A NEW THEORY OF THE RELATIONSHIP OF MIND AND MATTER
D.J. Bohm, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street,
London WC1E 7HX, U.K.
The relationship of mind and matter is approached in a new way
in this talk. This approach is based on the causal interpretation
of the quantum theory, in which an electron, for example, is regarded
as an inseparable union of a particle and a field. This field
has, however, some new properties that can be seen to be the main
sources of the differences between the quantum theory and the
classical (Newtonian) theory.
These new properties suggest that the field may be regarded as
containing objective and active information, and that the activity
of this information corresponds in many ways, to what is signified
by meaning in our ordinary subjective experience.
The analogy between mind and matter is thus fairly close. This
analogy leads to the proposal of the general outlines of a new
theory of mind, matter, and their relationship, in which the basic
notion is participation rather than interaction. Within this theory,
there is room for a natural explanation of parapsychological phenomena,
as well as for explaining new domains, both in the study of mind
and in that of matter. However, although the theory can be developed
mathematically in more detail, the main emphasis on this talk
is to show how it provides a way of thinking that does not divide
observer and observed, and that may thus be helpful, both in the
setting up of parapsychological experiments and in their interpretation.
It is a great honour to have been chosen to receive the first
Gardner Murphy Award and it gives me much pleasure to have been
invited to give this lecture to mark the occasion. The great contribution
that Gardner Murphy made to the entire field of parapsychological
research is well known. He had an especially strong interest in
extending and deepening our theoretical understanding of the whole
subject. What I would like to do this evening is to indicate some
ways, based on my own work, in which such understanding may be
developed further. In particular, what I shall discuss are some
ideas aimed at bringing together the physical and mental sides
of reality and to go on to show how these two sides may be related
in such a way as to suggest the beginnings of a theory of parapsychological
phenomena. But I wish to stress here that my main concern at this
point is to bring out a new way of thinking, consistent with modern
physics, which does not divide mind from matter or the subject
from the object. I hope that others will sooner or later be able
to develop this way of thinking by embodying it in their work.
The problem of relating the mental and physical sides of reality
has long been a key one, especially in Western philosophy. Descartes
gave a very clear formulation of the essential difficulties, when
he considered matter to be extended substance and mind
to be thinking substance. Within mind, there may be clear
and distinct thoughts, which correspond in content to separate
and extended objects. But these thoughts are in themselves actually
neither separate nor extended. The natures of mind as thinking
substance and matter as extended substance are indeed so different
that one can see neither in mind nor in the world of extended
substance any basis for a relationship between them. Descartes
assumes, however, that this basis is supplied from beyond both
mind and the world by God, who put into man's mind the possibility
of clear and distinct thoughts that are able to correspond in
the way that I have indicated to separate and extended objects.
But since the time of Descartes, such an appeal to the action
of God has generally ceased to be accepted as a valid philosophical
argument. This leaves us, however, with no explanation of how
mind and matter are to be related .
In my work in physics, which was originally aimed at understanding
relativity and the quantum theory on a deeper basis common to
both, I developed the notion of the enfolded or implicate
order.(l) The essential feature of this idea was that the whole
of the universe is in some way enfolded in everything and that
each thing is enfolded in the whole. From this it follows that
in some ways, and to a certain degree, everything enfolds or implicates
everything. The basic proposal is that this enfoldment relationship
is not merely passive or superficial. Rather it is active and
essential to what each is. It follows that each thing is
internally related to the whole and therefore to everything else.
The external relationships are then displayed in the unfolded
or explicate order in which each thing is seen as separate
and extended and related only externally to other things. The
explicate order, which dominates ordinary experience as well as
classical physics, is however secondary in the sense that ultimately
it flows out of the primary reality of the implicate order.
Since the implicate order is basically dynamic in nature, I called
it the holomovement. All things found in the unfolded explicate
order emerge from the holomovement in which they are enfolded
as potentialities, and ultimately they fall back into it. They
endure only for some time, and while they last, their existence
is sustained in a constant process of unfoldment and reenfoldment,
that gives rise to the relatively stable and independent forms
in which they appear in the explicate order.
The above description then gives a valid intuitively graspable
account of the meaning of the properties of matter, as implied
by the quantum theory. It takes only a little reflection to see
that a similar sort of description will apply even more directly
and obviously to mind, with its constant flow of evanescent thoughts,
feelings, desires, and impulses, which flow into and out of each
other, and which in a certain sense enfold each other (as, for
example, we may say that one thought is implicit in another,
and this word means literally "enfolded"). Or to put
it differently, the implicate order is common both to mind and
to matter. This means that ultimately, mind and matter are not
nearly so different as they may appear to be under superficial
examination. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that the
implicate order may serve as a means of expressing consistently
the relationship between mind and matter.
At this stage, however, the implicate order is still largely a
general framework of thought, within which we may reasonably hope
to make progress toward removing the gulf between mind and matter.
Even on the physical side, however, it lacks a well defined set
of general principles which would determine how the potentialities
enfolded in the implicate order are actuaised as relatively stable
and independent forms in the explicate order. The absence of a
similar set of principles is, of course, also evident on the mental
side. But even more important, what is missing is a clear understanding
of just how mental and material sides are to be related.
