Another Description of the Community Building Process
This text was written by Samuel Widmer, an author, seminar leader and spiritual teacher in Switzerland. He lives in a community near Solothurn.
David Bohm: Der Dialog, Das offene Gespräch am Ende der Diskussionen (Klett-Cotta, 2002). Originally published as: On Dialogue, 1969)
Summary of a book on community building:
David Bohm is regarded as one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century in the field of theoretical physics. He wrote many books, particularly on philosophical topics, among which Wholeness and Implicate Order takes a prominent place. He was one of the foremost pupils of Krishnamurti. The two men engaged in many interesting dialogues that have been preserved on video. One of his chief concerns was the notion of "dialogue". After David Bohm's death, Lee Nichol, who had been a member of one of Bohm's dialogue groups, published this small volume summarising David Bohm's views on dialogue.
The similarity between David Bohm's ideas and the community building ideas of M. Scott Peck are striking. David Bohm approached the same topic from an entirely different perspective, namely as a philosopher and scientist, and expressed it in a much more complex language. However, he arrived at the same conclusions and his different approach - particularly his research on brain activity and thought - is enriching.
While engaging in dialogue is as old as civilisation itself, David Bohm attempted to restore the depth that it has lost in the "age of communication and discussion". In Bohm's eyes, dialogue is a multilayered process that reaches far beyond our usual understanding of conversation and the exchange of ideas. Dialogue explores an unusual range of human experience: our deep-seated values, the nature and intensity of emotions, the patterns of our thought processes, the function of our memory, the significance of traditional cultural myths and the way in which our neurophysiology structures how we experience the moment. But perhaps the most important aspect is the way thought - which Bohm viewed as an inherently limited medium and not as an objective reflection of reality - is created and maintained on a collective level. A study of this kind cannot help but shake up our deep-seated assumptions regarding culture, meaning and identity. Thus on its deepest level dialogue is an invitation to examine the survivability of our accepted definitions of what it means to be human. It also invites us to collectively explore the potential for future human development.
Bohm was profoundly concerned with the "communication problem" that impacts our entire modern world. He repeatedly pointed to the fact that while science allegedly "seeks truth", it is often adversely influenced by personal ambition, rigidly defended theories and the weight of tradition. He also believed the general fate of humankind is entangled in a network of mutually contradictory intentions and actions. He viewed our great diversity of social and personal fragmentation as a direct outcome of this set of problems. The fundamental problem appears to be that different groups and persons are no longer able to listen to one another.
That is why the participants in a dialogue do not exchange information that they already know. Instead, they join together and seek to create something new by listening to each other in a free and unbiased atmosphere without trying to influence one another. Each participant's interest is primarily aimed at truth and coherence, so that he is prepared to drop old notions and intentions and, if necessary, move on to something else. If we wish to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, Bohm said, we must be able to communicate freely within a creative movement where no one holds onto or otherwise defends his own notions. Of course, he quite naturally realised that this endeavour continually fails due to a lack of willingness and that it can only be achieved through insight.
Viewed on a superficial level, dialogue is a relatively straightforward matter. A group of around fifteen to forty participants come together on a voluntary basis and sit down in a circle. After some preliminary explanations on the nature of the dialogue process, the group is confronted by the question of where to go now. Since the participants have come together without a set agenda, they usually need time to agree on an acceptable topic, which can, of course, lead to frustration. Bohm believed a "dialogue companion" could be useful at this early stage. Like M. Scott Peck, however, he also found that this support role should be done away with as soon as possible so as to allow the group to pursue its own course.
Bohm put great emphasis on the etymology of the world dialogue. The Greek word dialogos is composed of the words logos, the word, and dia, through (not two!). A dialogue can be conducted by any number of persons, not just by two. Even an individual can cultivate a sort of inner dialogue with him or herself. In any case, the dialogical spirit must be present. Bohm speaks of a free flow of meaning that flows around us, through us and between us. A flow of meaning within the entire group from which, if need be, a new understanding can emerge. This insight is something new that was not present at the beginning. It is something creative. This shared meaning is the "glue" or "cement" that holds human beings and society together.
Bohm compared dialogue with discussion. The word discuss means to crush, fragment, divide. This type of conversation emphasises critical analysis, where there can be many views and where everyone presents, analyses and dismantles a different opinion. The possibilities are limited and a discussion will not take us much further beyond merely establishing our own respective standpoints. The core of a discussion lies in trying to win. In a dialogue, by contrast, nobody tries to win. Nobody tries to score points or assert their own position. Instead, everybody wins when it is shown that one of the participants has made a mistake. There are only winners, whereas a discussion is a zero-sum game - if I win, you lose. But a dialogue has more to do with sharing within a community, where we do not play against one another but with one another. In a dialogue, everybody wins.
A large portion of what we call discussion is not conducted seriously. There are all kinds of things that are not regarded as negotiable and are simply not mentioned. People do not want to talk about these things. That is part of the problem.
