continual enfoldment of the whole into each region, along with the unfoldment of each region into the whole again. Although this may take many particular forms - some known and others not yet known - this movement is universal as far as we know. I'll call this univeral movement of enfoldment and unfoldment 'the holomovement.'"

"The proposal is that the holomovement is the basic reality, at least as far as we are able to go, and that all entities, objects[and] forms, as ordinarily seem, are relatively stable, independent and autonomous features of the holomovement, much as the vortex is such a feature of the flowing movement of a fluid. The basic order of this movement is therefore enfoldment and unfoldment. So we're looking at the universe in terms of a new order, which I'll call the enfolded order, or the implicate order."

"The word 'implicate' means to enfold - in Latin, to fold inward. In the implicate order, everything is folded into everything."
To Bohm, it is in this intricate and artistic dance of the enfolding and unfolding that our 'reality' takes form, seemingly separate yet entangled with, and an integral part of, the unseen and underlying "implicate order." It is in this dance, perhaps, that one finds expression of the largely unnoticed artistic side of physical reality. And it is  the "unknown" or perhaps the "unknowability" of our most basic realities that draws us to try and interpret this dance for ourselves.

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Basil Hiley, Emeritus Professor of Physics in Birbeck College, Univerity of London;
a colleague of David Bohm, on Bohm's Implicate Order and Quantum Physics.

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