Evidently, this is relevant not only as a matter of general principle
but also if we are to obtain a real understanding of parapsychological
In this talk, I shall go into another aspect of my work over the
past thirty-five years, which I thinks go a considerable way towards
fulfilling the requirements described above. This I have called
the causal interpretation of the quantum theory.(2)(3)(4) In order
to show why I am bringing in this aspect of my work, I shall first
review briefly some of the main features of the quantum theory(5)
that I feel call for a new interpretation of the general sort
that I have proposed.
Firstly, the quantum theory implies that all material systems
have what is called a wave-particle duality in their properties.
Thus, electrons which classically act like particles can, under
suitable experimental conditions, act like waves (e.g., electrons
can show statistical interference properties, when a large number
of them is passed through a system of slits). This dual nature
of material systems, a nature strongly dependent on the experimental
context, is totally at variance with classical physics, in which
each system has its own nature independently of context.
Secondly, there is a strange new property of non-locality. That
is to say, under certain conditions, particles that are even at
macroscopic orders of distance appear to be able, in some sense,
to affect each other even though there is no known means by which
they could be connected. Indeed, if we were to assume any kind
of force whatsoever (perhaps as yet unknown) to explain this connection,
then the well-known Bell's theorem(6) gives a precise and general
criterion for deciding whether the connection is local, i.e.,
one brought about by the forces that act only when systems are
in contact, or non-local, i.e., one brought about by forces that
may act when systems are not in contact. The actual experiments
show that Bell's criterion is violated, which means that if there
are such forces, they must act nonlocally. Such non-local interactions
are basically foreign to classical physics, as it has been known
over the past few centuries.
Thirdly, the laws of the quantum theory are essentially statistical
in nature, and do not determine in precise detail how an individual
system will behave. Statistical laws are, of course, common in
both ordinary experience and in classical physics. But in the
quantum theory, the statistics seem to have a different kind of
significance. This is brought out especially clearly by considering
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
Heisenberg made an analysis of how a typical process of physical
observation or measurement may take place, when one goes to a
quantum mechanical level of refinement of detail and accuracy.
He considered as his prime example the observation of the position
of a particle with the aid of a microscope. Now, some kind of
intermediary link is needed between the observed particle and
the microscope to allow the two to interact, or else no observation
will be possible. To make the disturbance of the observed system
as small as possible, one may suppose that we use as a link a
single quantum of light. Heisenberg then showed that the laws
of quantum mechanics imply that there is a minimum uncertainty
in our knowledge of the properties of the observed particle that
can be obtained from such an interaction. Thus, the statistical
laws of the quantum theory lead to the conclusion that there is
no way to use measurements to obtain information
accurate enough to go beyond these statistical laws, and to make
completely accurate and detailed predictions of the behavior of
individual systems. This contrasts with classical physics, in
which it is always possible in principle to refine observations
without limit, so that one can, without any intrinsic restrictions,
go from a statistical law applying to an aggregate of systems
to a relatively precise description of the motion of individual
Niels Bohr has made a very subtle analysis of this whole question.
He treats the entire process of observation, including the overall
experimental conditions and the meaning of the observable experimental
results (e.g., spots on the photographic plate) as a single phenomenon,
which is a whole that is not further analyzable. This means that
the mathematics of the quantum theory is not capable of providing
an unambiguous reflection of reality, but rather as Bohr himself
says, that it is only an algorithm yielding statistical predictions
concerning the various possible phenomena. Bohr further supposes
that no new concepts are possible that could unambiguously reflect
the reality of the individual quantum process. Therefore, there
is no way intuitively or otherwise to understand what is happening
in such quantum processes. Only at the level of a statistical
aggregate of these processes can we obtain an approximate picture
of what is happening, and this will have to be in terms of the
concepts of classical physics.
Bohr's approach has the merit of giving a consistent account
of the meaning of the quantum theory. Moreover, it focuses on
something that is new in physics, i.e., the wholeness of the observer
and what is observed. This question is surely relevant also in
discussing the relationship of mind and matter. But Bohr's insistence
that this wholeness cannot be understood through any concepts
whatsoever, however new they may be, implies that further progress
in this field depends mainly on the development of the mathematical
formalism without any real intuitive or physical insight. On the
other hand, I have always felt that mathematics and intuitive
insight go hand in hand. To restrict oneself to only one of these
is like tying one hand behind one's back and working only with
the other. This is important in physics, but it is evidently even
more important in studying the mind, where intuitive insight must
itself be a primary factor in all exploration (as well as for
further reasons which I shall go, into later).
2. The Causal Interpretation of the Quantum Theory
In view of the above, I felt that it was very important to question
Bohr's assumption that no analysis of the individual quantum process
is possible, even in thought. It was in doing this that I developed
the causal interpretation of the quantum theory during the fifties.
I began by assuming that an electron, for example, is a
particle following a well-defined trajectory. This particle is,
however, always accompanied by a new kind of field described by
the ordinary Schrodinger wave function, psi, whose motions are
determined by Schrodinger's equation (rather as the motions of
the electrodynamic field are determined by Maxwell's equations).
The electron as we actually encounter it must then be understood
in terms of both the particle and the field, which latter
always accompanies the particle.
To return to the old classical concept of a particle in this way
may, at first sight, seem to be a step backward relative to the
much more subtle and dynamic notion of reality contained in the
implicate order. However, as will be brought out in the course
of this talk, the action of the Schrodinger field on the particle
has a number of qualitatively new features, which carry us a long
way from the old classical mechanical concepts. Indeed, these
will ultimately bring us to an enriched form of the implicate
order, which will contain the principles of determination and
stabilization of what is actuaised that have thus far been lacking.