It is difficult for people to communicate because every person has different assumptions and opinions. These are fundamental assumptions, not just superficial views. We defend these assumptions when they are challenged. Usually people cannot resist the temptation to defend their assumptions and they tend to do so in an emotional way. In a dialogue group the friction between contrary values inevitably crystallises and thus takes centre stage in the dialogue. This allows the participants to become aware of the assumptions that are active within the group, including their own. Recognising the power of these assumptions and their viral nature can lead to a new understanding of the fragmentary and self-destructive nature of many of our thought processes. This understanding can help us drop our mutually defensive stance and make way for a feeling of natural warmth and community to spread through the group.
We can also characterise these assumptions as opinions. An opinion is an assumption. Most opinions are not rational. Instead, we defend them with powerful emotional reactions. In other words, people identify with their opinions. Dialogue is designed to get to the bottom of all the compulsions lurking behind our assumptions. Dialogue is concerned with the thought processes behind the assumptions, not with the assumptions themselves.
The creative potential of dialogue, its ability to unveil profound structures of consciousness, depends on sustained and earnest dedication on the part of the participants. Dialogue requires a considerable degree of awareness in order to observe the hidden implications of our assumptions and reactions and, at the same time, to sense similar patterns within the group as a whole. This sort of awareness requires no age-old wisdom or particular techniques, nor does it seek to "correct" anybody. This awareness is fundamentally a relaxed, non-judgemental curiosity whose chief activity is to perceive everything as impartially and clearly as possible.
The variety of opinions we entertain are a result of the thoughts we have thought, the experiences we have experienced, and of everything we have ever heard from others. Later on, we end up identifying with these opinions and begin to defend them. None of this makes much sense. If an opinion is correct, it needs no defending, and if it is incorrect, why should we bother? However, opinions are often experienced as "truths". In basic terms, "dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven't really paid much attention to thought as a process. We have engaged in thought, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. Why does thought require attention? Everything requires attention, really. If we ran machines without paying attention to them, they would break down. Our thought, too, is a process, and it requires attention, otherwise it's going to go wrong."
In the realm of thought, fragmentation is always a possibility. Thought shatters everything and we lose sight of the whole. Thought causes something, but it is not aware that it is itself the source of the change. Whenever we have a problem we always believe that we have to think about it. But this is often the problem itself. This is why we have to look at thought itself.
Dialogue witnesses the coming together of people who usually have different individual backgrounds and therefore possess a variety of different basic assumptions and opinions. As long as we defend these opinions, even unconsciously, no genuine dialogue can take place. We then attempt to convince others of our opinions and consider that to be the most natural thing in the world. In this sort of competition, the strongest will win out. However, the strongest is not necessarily the person with the correct opinion. And perhaps nobody is "right" anyway.
In the scientific world as well, we often encounter the problem that different scientists insist on holding on to their view of truth and cannot agree. Science is supposedly committed to truth and the facts. But one's own interests and assumptions can win out. Assumptions and opinions establish themselves inside people's heads like computer programmes. These programmes have their own agendas. That is why a group of between twenty and forty participants represents a microcosm of society as a whole. If only five or six people meet they can normally adapt to each other in such a way that the things that upset them or unsettle them fail to get mentioned at all. M. Scott Peck speaks of "pseudo-communities". But many of these participants do not remain polite for long. When this happens, Peck calls it the "chaos phase". Twenty to forty participants represents a microculture of society, a kind of microcosm of the broader culture. Now the issue of culture, i.e. collectively shared meaning, begins to play a role. This collectively shared meaning has great power. Collective thought is more powerful than individual thought. In any case, individual thought is largely a result of collective thought and interaction with other people. Language is purely collective and most of the thoughts it contains are also.
Bohm described "coherent" and "incoherent" thought. He compared thought with a ray of normal light that is not coherent, i.e. scattered, or a laser beam that is linear, i.e. coherent. He experienced normal thought in society as incoherent, meaning that it can shoot out in all different directions. Thoughts contradict and cancel each other out. If people could just think together in a coherent fashion, their thoughts would have immense power. That is his thesis. In dialogical process, this coherent movement of thought, a coherent communication movement, is created. Thought becomes coherent not only on the conscious level but also on a "silent level", the level for which we have only a vague feeling. Coherence on this level is even more important. In the depths, thought is always a subtle, silent process. The silent process is communal. It is shared. Bohm was convinced that we have lost our contact to this deep, shared, silent process over the past five thousand years and must find our way back to it. We must once more develop a shared conscious, be capable of thinking in common and learn to do what must be done in an intelligent way.
In his discussions with Krishnamurti, Bohm above all learned that the problems of thought are largely of a collective and not individual nature. In addition, the two men concerned themselves with the paradox of the observer and the observed.
