SUMMARY OF CHAPTER SEVEN OF BOHM'S
WHOLENESS AND THE IMPLICATE ORDER
Friday, December 12, 1999
This concluding chapter offers "a non-technical presentation of the main features of the
implicate order, first as it arises in physics, and then as it may be extended to the
field of consciousness, to indicate certain general lines along which it is possible to
comprehend both cosmos and consciousness as a single unbroken totality of movement."
Bohm begins the chapter by contrasting, in a general way, the mechanistic order in physics
with the implicate order. The principal feature of the former order he identifies as "that
the world is regarded as constituted of entities which are outside of each other, in the
sense that they exist independently in different regions of space (and time) and interact
through forces that do not bring about any changes in their essential natures."
Relativity theory first disclosed the inadequacy of this view, pointing to phenomena that
could be explained only if reality were regarded as constituted of "fields, obeying laws
that are consistent with the requirements of the theory . . . ."
Quantum theory goes even further. It proposes that (1) movement is in general
discontinuous, (2) entities such as electrons can show different properties (wave-like,
particle-like), and (3) entities are capable of non-local relationship, "a non-causal
connection of elements that are far apart." Attempts to reconcile relativity theory and
quantum theory have not succeeded.
Bohm argues that what is needed is not an attempt to translate one theory into the terms
of the other, so to speak, but a motion to a new level of theorizing. "The best place to
begin is with what they have basically in common. This is undivided wholeness." He goes on
to compare the ordinary photograph, whose integrity depends on every feature represented
having its own unique place, to the hologram, in which the whole image is implicit in
every unique place. Different views, such as the mechanistic or the relativistic or the
quantum, are different ways of reading information out of an intrinsically undivided
whole. This does not mean that any of these ways is invalid, but rather that "we have
always to be ready to discover the limits of independence of any relatively autonomous
structure of law, and from this to go on to look for new laws that may refer to yet larger
relatively autonomous domains of this kind." Essentially, the scientist now "begins with
the undivided wholeness of the universe, and the task of science is to derive the parts
through abstraction from the whole, explaining them as approximately separable, stable and
recurrent, but externally related elements making up relatively autonomous sub-totalities,
which are to be described in terms of an explicate order."
In a subsequent section, Bohm introduces the notion of "a higher-dimensional reality." By
this, he means a reality that has more than three (or Einstein's four) dimensions. He uses
the illustration of the different cameras focused on a fish tank; my own favorite is the
Latin verb. As I mentioned recently, a Latin verb form has at least six "dimensions":
conjugation, person, number, tense, voice, and mood. Representing one "entire verb," that
is, all the forms of a given verb, requires at least twenty-two distinct two-dimensional
arrangements. If one could make a six-dimensional diagram, it would take only one. What
would be simultaneously present in six dimensions can be presented only sequentially in
As to the nature of the "undivided wholeness," Bohm offers a striking thought. He
describes the gravitational field as constituted of "wave-particle" modes, each having a
minimum "zero-point" energy, and states that it is possible to estimate a smallest
wavelength, below which space-time as we know it would "fade out." He continues,
When this length is estimated it turns out to be about 10-33 cm. . . . If one computes the
amount of energy that would be in one cubic centimetre of space, with this shortest
possible wavelength, it turns out to be very far beyond the total energy of all the matter
in the known universe.
What is implied by this proposal is that what we call empty space contains an immense
background of energy, and that matter as we know it is a small, `quantized' wavelike
excitation on top of this background, rather like a tiny ripple on a vast sea. . . . This
excitation pattern is relatively autonomous and gives rise to approximately recurrent,
stable and separable projections into a three-dimensional explicate order of
manifestation, which is more or less equivalent to that of space as we commonly experience
He than adds that a next stage of thought might move beyond the limit of 10-33 cm., "or .
. . lead to some basically new notions which could not be comprehended even within the
possible further developments of the implicate order.
One further development would be to "enrich this notion [of the immense sea of energy]
further by saying that in its totality the holomovement includes the principle of life as
well. Inanimate matter is then to be regarded as a relatively autonomous sub-totality in
which, at least as far as we now know, life does not significantly manifest. That is to
say, inanimate matter is a secondary, derivative, and particular abstraction from the
holomovement . . . . Indeed, the holomovement which is `life implicit' is the ground both
of `life explicit' and of `inanimate matter', and this ground is what is primary,
self-existent, and universal."