When one looks at the meaning of Schrodinger's equation expressed
in terms of this model, one sees that it implies the need to add
to the classical forces acting on the particle an additional new
kind of force, derivable from what I called the quantum potential,
Q. To complete the model, it is also necessary, however, to bring
in the following statistical postulate. One supposes that although
each electron follows a well-defined trajectory, in a series of
experiments arranged to give the same Schrodinger field Y. there
will be a statistical distribution of particle positions with
a probability proportional to the intensity of the Schrodinger
wave. It is easy to show mathematically that the above postulate
is consistent, in the sense that with the passage of time this
probability distribution will be maintained by the motions of
the particles under the assumed quantum potential, Q.
The basically new features of the quantum theory come mainly from
the new properties of the quantum potential. Of these, one of
the most important is that this potential is related to the Schrodinger
wavefunction in a way that that does not depend on the intensity
of the waves but only on the form. This implies that the
Schrodinger wave does not act like, for example, a water wave
on a floating object to push the particle mechanically
with a force proportional to its intensity. Rather, a better analogy
would be to a ship on automatic pilot guided by radar waves. The
ship with its automatic pilot is a self-active system,
but the form of its activity is determined by the information
content concerning its environment carried by the radar waves.
This latter is independent of the intensity of these waves (as
long as they can be received by the equipment available) but depends
only on their form, which in turn reflects the form of the environment.
We may illustrate this point by considering what happens to an
ensemble of electrons that pass through a system of two slits,
and are detected on a screen, as shown(6) in fig. 1.
Each of these electrons follows a well-defined track, that can
be shown mathematically to be perpendicular to the wave front
at the point where the particle is. Suppose we consider a specified
particle which is so located that it goes through one of the slits.
Afterwards, it will follow a complicated path, so that the particle
is significantly affected by a quantum potential determined by
the interference of waves from both slits. Even at distances so
great that the wave intensity is small, the trajectory of the
particle can strongly reflect distant features of the environment.
Thus, the path depends very much on whether one slit is open or
both are open, which is quite contrary to what one would expect
in classical physics, It we consider a statistical distribution
of particles, then, as we can see in Fig. 1, they bunch to produce
a fringe-like distribution of particles on the screen. In this
way, we explain the wave-particle duality of the properties of
matter, by showing that the behavior of the particles depends
strongly, through the wave, on the overall environmental context
(which is, in this case, the experimental set-up). And by a more
general treatment of this nature one can show that all the statistical
results of the quantum theory follow, so that the causal interpretation
gives the same statistical results as does the usual interpretation.
From this, it follows also, as can be shown in a more extensive
treatment that I shall not discuss here, that Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle still holds for the phenomena that can be obtained,
for example, in measurement processes. But what has been gained
is that we have a conceptual model, of what the actual individual
electron is and of how it moves. From this we derive the
statistical distribution of phenomena, which latter now play a
secondary role in the theory rather than a primary one (as indeed
also happens in classical physics).
To achieve this, however, we had to bring in the notion that the
Schrodinger wave does not act mechanically on the particle, but
rather, that the particle, as a self-active system, responds to
something analogous to information about its entire context
that is contained in the Schrodinger wave. This gives us some
insight into the wholeness that is, as we have seen, essential
to Bohr's view. For now, it is clear that we cannot always isolate
the electron from distant features of its relevant environment,
if we want to understand the details of how it moves even in what
would otherwise be free space. But even more important for our
purposes here is that by developing an intuitive model for how
something analogous to information comes in at the most fundamental
level of physics known to us, we are beginning to get a feeling
for how mind and matter may ultimately not be nearly so different
as they may seem to be at first sight.
3. The Many-Particle System and Quantum Wholeness
Thus far, we have restricted ourselves to a consideration of the
motions of a single particle. When we extend this approach to
the many-particle system, the analogy between mind and matter
becomes much closer.
The first step in making such an extension is to note that for
a many-particle system, the Schrodinger wavefunction is no
longer capable of being represented in the ordinary three dimensional
space. Rather, it has now to be thought of as in a multi-dimensional
space, called configuration space, in which there are three
dimensions for each particle. A single point in this multi-dimensional
space corresponds to a certain configuration of the entire
system of particles - hence the name, configuration space.
There is no direct way to imagine such a configuration space.
In spite of this, however, it is nevertheless possible to extend
the one-particle model that has been described here to the N-particle
system. One finds in fact that the system of N particles is now
subject to a generaised kind of quantum potential, which implies
the possibility of a non-local connection between all the particles.
As in the one-particle case, this is because the quantum potential
does not necessarily fall off to a negligible value when the particles
are separated even by macroscopic orders of distance.
At first sight, it seems that such a non-local connection, that
can produce a kind of instantaneous contact of distant particles
would violate the theory of relativity, which requires that no
signal can be transmitted faster than light. It is possible to
show, however, that the quantum potential cannot be used to carry
a signal, i.e., that it could not constitute a well-ordered series
of impulses that could transmit a well defined meaning.
But I shall not, however, go into more detail into this point
here, as it is not very directly relevant to the main theme of
As I have already stated, the notion of such a non-local connection
goes quite far outside the framework of concepts that have been
generally accepted in classical physics. But, of course, it is
a perfectly rational idea. And indeed, I would say that much of
the resistance that it has encountered is of the nature of the
kind of prejudice that tends to arise against any unfamiliar notion.