Bohm regarded sitting in a circle as essential to the conducting of a dialogue so as to make sure that no one was privileged and to facilitate direct communication. There should be neither a group leader nor a set agenda. As a rule, this leads at first to fears and frustrations that should, however, be overcome before long (in two hours). At the beginning, a dialogue facilitator can be helpful in keeping an eye on the group for a while and occasionally explaining what is going on. But his task largely consists of making his or her own presence superfluous. Bohm regarded it as meaningful for groups to come together on a fortnightly basis over an extended period, i.e. two or more years. The group is not principally there for individual problems, since it is mainly concerned with cultural conditioning. But personal issues can certainly come up for discussion.
A dialogue group is not a therapy group. It does not attempt to heal anybody, even though this can occur as a by-product. Bohm referred to sociotherapy as opposed to individual therapy. Nor is a dialogue group an encounter group, where the release of emotions is the focus. In a dialogue, the participants should communicate directly with one another and gradually learn how to open themselves up to the group as a whole.
No decisions are made on what to do about anything. This is of critical importance. Otherwise, the participants are not free. They need an empty space without the obligation to do anything, to make decisions or to say or not say anything. The dialogue must remain open and free, an empty space. An empty space that anything can enter. The group can come together without set tasks and objectives. The goal is merely to communicate with one another coherently and truthfully. In such a group no one tries to do anything useful. The notion of "usefulness" is an assumption that would limit the group.
Bohm also experienced how the participants in a newly-founded dialogue group spend a great deal of time beating around the bush. Peck calls this a pseudo-community. This tendency appears to be a general phenomenon in interpersonal relations. If one succeeds in keeping the dialogue going for a while, one will note that the group members will change and start behaving differently outside of the dialogue situation as well. The dialogue will inevitably bring the participants' deep-seated assumptions to the surface. Chaos and frustration are unavoidable. It is important to keep at it no matter how frustrated one becomes so that something new can develop. The dialogue will not always be entertaining and there will be a strong temptation to give up. What helps people to stick it out is the meaning they share with others. People's different assumptions have a tacit effect on the entire meaning of what we are doing.
Bohm considers it extremely important to keep the assumptions and opinions of each participant, as uncovered in the group, suspended so that one neither acts according to the assumptions nor suppresses them. Nothing is judged. Nothing is found to be good or bad. No attempt is made to persuade anyone to change his or her opinion. Each is merely made aware of what is going on in the heads of the others without arriving at any conclusions or judgements. The assumptions are merely uncovered.
Sometimes a meeting is disrupted by anger. When this happens, those who are not entirely caught within their own opinions should jump in and defuse the situation in such a way that the group can take a look at it. The point is to keep the dialogue on a level where opinions come to the surface but can still be examined. In dialogue it is more important to maintain a free flow of meanings between the participants than to analyse a particular topic. Over time it becomes more important to sense and preserve friendship within the group than to present a certain opinion. As Peck would say, "community develops".
This kind of friendship or community does not depend on personal relationships between the participants. A new way of thinking thus starts to come to life. It is based on the development of a shared meaning that constantly transforms itself within the dialogue. All participants take part in this common meaning, and the group has no previously determined purpose within this development. No speaker and no specific content are excluded. A change begins to reveal itself not only in relations between people but also in the consciousness within which these relationships develop. We do not try to change anything. Instead, we try to become aware of what is going on. And one can observe the similarity between the difficulties that appear in the group in tandem with the conflicts and incoherent thoughts experienced by an individual.
"When we do this, we will discover that certain kinds of thoughts play a larger role than others."
One of the most important thoughts of all is that of necessity. Necessity appears to us to be unavoidable. Thus during a dialogue a situation can develop where one's own opinion cannot be swept aside, nor can that of the others. Then a feeling emerges that another person's opinion is working inside of and against oneself. Both are in a conflict situation. When people are convinced that something is necessary, they even violate the instinct of self-preservation. The conflicts in a dialogue, both individually and collectively - and this is critical - revolve around the notion of necessity. In all serious conflicts, whether within the family or within the dialogue, there are various views of absolute necessity. But when two things are absolutely essential, the familiar path of negotiation is no longer an option. What has to be done is merely to uncover the differing notions of absolute necessary and let them compete with each other. People normally resist doing this because they know that there will be trouble, and so they avoid these questions. But if we maintain a dialogue, they will come to light. Over time the different parties will recognise that nothing can change as long as they hold on to their own absolute necessity. Everyone begins to recognise how much is destroyed merely because they insist on holding on to their notions no matter what. And perhaps they will eventually realise what they had previously regarded as absolutely necessary was not so important after all. The dialogue can now enter a creative new phase. This freedom permits the creative perception of new categories of necessity.
Bohm regarded this as a decisive point: As soon as we encounter an assumption we must perceive whether it is associated with an absolute necessity. Then we will recognise that because of this we have reached an impasse.