Bohm then proceeds to the more elusive subject of the nature of consciousness and its
relationship to both the implicate order and matter. Paying particular attention to what
happens when we listen to music, he observes that consciousness to some extent experiences
as simultaneous things that are temporally separate--"memories from many different times
may merge together, and . . . memories may be connected by association and by logical
thought to give a certain further order to the whole pattern." In listening to music, we
do not "remember" what notes have just been played, but rather hear the present notes
against a background of "active transformations" of preceding ones. We are not grasping an
enfolded order in thought, but are sensing it immediately, "as the presence together of
many different but interrelated degrees of transformations of tones and sounds."
After exploring the phenomena of vision and motion, he states,
We see, then, that each moment of consciousness has a certain explicit content, which is a
foreground, and an implicit content, which is a corresponding background. We now propose
that not only is immediate experience best understood in terms of the implicate order, but
that thought also is basically to be comprehended in this order. Here we mean not just the
content of thought . . . [but] also that the actual structure, function and activity of
thought is in the implicate order.
This gives consciousness and thought a kind of kinship with the universe which in some
measure undermines any simplistic theory of total subjectivity. ". . . the explicate and
manifest order of consciousness is not ultimately distinct from that of matter in general.
Fundamentally these are essentially different aspects of the one overall order."
Bohm then proposes that for a next step, we "begin by considering the human being as a
relatively independent sub-totality, with a sufficient recurrence and stability of his
total process . . . to enable him to subsist over a certain period of time. . . . In the
implicate order we have to say that mind enfolds matter in general and therefore the body
in particular. Similarly, the body enfolds not only the mind but also in some sense the
entire material universe. . . . So We are led to propose further that the more
comprehensive, deeper, and more inward actuality is neither mind nor body but rather a yet
higher-dimensional actuality, which is their common ground and which is of a nature beyond
both. Each of these is then only a relatively independent sub-totality and it is implied
that this relative independence derives from the higher-dimensional ground in which mind
and body are ultimately one . . . . So it will be ultimately misleading and indeed wrong
to suppose, for example, that each human being is an independent actuality who interacts
with other human beings and with nature. Rather, all these are projections of a single
Lastly (for purposes of summary), "Such a projection can be described as creative, rather
than mechanical, for by creativity one means just the inception of new content, which
unfolds into a sequence of moments that is not completely derivable from what came earlier
in this sequence or set of such sequences.
There are two basic thoughts in all this that I would like to underline. The first is that
by its recurrence in a number of contexts, the idea of a "relatively
autonomous/independent sub-totality" claims particular attention. For me, it is a fairly
simply phrase that combines the idea of a fundamental unity with a significant and
necessary measure of distinguishability, and therefore points in the same direction as
Swedenborg's "distinguishably one" and Kegan's tension between autonomy and relationship.
The second is the creative potential of starting with the idea of "undivided wholeness."
Our usual experience is of separate elements that we somehow have to juggle or reconcile
or fit together, hence of a need to create or even manufacture some degree of oneness. I
find Bohm proposing not that we abandon this view, but that we regard it as "an
approximately recurrent, stable and separable" projection into a three dimensional
explicate order of manifestation. That is, from one point of view, things (and people) do
look separate, and for many practical purposes need to be treated as such. However, a
sense of the implicate order from which this is a projection reminds us that this view is
appropriate only within the limits of a particular context--"we have always to be ready to
discover the limits of independence of any relatively autonomous structure of law, and
from this to go on to look for new laws that may refer to yet larger relatively autonomous
domains of this kind." We might well form the habit of reminding ourselves to ask why, in
view of the wholeness, the theme of separateness so dominates our perceptions. What
happens to our understanding of a difficult situation, for example, if we regard it as the
presentation or playing out or "explication" of different aspects of "undivided
wholeness?" How do we then ". . .derive the parts through abstraction from the whole,
explaining them as approximately separable, stable and recurrent, but externally related
elements making up relatively autonomous sub-totalities . . .?"