As strange as non-locality may seem to be in the context of the
science of then past few centuries, however, I want to emphasize
here that the quantum potential has an even stranger and more
radically novel feature, to which little attention has thus far
been paid. This is that the quantum potential depends on the 3N-dimensional
wave function of the whole system in a way that cannot be expressed
as a pre-assigned relationship among all the particles. Thus,
when two atoms are brought together the forces between the constituent
particles may be attractive for certain wavefunctions and repulsive
for others. A stable molecule is made possible, for example, by
the attractive quantum potential that goes with certain wavefunctions.
Indeed, it is in this way that one can begin to understand intuitively
the current explanation of chemical binding, in terms of the quantum
Another example of this new feature of the quantum potential is
obtained by considering that in a superconducting state, which
may arise at very low temperatures, an electric current flows
indefinitely without friction, because electrons are not scattered
by irregularities or obstacles in the metal in which they are
flowing. In terms of the causal interpretation, one sees that
in a superconducting state, the quantum potential is such as to
induce an organized and coordinated movement of the electrons,
resembling a ballet dance, in which the electrons go around irregularities
and obstacles without being scattered. On the other hand, in the
ordinary state, which exists at higher temperatures, the quantum
potential is different in such a way that the electrons behave
more like a disorganized crowd of people than like a group of
All the novel features of the causal interpretation of the quantum
theory that have been discussed above can be understood in terms
of the notion that we have already introduced; i.e., that the
wavefunction constitutes a kind of information content.
Thus, it is well known that information (e.g., in a computer)
can be ordered in as many dimensions as may be convenient or appropriate.
And so the multi-dimensional nature of the wavefunction now presents
no insoluble problem of interpretation. The fact that the movements
of particles are related through a non-local quantum potential
depending on the state of the whole also creates no such problem,
if we suppose that each particle is guided, not by its own "private"
information, but rather, by a common "pool" of information
belonging to the whole system.
This behavior is evidently basically similar to what happens in
the ballet dance, in which all he dancers are moving in accordance
with a "score" which also constitutes a common "pool"
of information that guides each of the dancers. In the case of
the electrons, the "score" is, of course, the wavefunction.
As with the dancers, the electrons are thus participating
in a common action based on a common pool of information, rather
than pushing and pulling on each other mechanically according
to laws like those of classical physics.
However, the analogy of the ballet dance is, like all analogies,
of limited validity. Firstly, the wavefunction changes with time
according to Schrodinger's equation, whereas the
score of a ballet is generally fixed beforehand. We may therefore
improve the analogy, by saying that the electrons move as if they
were participating in a dance with a score that is changing in
accordance with certain rules. Moreover, because the movement
of the electrons depends on their initial configuration we should
have to suppose in addition that the "score" determines,
not a single dance, but a whole set of dances that are different
according to the different original configurations of the dancers.
Or to put it differently, each "score" contains a vast
range of potential dances, only one of which is actuaised by
a particular initial configuration of dancers. Processes are therefore
possible that are much more complex and subtle than those that
could be contained in the analogy of a single pre-assigned dance
with a fixed score.
A very simple example of how such a view of quantum processes
works may be obtained by interpreting the change of a system from
one quantum state to another as a change from one "dance"
to another. This change will in general take place only for a
certain range of initial configuration of electrons which bring
the system to what may be called a crisis point, that leads
to a fundamental change in the pattern of the dance (this kind
of, process has been called a catastrophe by Renee Thom).(7)
A more detailed mathematical analysis shows that such a transformation
of the "dance" takes place, without the need for introducing
the sort of arbitrary assumption of "collapse" of the
wavefunction that seems to be implied in this process by the usual
interpretation of the quantum theory.
A similar notion applies to more complex processes. Thus, one
can show mathematically that when the wavefunction of a system
falls into two or more independent factors, the movement will
break up into corresponding independent "dances". The
break-up of a whole system (e.g., a molecule) can be understood
in this way. And the inverse process in which two or more sub-wholes
combine to form a larger whole then corresponds to having groups
of particles engaged in independent dances which come together
to form a single dance based on a common score.
How then do we account for our large-scale experience, in which
matter generally behaves as it if were constituted of independent
parts that interact mechanically, rather than participate in a
common movement? It can be shown by means of a detailed analysis
which has been given elsewhere(8) that at appreciable temperatures
the wavefunction of a whole system does indeed break up into a
large number of factors corresponding to many relatively independent
sub-wholes. The higher the temperature, the further this break-up
goes. Under ordinary conditions of temperature, the sub-wholes
are fairly small, so that the quantum properties show up only
in studies of even smaller structures (e.g., those at the atomic
level). However, at very low temperatures (e.g., in superconductivity),
they begin to show up at the macroscopic level, as they do also
under special conditions established in laboratory measurements
(e.g., in those demonstrating quantum non-locality).
In this way, we are able further to bring out in the fundamental
behavior of matter the essential quality of wholeness, to which
we have already referred in our discussion of the ideas of Bohr
as well as in our discussion of the one-particle model. But now,
we can get an intuitive feeling for the meaning of this wholeness,
not only through thinking of the particle as responding to information
capable of reflecting even its distant environment but more deeply,
as participating in a single overall "dance", guided
by a common "pool" of information. This notion of wholeness
can now be extended to encompass the measurement process itself.