Dialogue is aimed at an understanding of consciousness per se and, at the same time, at an exploration of the problematic nature of everyday relationships and communication. This definition forms a foundation, a reference point for the key components of dialogue, which include: mutually shared meanings, the essence of collective thought, the omnipresence of fragmentation, the function of attention, the micro-cultural context, guided testing, impersonal community and the paradox of the observer and the observed. Dialogue is a process of direct face-to-face encounters and should not be confused with endless theoretical debates and speculations.
Bohm believed that a reservoir of silent and manifest knowledge has collected over the course of human evolution. This knowledge reservoir has provided a large portion of our perception of the world, the meaning we ascribe to events, and even our feeling of individuality. Such knowledge or thought spreads like a virus, independently of the individual or even of a specific culture. Viewed in this light, our attempts to solve our problems through highly personalised analysis or by attributing evil and unfavourable qualities to other groups or individuals are of only limited helpfulness. What we need to do is to begin paying new attention to the movement of our thought and to look at places we have previously ignored. Bohm used the analogy of a river that is continually being polluted at its source. Thus all attempts to eliminate the water pollution downstream cannot provide a solution. The true solution lies in tackling the cause of the pollution at the source, and that means in the thought process itself.
Thus in dialogue we direct our attention toward our thought. This way we will venture to the core of our problems and prepare the way for a creative transformation. Thought has too little awareness of its consequences. In regard to the body, there is a phenomenon called "proprio-reception" or self-awareness. The body can perceive its own movements. For example, it is aware of whether it is moving itself or is being moved. In regard to thought, we have yet to develop such a self-perception. Bohm believes it is essential for thought to also become proprio-receptive. Such thought will not entangle itself the way we are used to. One could say that practically all human problems can be attributed to the fact that thought is not proprio-receptive, i.e. it is not aware of itself. It creates problems without recognising that it is doing so. The purpose of suspending judgement is to make proprio-reception possible, to create a mirror in which we can recognise the consequences of our thought.
Over time we will come into a position where we can share our opinions without animosity and then think together. This is impossible as long as we defend opinions. In ordinary thought, one person will have an idea, another will pick it up and a third person will add something to it. Our thought will flow and people will stop getting caught up in opinions, trying to influence and convince one another. The meaning of dialogue is not to analyse something, to win an argument or to exchange opinions. Instead, the goal is to suspend one's own opinions and to test them, to listen to the views of the other participants, to suspend them and to see what they mean. When we can recognise what all of our opinions mean, we are sharing a common thought, even if we do not directly agree with it. Perhaps we will then discover that our opinions are not so terribly important after all. If each person suspends the positions of all the others, then everyone is thinking together. We are all looking at all standpoints in common. The content of our consciousness is then largely the same. This allows for another kind of consciousness within the group: a participatory consciousness. We could call this a true dialogue. M. Scott Peck would have called it true community.
All participants will then share in all of the group's assumptions and opinions. If everyone recognises the meaning of all assumptions, then the consciousness is essentially the same.
Conviction and persuasion are inappropriate in a dialogue. As long as we resist the assumptions of others, we will try to convince or cajole them. It makes no sense to be cajoled or convinced. It is neither coherent nor rational. If somebody is right, he or she does not need to convince others. If somebody has to persuade others, then the issue itself is probably questionable. Participation leads to a shared meaning, which nevertheless does not exclude the individual. The individual can have an opinion that differs from someone else's, but his or her view will then be equally accepted by the group. Each person is entirely free. This has nothing to do with a mob where the collective spirit takes control. Everyone can move freely between the individual and the collective level. A harmony of the individual and the collective emerges as the whole steadily moves toward coherence. There is a collective spirit and an individual spirit. They form the shores between which the dialogue flows. Thus opinions no longer play such an important role.
Society is based on common "meaning-positings" that combine to make up culture. At the moment, the collection of shared meaning-positings in general society is so coherent that it is hard to determine even one genuine meaning. One result of the dialogical process could be that we will naturally and effortlessly jettison many of our meaning-positings. We will never arrive at the truth as long as our general meaning is not coherent. If a coherent meaning would develop then a culture that has never really existed before would emerge. A culture could emerge where opinions and assumptions are not incoherently defended. If an individual can suspend all meaning-positings in his mind, then he has the dialogue attitude. This attitude is essential for a new story.
Conducting a dialogue can be highly frustrating, at least at the beginning. It is frustrating to experience such a variety of opinions within the group. Some people want to assert themselves. That is their way of dealing with the situation. Others tend to hold back, particularly in the presence of dominant persons. There are some who play the dominant role while others play the role of the weak and powerless who let themselves be dominated. These roles are, of course, in turn based on assumptions and opinions about oneself.
Another difficulty lies in the fact that pressure often builds within groups to express one's opinion as quickly as possible. There is no more time to absorb or think about what is being said. That is why it is important to create enough space for everyone in a group. One should neither speak up too quickly, nor should one wait too long. There should be periods of silence. M. Scott Peck speaks of the stage of emptiness.
However, there are no rules for dialogue. There only helpful principles that one can discover in common. For example, one can discover that each participant must be given the opportunity to express him or herself. The participants have realised how meaningful this is and thus wish to act on it.
There will always be people in a dialogue group who give up because they do not see any point in the exercise. The most important motivation to stick with the dialogue despite all the difficulties it can entail lies in realising that we believe we must conduct it. The point is to create a bond that we could call an impersonal community. A shared consciousness. Striving for such a consciousness does not necessarily have to be pleasant. Shared bliss or a feeling of community will only emerge over time.
There is no need to cling to an assumption if there is evidence that it could be false. A correctly structured assumption or opinion is always open to evidence that it might not be correct. It is not necessary for everyone to be convinced and "converted" to the same opinion. A shared spirit, a shared consciousness is more important than the content of any one person's opinions. We will soon recognise that these opinions are limited anyway. If our meaning-positings are incoherent, then how can we participate in a spirit of truthfulness? The attempt to transport the dialogical spirit into society would certainly be relevant to the desire to help bring a creative and harmonious order to the world. Enduring the frustrations of dialogue can have a much greater significance than might appear at first glance. In fact, we could say that in this way we are no longer part of the problem but part of the solution. In other words: the movement within our spirit contains the seeds of a solution. It is already part of the solution. No matter how small it is, its nature belongs to the solution, not to the problem. No matter how large the greater movement is, its nature belongs to the problem, not to the solution. This will communicate itself on the silent level. From the silent level it will proceed to start influencing the world.
One must avoid the notion of truth. While it may be possible to arrive at truth through dialogue, the point of dialogue is meaning. As long as the meaning is incoherent one will never arrive at the truth. What is the point of having a monopoly on truth for oneself or the group? If the conflicts continue, then this is a poor consolation indeed. It is important to listen to one another. We have lost this ability. To a certain extent, science has become the religion of the modern age. It is now the wellspring of truth, a role previously played by religion. That is why scientists are just as unable to come back together once they have moved apart as are different religions. The principles of dialogue include listening to one another and not excluding any possibilities. One assumption behind modern science, which nearly all scientists now adhere to, is that thought must one day be able to comprehend everything. That we will someday recognise the absolute truth. This may not be accurate. But neither do relativists have a right to claim that we will never arrive at a realisation of the absolute truth. After all, when they assume that relativism is the absolute truth they have already strayed into their own paradox. People who believe that they will find the path to some form of absolute truth are unable to conduct a dialogue.
In dialogue, we go all paths together and finally realise that none plays a role. We recognise the meaning of all paths and thus arrive at the non-path. Beneath the surface all paths are the same. This is due to the fact that they are all paths, rigid and immovable. When we recognise the thought of others, it becomes our own thought and we treat it like our own thought. And when an emotional charge bubbles up, we share all the emotional charges that move us. We entertain them together with all our thoughts. Bohm speaks of the vision of dialogue: one person in the groups introduces a thought that one could just as easily have had oneself. Another person picks it up and continues it. This leads to shared thought in a functioning group, to shared participation in thought. Everything is a single process. A thought is developed in common. If someone then speaks up with a different opinion then everyone listens to her and also shares this meaning together.
Within the dialogical process a sensibility emerges without us having done anything to bring it about. Sensibility is the ability to sense what is happening - to sense how you yourself react, how the others react. Sensing these various differences and similarities. This is the foundation of perception. Sensibility has something to do with the senses, but it goes beyond that. It concerns the perception of meaning, which is a more subtle perception. Meaning is that which holds everything together. The cement. Meaning is not static. It flows. And when we share meaning with one another, it flows between us and holds the group together. If, however, the participants hold on to their assumptions, they are not thinking together. Everyone is left on their own. Sensibility is blocked by the defence of assumptions and opinions.
A group will neither censure nor condemn an assumption. When someone defends his assumptions, he simply does so without backtalk, and the others will once more turn to him with an open mind. A dialogical group will simply take a close look at all opinions and assumptions and bring them to light. This will lead to a transformation.
A typical problem in conducting a dialogue is polarisation. A group is suddenly divided into two camps. When this happens, openness will once more lead to a relaxation.
As long as a person defends his opinions, he is not earnest. Nor is he earnest if he attempts to avoid knowledge of something unpleasant within himself. A large portion of our life is not earnest, and it is society that teaches us that. It teaches us not to be excessively earnest. It teaches us that there are all kinds of incoherent things and that we can do nothing about them. It teaches us that being too earnest is a waste of time. But if we are not earnest, we cannot experience a dialogue.