While the observing apparatus and the observed system are significantly
connected they are participating in a single "dance",
following a common "score". Eventually, the two systems
fall back into independent "dances". There will then
be a statistical distribution of such dance patterns, that vary
according to the statistical distribution of initial configurations
for the whole system. But now, the "dances" of the two
systems will be correlated, so that by knowing what happens to
the apparatus, one will also know what has happened to the "observed
However, such a complex process of participation evidently goes
far beyond what is meant by a merely mechanical interaction. It
is therefore not really correct to call what happens a measurement,
nor indeed even an observation. Rather, it is a mutual transformation
of both systems, which can only be understood in terms of a "whole
score" that cannot even appear in one system or the other
alone. The ordinary notice of a measurement in which observing
instrument and what is observed are clearly distinct but interacting
systems becomes relevant as a valid approximation only in the
classical limit, where the system falls into a large number of
sub-wholes engaged in nearly independent "dances". Clearly,
such notions of the wholeness of observer and what is observed
will be relevant also at the level of our own conscious experienced
and we shall return to a discussion of this point later.
4 On Information and Its Meaning
In the interpretation of the quantum theory that has been proposed
here, we have at least implicitly brought in the notion of information
as something that need not belong only to human consciousness
but that may indeed be present, in some sense, even in inanimate
systems of atoms and electrons. This may seen strange in the light
of our usual way of thinking about the subject. But actually,
many physicists (e.g. Brillouin(9)) have equated information content
with the negative of the entropy of a system and have thus already
given this notion a significance beyond the purely subjective.
However, a much more evident example of giving information an
objective significance can be obtained by considering the computer.
Thus, in a computer, a silicon chip is said to contain information
in "bits" corresponding to the objective states of the
elements of such a chip. In the silicon chip, the information
is not only present objectively in the way described above. More
important, it is objectively active, in the sense that
it can determine how currents will flow throughout the computer
as a whole and even outside the computer, through the working
together of the hardware and the software. Such activity of information
may be called a kind of objective meaning.
At first sight, it may seem even stranger to attribute objectivity
to meaning than it seems to do this to information. What I am
proposing here is that such a notion of meaning as a certain kind
of activity that may be objective is a natural generalization
of our own subjective experience of meaning. Thus, a major part
of what is commonly signified by meaning is just the activity,
virtual or actual, to which a given structure of information can
give rise in us. For example, in reading a map, we apprehend the
meaning of its information content as a whole set of virtual
or potential activities that would be appropriate in the territory
represented by the map. If we are actually travelling in the country
itself, then at any moment, some particular aspect of this meaning
may be actuaised (or not actuaised), according to the overall
context of that moment. Similarly, in a computer, the information
in a particular chip has a wide range of virtual or potential
activities to which it may give rise. Only some of these are actuaised
in the activity of the computer as a whole, in a way determined
by the overall context of the entire structure of the computer,
and all the information that has been put into it.
It may be objected at this point that the computer has been designed,
built and programmed by human beings, so that it is, after all,
still some kind of extension of the subjective consciousness of
human beings. One can meet this objection by considering the DNA
molecule which, according to molecular biologists constitutes
a "code" i.e., a language. The meaning of this code
is "read" by the processes within the cell, for example,
by those involving RNA molecules, which bring about the construction
of proteins. The meaning of the code is thus the activity which
it guides. Most of this meaning is potential or virtual, because
only a small part of the information content of the DNA molecule
is being "read" at any given moment (in accordance with
the total context of the cell with its environment). Basically,
this is similar to what happens in map reading and in a computer.
But here we have an objective activity not produced by man which
can be understood as the meaning of an objective information content.
One may quite generally see the essential relationship of information
and its meaning with the aid of the notion of energy. That is
to say, information is a form which literally "informs"
(i.e., forms from within) an "unformed" energy to give
rise to a corresponding determinate activity. Consider, for example,
a radio wave, on which information is carried as a form. This
wave has a certain small energy, but it is not the energy of the
wave that comes out of the loud speaker. Rather, the form of the
radio wave is impressed, through a vacuum tube or a transistor,
on the (relatively) unformed electrical energy acting in the radio.
Similarly, the form in the state of the silicon chips enters into
the energy in the computer, to Give shaper to a corresponding
activity. Likewise, in our subjective experience, when we see
a printed page, for example, the form of the letters gives rise
in our nervous and physical energy to a whole set of virtual activites
(e.g., in the imagination), some of which may be further actuaised
according to context and circumstance.
If we now return to the causal interpretation of the quantum theory,
it is clear that the "dance" of the electrons may similarly
be regarded as the objective meaning of the information content
in the "score" of the wave function. As in the previous
examples, the wavefunction contains information implying a vast
range of potential or virtual activities. In this case, these
will be actuaised by entering into the energy of the self-active
particles, in ways that depend on the initial configuration of
the whole system. The notion of participation, guided by a common
"pool" of information and its meaning, is thus given
an objective significance. In this way, we see that, even at the
most fundamental levels of physical law known at present, the
mechanical notion of an interactive universe is seen to be inadequate.
It is in need of replacement by the notion of an objectively participative
universe that includes our own participation as a special case.