In dialogue there is no room for the principle of authority, for superiority and subordination. We want to be free of hierarchy and authority. Since we have no firm goals and no agenda in a dialogue and do not need to do anything, we basically need no authority. Instead, we need a space where there is no authority, no hierarchy, no defined tasks and goals. A kind of empty space where everything can be discussed. The decisive thing is for us to be in a position to test our judgements and assumptions together and to listen to the assumptions of others. Through dialogue, these judgements and assumptions are loosened up on a collective basis.
A transformation of the nature of consciousness is possible on both an individual and collective level, and whether or not we can achieve this on a cultural and social basis depends on the dialogue. That is Bohm's thesis. It is of immense importance for this to happen, because the transformation of just one individual has little impact on society in general. The significance of a collective transformation is much greater. Love will disappear if we cannot communicate with each other and find a common meaning-positing (Peck speaks of consensus). If, however, we are capable of genuine communication, then community, participation, friendship and love will grow and flourish. That is the path.
The decisive question is whether we can recognise the necessity of this process. When we recognise that something is absolutely essential then we will take action. After all, this process could lead beyond dialogue toward something which has been called communion: Participation not only in the group but in the whole.
Bohm regards all our human problems, both large and small, as an outcome of the way we think. Particularly the fragmentation - a certain way of thinking by which we split things into fragments, as if they existed separately from one another - is responsible for this. Things that, in reality, fit and belong together, are treated as if this were not so. This kind of thinking misleads us. The derailment of our thought processes that this represents may have begun thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago. We will never know. However, we must do something about this approach to thought. We cannot allow it to destroy us entirely. We must penetrate to the root of the problem, the foundation, the source. If a river is polluted close to its source, it helps little to try to purify the water downstream. What is needed is a correction at the source. Bohm's thesis is that our thought is already being polluted directly at the source. That is why the cause is not to be found in the realm of time, not even in the time when the problem began, but always in the here and now. The point is not only to talk and think about thought, but rather to see how thought really functions outside of mere language. Thought is a process, and we must be in a position to give it our attention, just as we give our attention to external processes in the material world. Perhaps we do not yet know what it means to give our attention to thought. Everything depends on thought. If our thought goes astray we will do everything wrong. But we are so accustomed to regarding thought as a matter of course that we pay no attention to it as a process. The question that presents itself is: what kind of process is this that keeps showing us the wrong way to live together? What is going on underneath the surface? The real crisis does not come from wars, criminality, drugs, economic chaos, pollution and so forth, but lies in the thinking that causes them - and that keeps causing them. It also does not help if we think that those people over there are thinking incorrectly while I am right. Thought permeates us entirely. It is like a virus. We are dealing with a sickness of thought, of knowledge, of information that has spread everywhere throughout the world. Each individual has been infected with this virus. We can only combat the virus if we recognise it as such. As soon as a person begins taking a closer look at thought, she is observing the source of the problem. After all, something is rotten in regard to the entire process of thought and it is something we all share.
One fundamental assumption that we must challenge is that our thought is our own individual thought. We must recognise what thought really is without presupposing anything else. The underlying structure of thought is what we share, and we must find our way to it. We will recognise that the content of thought and the underlying structure are not really separate from each other, because the way in which we think about thought has an impact on its structure. Thus we must take a closer look at both the content and the structure.
Bohm's thesis is that we do not actually know anything. Instead, knowledge knows things. Knowledge, which is the same thing as thought, functions autonomously and transfers itself from one person to another. There is a knowledge reservoir for all of humanity that we can compare with a set of computers that all share the same data memory. This thought reservoir has been developing for thousands of years and is filled with a variety of contents. While knowledge or thought knows its entire content, it does not know what it is doing. This knowledge misjudges itself by imagining that it is not doing anything. It declares: "I am not responsible for this problem. I am only there so that you can draw upon me." This thought is a function of memory. A large part of it is silent knowledge, knowledge that cannot be put into words but which is present all the same. Without this silent knowledge we could do practically nothing.
We believe that when we think something, the thought we produce promptly vanishes into thin air. But the thought takes root in the brain as a recollection. As a memory. Thinking and feeling are the same process, not two separate ones. And both derive from the memory where they are probably inextricably mixed together.
Perhaps our cerebral cortices and our forebrains evolved at such a quick rate that no harmonic relationship had time to develop between them and the older sections that were there first. The mammal brain never really learned how to identify the difference between image and reality because it simply did not need to. The development of the cerebral cortex made it possible to think of something and to evoke an image of it in our imagination. An imaginary image can evoke the same cognitive reaction within us as the thing itself.