In the causal interpretation, the wavefunction satisfies Schrodinger's
equation, in the same way as in all other treatments, and this
implies, as has been shown (e.g., by Feynman), a movement of enfoldment
and unfoldment. But now this notion of movement in the implicate
order applies to the information content and not directly to the
particle. The particle is indeed a concept based on the explicate
order. Its explicate order of movement will then be an expression
of the information content enfolded in the implicate order, as
the movement of the dancers is an expression of the information
content enfolded in the score. This will hold even when we go
to the many particle system with its multi-dimensional wavefunction,
which still constitutes an implicate order, though one of immensely
greater subtlety and complexity than that of the one-particle
However, even at this point, the theory remains with the somewhat
arbitrary feature of simply bringing together the particle with
an implicate order. But, if we go to the quantum mechanical field
theory (rather than the theory that applies to particles) we can
then drop the notion of the particle as basic altogether. The
field is now playing the role that the particle played in the
theory that we have been discussing thus far. In this way, we
are freed of all traces of our original mechanical point of departure,
based on the use of the classical particle concepts. Even the
particles can now be shown to be constantly created, sustained,
and annihilated, in a process in which the energy of the field
as a whole is given relatively stable and autonomous forms by
an "information pool" contained in the wavefunction
of the universe. This development shows that the implicate order
now contains its own principles of actualization and stabilization
of forms, the need for which I pointed out near the beginning
of this talk. This is a very important point, but as it is not
of primary relevance in the context that I am discussing, I shall
not carry it further here.
5. Information and Meaning at the Level of Mind
One of the main things that we have discovered thus far is how
matter and mind turn out to be similar in key ways, when we interpret
the quantum theory as we have done here. I shall now show that
further insight into the similarity can be obtained by starting
instead from the side of mind.
With the aid of a little reflection, we can see that a major part
of the activity of mind is just the apprehension of meaning. Thus,
if we are looking at something that is not very clear, our main
question has to do, not with a detailed description of the various
sensations that we are experiencing, but rather, it is: "What
does the whole set of sensations mean?"
Moreover, as has indeed already been indicated earlier, a mayor
part of the significance of meaning is Just the activity, virtual
or actual, to which a given structure of information may give
rise. It is easy to verify this in extensive detail in our subjective
experience. For example, if on a dark night, a configuration of
sensations suggesting a shadow suddenly presents itself this could
give rise to a thought informing us that what confronts us may
be an assailant. This information means the possibility of danger,
which is expressed as a whole range of virtual activities, such
as fighting, running, and freezing. The very presence in the mind
of these virtual activities is however not a purely
"mental" process. Rather, it is inseparable from all
sorts of related physical and chemical processes, such as excitation
of nerves, release of adrenalin and other hormones, rapid heart
beat, tensing of the muscles, etc. On the other hand, a thought
informing us that what confronts us is probably only a shadow
will lead to a correspondingly different set of virtual and actual
activities of this nature. Further reflection shows, moreover,
that such a state of affairs is general and pervasive in the whole
of our experience (e.g., consider our reactions to meanings such
as "friend" or "enemy" "good" or
We have seen earlier however that the concept of information and
its meaning can be extended, so that the active relationship between
them described above holds also in an objective sense, for example,
with computers, with DNA, and with quantum processes. One may
nevertheless at first sight tend to think that there is still
an important way in which our subjective experience is different.
For here, the action flowing out of meaning can be mediated by
conscious reflection in thought, whereas in the objective examples,
it is not. But actually, even in the field of subjective experiences,
such action is immediate. That is to say, we do not first
apprehend meaning, and then think and decide to act. Rather,
each meaning is an activity and this activity is inseparable
from what it is. Of course, a certain meaning may not imply the
necessity of immediate action, but rather, it may call for reflection
in thought. However, such a suspension of immediate action, leading
instead to the action of reflective thinking, is still, of course,
just another kind of action that is inseparable from the meaning
in question. Or to put it differently, no matter what happens,
it happens according to the total meaning that prevails,
at the moment when this action takes place.
It seems clear from all this that meaning is simultaneously both
mental and physical in nature. It can thus serve as the link or
"bridge" between these two sides of reality. This link
is indivisible; in the sense that information contained in thought,
which we feel, to be on the "mental" side, is at the
same time a neurophysiological, chemical, and physical activity,
which is clearly what is meant by this thought on the "material"
But we have up to this point considered only a small part of the
significance of meaning. Thus, our thoughts may contain a whole
range of information content of different kinds. This may in turn
be surveyed by a higher level of mental activity, as if it were
a material object that one were "looking at". Out of
this may emerge a more subtle level of information, whose meaning
is an activity, virtual or actual, that is able to organize the
original items of information into a single greater whole. But
even more subtle information of this kind can in turn be surveyed
by a yet more subtle level of mental activity. And at least in
principle, this can evidently go on indefinitely.
Each of these levels may then be seen from the mental or from
the material side. From the mental side it is an information content
with a certain sense of meaning as virtual activity. But
from the material side it is an actual activity that operates
to organize the less subtle levels, and the latter thus serve
as the "material" on which such operation takes place
among us. Thus, at each stage, the meaning is the link or bridge
between the two sides.
Our proposal is then that a similar relationship holds even at
indefinitely greater levels of subtlety. I am suggesting that
this possibility of going beyond any specifiable level of subtlety
is the essential feature on which intelligence is based. That
is to say, the whole process is not intrinsically limited by any
definable pattern of thought, but is in principle constantly open
to fresh creative and original perception of new meanings.