The mammal brain is no longer in direct contact with nature itself but instead perceives the world through the primate brain, because we only perceive nature through the filter of the cerebral cortex. Perhaps this has all contributed to how our thought has gone off course. Imaginings and images have gained immense power within us because thought is capable of providing a representation of what we are experiencing. Perception presents us with something, thought abstracts it and represents it. The decisive thing is that this representation is not only present in our thought or our imagination, but actually fuses with our actual perceptions and experiences. In other words, representation fuses with presentation so that what is presented as perception is already to a large degree part of the representation itself. Thus it presents itself anew. How we experience something depends on how we represent or misrepresent it. What is wrong with this process is not that that it takes place but rather that we are not aware of it. Our lack of awareness regarding this process is the decisive thing. When somebody tell us that "people in such and such a category are bad", and we accept this, the representation of thought merges with the presentation of perception. As soon as we accept the prejudice, this prejudice transforms itself into implicit, silent thought. When we then encounter a person from this category, it bubbles up as a presentation. Badness is then perceived as an attribute of this person.
It is important to recognise that most of our representations develop collectively and that this gives them even greater power. When everyone agrees on something, we gladly take this as evidence that this something is right or at least could be right. This puts us under pressure, because we do not want to stand outside of the general consensus. This means that we are constantly under pressure to accept a certain representation and to see it that way. For example, there is a universal consensus in the world that we possess a self, because everything points to us as having one. When everything is working fine, then it is impossible to see that something is wrong here. We have already accepted the assumption that what is happening is independent of our thought.
When something is being represented and is then presented in this way, we cannot recognise what is happening. The process is barred from our perception. As soon as we engage with these matters, we gain a gradual sense of where we have gone wrong. We realise that a large part of what we had regarded as facts are not really true. Our view of the world is determined by general, collective representations that are standard practice in our science and our culture. If we could give them up, a transformation might be possible since the world would present itself differently. If we could learn to see how thought creates presentations out of representations we would not longer let ourselves be deceived by them.
It takes more than individuals to create a world, and that is why collective representation is the key. It is not enough for an individual to give up his representations. While this is good for him, true transformation lies in the transformation of collective representation.
Bohm thus explored the way in which inputs from perception fuse with memory, creating representations that inform our experience of the moment. This is a natural and necessary process, and yet the cause of collective incoherence can be traced to the process of constructing these representations. According to Bohm, the fundamental difficulty can be traced to the fact that we automatically assume that our representations are a truthful reflection of reality rather than relying on relative action signposts based on reflexive, unchallenged memories. As soon as we assume that these representations are fundamentally true, they present themselves as reality and we have no choice but to act accordingly.
However, Bohm does not suggest attempting to change the representation process (which might be impossible), but rather for us to become aware of the fact that each given representation that we instinctively perceive as reality may be anything but real or true. If we examine representations from such a perspective, we might be able to arouse a quality of reflective intelligence within ourselves, a kind of judgement that allows us to perceive fundamentally false representations and learn to get along without them.
Bohm also points out that many human problems are paradoxes and not problems, but that generally we agree that they are problems. This creates a fundamentally paradoxical structure. Since a paradox has no recognisable solution, a new approach is necessary, namely prolonged attention to the paradox itself instead of a concerted attempt to eliminate the problem.
From Bohm's perspective, this conflation of problem and paradox has an impact on all levels of society, from the individual to the global. When something goes wrong on the psychological level, this leads us to describe the resulting problem as a problem. It would be better to say that we are facing a paradox. What is necessary in such a case is not some problem-solving procedure. As long as thinking and feeling are in the driver's seat, there is simply no way of sorting the issue out. A form of awareness reaching far beyond mere verbal and intellectual activity can bring the root of the paradox to light. The paradox dissolves when its inanity and absurdity are recognised and understood. However, it cannot dissolve as long as it is treated as a problem. The problem can only grow and proliferate into ever greater confusion. After it all, one of the chief characteristics of thought is that once the brain has accepted a problem, it will keep working on it until it finds a solution.
This fundamental trait is an essential precondition for rational thought. When the mind deals with a paradox as if it were a real problem, then it remains forever caught in this paradox which, after all, has no solution. Thus it is evidently important to recognise the difference between a problem and a paradox and to react to both in an appropriate manner.
Bohm regards the relative independence of a thought activity's type from its content as a root paradox. While it may be appropriate for thinking about practical and technical issues, it leads us astray as soon as we start to think about ourselves. If we look closely, we can see that this approach leads to a paradoxical structure of inner activity. The paradox lies in the fact that although we treat our thoughts and feelings as if they were independent and separate from the thought that considers them, it is evident that no such separation or independence exists or even can exist.
This means that when a person attempts to overcome his tendency toward self-deception, he finds himself caught in a root paradox, i.e. in a paradox where his thought activity is dominated by that which it seeks to overcome. Since time immemorial humans in general have realised that thought and feeling are normally infected by greed, violence, self-deception, fear, aggressiveness and other reactions that can lead to corruption and confusion. However, this is largely regarded as a problem, which leads to a state where people endeavour to overcome or gain control over the disarray in their own nature. There are countless methods for dealing with this. For example, all societies have introduced a variety of punishments aimed at enforcing appropriate behaviour through intimidation. At the same time, there are a variety of rewards that serve as incentives. Since these measures have proved insufficient, moral codes and ethical systems have been developed in the hope of using them to persuade people to suppress their false and evil thoughts and feelings on their own initiative. But this has also failed to provide the desired result. Since disarray in human nature is the result of a paradox, no attempt to treat it as a problem can eliminate this disorder. On the contrary, such attempts normally just increase the confusion and may indeed do more harm than good.
Let me assume that the parallels that exist to the incest taboo and its consequences are obvious here.
Any attempt to solve one's own problems and the problems of society is more likely to heighten the existing confusion than contribute to its elimination. After centuries of habit and conditioning, we tend to assume that we ourselves are basically all right and our difficulties generally have external causes that can be dealt with as problems. And even if we recognise that something is not right with us on the inside, we habitually assume that we can definitively point to what is wrong or lacking within ourselves as if this were separate and independent from the thought activity with which we formulate the problem of how to correct the error. What is needed, however, is a profound and intense clarity, an alertness that reaches beyond the images and intellectual analyses of our confused thought process to penetrate to the contradictory preconditions and feelings where our confusion has its roots. Such a clarity implies a willingness to perceive the numerous paradoxes we encounter in our daily lives, in our social relationships and finally also in the thoughts and feelings that seem to form the "inner self" within each of us. What is needed is sustained, earnest and diligent attention to the fact that after centuries of conditioning our minds usually tend to become caught in paradoxes and therefore mistakenly confuse the resulting difficulties with problems. Somewhere in the background there is someone who is observing what is wrong but who is not himself being observed. Precisely the falseness that he is supposed to see lies hidden in the observer himself, and he will never find this observer.
Bohm believed that it is possible to suspend assumptions - both for oneself and in the context of the dialogue. He suggests that a proprio-reception of thought could be able to see directly through the cycle of confusion. We currently lack an immediate feedback of our thought movement that would be comparable to the body's self-perception or proprio-reception. According to Bohm's view, thought movement can be just as proprio-receptive as that of the body if we take suspension as its basis.
When we listen through a listener, we are never really listening. We must learn to observe so closely that we can observe ourselves without an observer or listen to ourselves without a listener. Bohm believed it is possible to suspend activity, to allow it to reveal itself, to flourish and develop, so that we can recognise its structure. He regarded the ability to suspend oneself as a natural potential that we have made too little use of so far.
We may have an inborn tendency to react with violence when we would do better to suspend action. Bohm, however, believed that we can and must learn suspension. For him it was clear that the observer is an illusion, that thoughts and feelings operate as independent processes and are not experienced through the ego. The notion of an ego is not entirely false, because if this were true then it never would have developed in the first place. However, it is also natural for us to assume that there is a self with us, i.e. a centre, and that our body represents a centre of activity. The question is how this contradiction of the ego emerged out of this natural and useful distinction.
Would it be possible for thought to observe itself in the same way as the body in order to recognise what it is doing? Attention could bring this proprio-reception about.
Overall, it is evident that Bohm's way of thinking is somewhat more complicated and therefore less easy to absorb than, for example, Krishnamurti's approach. Bohm was convinced that insight or perception can influence the whole - not only understanding based on reasoning, but also on the chemical level, the silent level, everything. When we realise that thought is not proprio-receptive but rather needs proprio-reception, this awareness could reach the brain synapses that control these complexes.
Bohm distinguished between verbal thought and participatory thought. Verbal thought is practical and experience-oriented. Its goal is to form clear and separate images of things as they are. Scientific and technical thought are a part of verbal thought. Here Bohm further distinguished participatory thought, a type of thought where boundaries are perceived as permeable, objects are linked together on a deeper level and the movement of the perceivable world is viewed as having some sort of vital, absolute existence. According to Bohm, the central point is that both verbal and participatory thought have benefits and limits. He called for a renewed exploration of how these two ways of thought should interact. Dialogue is extraordinarily well-suited for such an exploration. According to Bohm's thesis, the perspective of participatory thought is not unlike his own vision of implicit order, where the phenomena of the manifest world are understood as temporary aspects of the movement of a deeper natural order that in turn finds itself in a state of an endlessly flowing state of folding and unfolding.
Bohm doubted that any form of thought can grasp what we understand as the infinite. He experienced attention, and not thought, as something that is potentially unlimited and is thus able to conceive the subtle nature of the infinite. Nevertheless, he insisted that a sustained exploration of the nature of consciousness and the foundation of being is essential if we ever hope to put an end to the world's fragmentation. His thesis is that while the field of thought is limited, there is still a limitless, infinite realm that encloses this limitedness. For him, attention is a kind of bridge between the two worlds. He believed the brain can develop another function alongside the thought process. It could, so to speak, work as an antenna that is able to receive impulses on a higher level instead of merely initiating action.
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