This way of looking at the subject contrasts strongly with the
commonly held notion, which has been mentioned earlier in connection
with the discussion of the ideas of Descartes, that matter and
mind are separate substances. Indeed, the current usage of the
word "psychosomatic" exemplifies such a notion, implying
as it does, that "psyche" or "mind" and "some"
or "body" are separate entities that can nevertheless
somehow interact. In our view, however, the mental and the material
are two sides of one overall process, that are (like form and
content) separated only in thought and not in actuality. Rather
there is one energy which is the basis of all reality. As in the
examples discussed earlier in connection with physics (e.g., the
vacuum tube or transistor, the computer, the electron and its
"dance", etc.), the form on the mental side gives
shape to the activity of this energy, which latter acts on less
subtle forms of process that constitute, for this activity, the
material side. Each part thus plays both roles, i.e., the mental
and the material, but in different contexts and connections. There
is never any real division between mental and material sides,
at any stage of the overall process.
The above implies, in contrast to the usual view, that meaning
is an inherent and essential part of reality as a whole, and is
not merely a purely abstract and ethereal quality having its existence
only in the mind.
6. An Extension of the Quantum Theory
Let us now return to a consideration of the quantum theory. What
is its relationship to the question of the interweaving of the
physical and the mental that has been suggested here?
Firstly, let me remind you that, because the wavefunction may
be regarded as information whose meaning is in the dance of the
electrons, there is a basic similarity between the quantum behavior
of a system of electrons and the behavior of mind. Along these
lines, the non-local connections of electrons in this "dance"
might seem at first sight to offer some hope of explaining parapsychological
phenomena. But as we have already seen earlier, such behavior
of material systems could be important only under the carefully
controlled conditions of a highly refined quantum mechanical measurement,
or else at very low temperatures. Neither of these possibilities
seems to have any bearing on the actual processes undergone by
the brain and nervous system. These take place under conditions
that are not controlled in this way and at temperatures that are
much too high to produce typical long-range behavior.
It seems clear then that if we wish to relate mental processes
to the quantum theory, the latter will somehow have to be extended.
The simplest way of doing this is to improve the analogy of mental
processes and quantum processes by considering that the latter
would also go on to indefinitely great levels of subtlety.
To bring about such an extension, one could begin by supposing,
for example, that as the wavefunction constitutes information
whose meaning is to give form to the dance of the particles, so
there is a super-wave function, whose meaning is to give form
to the dance of the ordinary or first order wavefunction. This
latter would now no longer generally satisfy Schrodinger's equation.
The current quantum theory would then
be an approximation, holding only when the action of the super-wave
function can be neglected.
Of course, there is no reason to stop at this super-wave function.
One could go on to suppose a series of wave functions of independently
many orders, with the wavefunction of each order constituting
information that gives form to the activity of the next lower
order wavefunction. In this way, we could arrive at a process
that would be very similar to that to which we have been led in
the consideration of the relationship of mind and body.
One may then ask: what is the relationship of these two processes?
The answer that I want to propose here is that there are no two
processes. Rather, I would suggest that both are essentially the
same. This means that that which we experience as mind, in its
movement through various levels of subtlety, will in a natural
way ultimately reach the level of the wavefunction and of the
"dance" of the particles. There is no unbridgeable gap
or barrier between any of these levels. Rather, at each stage,
some kind of meaning Is the bridge. This implies that the ordinary
quantum mechanical wavefunction represents just one stage in the
whole succession of levels of active meaning.
The content of our own consciousness is then some part of this
process of the overall activity of meaning. It is implied that
in some sense, a rudimentary consciousness is present even at
the level of particle physics. It would also be reasonable to
suppose an indefinitely greater kind of consciousness, that is
universal and that pervades the entire process. But it is clear
that, each kind and level of consciousness may have a relative
autonomy and stability, in spite of its being immersed in an immensely
greater context of process that is simultaneously mental and physical.
7. Implications for Parapsychological Phenomena
Clearly, the theory that has been sketched throughout this talk
has a wide range of implications for parapsychological phenomena.
I shall however discuss only a few of these here, that may have
a general bearing on parapsychological research, rather than go
into any attempt to make a detailed application to particular
Firstly, it is evident that this theory is directly relevant to
understanding the relationship of mind and matter as experienced
under normal conditions. In this regard, the main unusual feature
of parapsychological phenomena is that they generally involve
what may be called a non-local connection between the consciousness
of a person who is in one place and an object, event, or person
in some distant place (and perhaps even at some distant time),
under conditions in which one can see no known physical basis
for this sort of connection.
Since we have ruled out the ordinary quantum potential as an explanation
for such connection (because the conditions are not appropriate)
it is clear that we will have to look to the activity flowing
out of the super-quantum wavefunction for this purpose (and ultimately
to that of yet higher order wavefunctions). But the ordinary quantum
mechanical wavefunction, on which this acts, is already in a multi-dimensional
configuration space, which cannot in general be understood as
a structure in three-dimensional space. More generally, at higher
orders of subtlety, there is even less reason for supposing that
information and meaning are necessarily located in space. Indeed
especially at the level of wavefunctions of the higher orders,
one may say that contact can depend more on similarity or "resonance"
of meanings than on location in space.
On this basis, psychokinesis could arise if the mental processes
of one or more people were focussed on meanings that were in harmony
with those guiding the basic processes of the material systems
in which this psychokinesis was to be brought about. In this way,
for example, the wavefunctions of radioactive atoms in a sample
could be altered, if perhaps only slightly. What is crucial here
is that under conditions of a stationary state, the causal interpretation
implies that the particles are at rest.(2) The slightest modification
of the wave- function that did not satisfy Schrodinger's equation
could bring about a drift of particles in some particular direction,
and this could significantly change the probability of decay.
The result would be a small change in the observed statistical
counting rates of the general sort that has actually been reported
in many experiments. It would however require a much greater penetration
of the "meaning" of the dance of the particles to bring
about a systematic change that was large.
Telepathy and transmission of thoughts and dreams can always be
looked at as particular forms of psychokinesis, which act directly
from brain to brain to convey thoughts or dream images. Distant
viewing would be more difficult to explain on this basis. But
the possibility is open that when harmony or resonance of "meanings"
is established, the action works both ways, so that the "meanings"
of the distant system could act in the viewer, to produce a kind
of inverse psychokinesis, that would in effect transmit an image
of that system to him.
Of course, to say much more on this subject, it is necessary to
develop a more detailed mathematical theory of how the superwavefunction
is related to the wavefunction. There are a few clues in physics
as to how one might proceed, coming mainly from exploring the
possibility of relating the super-wavefunction to thermodynamical
and statistical mechanical properties such as entropy. However,
I shall not go into these points in further detail here. Eventually,
consideration of parapsychological evidence could perhaps also
help suggest new ideas toward this end.
As a matter of fact, the theory that has been proposed here is
similar in some ways to certain somewhat more detailed theories
developed by Walker(10) and later by Mattuck and Walker,(11) which
may perhaps help to provide a line of research that may be fruitful.
They too proposed modifications of Schrodinger's equation brought
about by the effects of mind on matter. All these suggestions,
however, involve a set of rather complicated and arbitrary mathematical
assumptions, merely in order to get well-defined events to take
place even under ordinary conditions (i.e. through the "collapse"
of the wavefunction). The advantage of the causal interpretation
is that it directly explains this level of material process in
a simple and natural way without any further mathematical assumptions.
New kinds of action of the mental in the physical then come in
only at levels at which the ordinary quantum mechanical laws are
In this connection, there is another very important point that
I would like to make here. This is that it is not enough to propose
abstract mathematical laws. As suggested earlier in the talk,
it is also necessary that these laws be intuitively comprehensible.
This is because the laws are themselves meanings, which
can participate significantly in the overall process of the interweaving
mental and physical sides that, according to our proposals, constitutes
reality as a whole. From this, it follows that even in applying
a theory of this relationship of mind and matter, a person has
in this very act, to be doing what he is talking about, i.e.,
participating in a common meaning, with another object, process
or person (or persons). In this kind of participation, our habitual
analysis in terms of a separate observer and observed object is
no longer relevant. For it leaves out the meaning common to both,
which is crucial to what is actually happening.
Now, it seems inevitable if one assumes that all one has is a
set of mathematical formulae, without any intuitive understanding,
that one will look on this set of formulae as referring to something
entirely other, both to itself and to the person who is thinking
about the formulae. Such a pattern of thinking implies that one
has to use the fomulae to calculate what may be done to the observed
object, and to try, as a separate being, to act on that object
to bring about whatever results that may be desired. This indeed
is characteristic of the entire approach of modern science and
technology to the whole of life. To change this is not at all
easy for us who have followed this pattern of perception and action
almost from our earliest days.
The ability to feel and comprehend intuitively the meaning of
one's ideas in addition to expressing them precisely and mathematically
can play a very important part in the development of a new attitude
of participation. Such an attitude will not emphasize the distinction
between observer and observed, which latter is almost certainly
not the best approach in the context of parapsychological research.
Out of this can arise a new common meaning that is not directed
mainly to getting results of a predetermined nature. That is to
say, an intuitively graspable theory may be of help not only in
permitting the comprehension of the phenomenon on an intellectual
level. It may itself be a significant factor in bringing about
the kind of participation that should be most conducive to eliciting
these phenomena more readily. At the very least, it should help
free us from these presuppositions and preconceptions, which pervade
our way of thinking, whose meanings constitute an active block
to the participating consciousness that is needed in this field.
What is under discussion here is, of course, not merely a way
of understanding and working with parapsychological phenomena.
It is a different self-world view, emerging out of modern physics,
and yet going beyond the restrictive framework from which modern
physics grew. In this way, the discoveries of modern physics come
to give support to the movement in which the rigid division between
observer and observed can be dropped - a movement that could evidently
be the beginning of a fundamental change in consciousness itself.
(1) D. Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London (1980).
(2) D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 85, 165, 180 (1952).
(3) D. Bohm, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, Routledge
and Kegan Paul (1957) republished (1984).
(4) D. Bohm and B.J. Hiley, Foundations of Physics 5, 93 (1975).
(5) For a general account of these, see for example, G. Zukov,
The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Rider/Hutchinson, London (1979).
(6) The figure is taken from C. Philippidis, C. Dewdney and B.J.
Hiley, Nuovo Cimento, 52B, 15 (1979).
(7) R. Thom, Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, ?, Benjamin,
(8) D. Bohm and B.J. Hiley (to be published).
(9) L. Brillouin, Scientific Uncertainty and Information, Academic
Press, New York (1964).
(10) E.M. Walker, Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association,
(11) R.D. Mattuck and E.H. Walker, The Iceland Papers, edited
by A. Puharich, Essential Research Associates (1979).
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