Exploring David Bohm's Panendeistic God

Written by Benjamin Sullivan

David Bohm was a protégée of Einstein and Oppenheimer and is largely regarded as the greatest physicist of his generation, as well as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century.

As a visionary genius, Bohm undertook the remarkably difficult task of resolving the apparent conflict between Einstein's relativity and the prevailing interpretation of quantum physics, commonly referred to as the Copenhagen Interpretation. The primary conflict between these two theories is that Einstein's Relativity is inherently deterministic and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is inherently probabilistic. Very much aware of the fundamental incompatibility of the two theories, Bohm disliked the near-supernatural explanations provided for phenomenon like quantum entanglement, in which two particles will always exhibit polarized angles of momentum when measured regardless of whether they are a centimeter or a million light years apart. Traditional explanations for this quantum phenomenon suggest that two particles can immaterially communicate with one another instantaneously. This stands in direct contradiction to Einstein's well established theory that information cannot propagate at speeds faster than light.

The apparent conflict posed by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics was by no means limited to Bohm's recognition. Indeed, some 20 years before, Albert Einstein was likely its greatest critic. Together with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, Einstein had conceived the EPR Paradox which suggests that the wave function does not render a complete description of physical reality and is consequently inadequate. Louis de Broglie echoed this sentiment, suggesting an alternate, deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics, dubbed 'pilot-wave.' Pilot-wave theory suggests that particles arise out of and disappear into a quantum liquid-like substance, much like a drop will arise and disappear into a body of water. The theory puts forth the idea that if the ripples created by a particle's own movement were observable, the exact path a particle takes could be accurately predicted. De Broglie further argued that the future unfolds dynamically from the past and that if the exact location of all particle states were knowable at any given moment, all subsequent future states could be predicted.

While pilot-wave may have been poised to lend untold scientific understanding to quantum phenomena, it met an abrupt end in 1932 when mathematician Jon Von Nuemann announced that had proven that the hidden variables suggested by the EPR Paradox and de Broglie's pilot-wave theory were non existent. Unfortunately, it would be decades until Irish physicist John Stuart Bell identified a number of fatal flaws with Von Nuemann's 'proof,' rendering it null and void.

In the interim, this did not appear to phase David Bohm and in 1952, he offered up an enhanced variant of pilot-wave theory, now called Broglie-Bohm theory or Bohmian mechanics. Bohm had spent half of this same year engaging in deep conversations with Einstein who had read Bohm's recently published book Quantum Theory  and praised it as being the clearest presentation of quantum theory he had ever seen. Bohm went on to prove pilot-wave was a valid model that was empirically compatible with the determinism of Einstein's Relativity. Along with his staunch supporter, John Stuart Bell, Bohm laid out a theoretical groundwork to validate the EPR Paradox.

In 1959, with the collaboration of physicist Yakir Aharonov, Bohm discovered a remarkable phenomenon that demonstrated quantum interconnectedness, in which, under certain conditions, electrons are able to 'feel'  the presence of electromagnetic fields in proximity of them despite traveling in regions of space where the field strength is zero. The phenomenon, which has been confirmed numerous times through various experiments is now referred to as Aharonov-Bohm (AB) effect.

In 1982, drawing on much of Bohm and Bell's work,  a team of physicists lead by Alain Aspect in Paris decided to perform a series of inductive experiments to test the EPR Paradox. The results validated the paradox by patently demonstrating that quantum particles separated by great distances do indeed communicate in ways that can in no way be explained by information propagating at or below the speed of light.

During the course of his life, Bohm envisioned a unified theory in which particles are no longer viewed as the fundamental nature of reality. In Bohm's model, reality arises in a continuous field trough waves which posses distinct particle-like quanta that behave like information amplifiers. He saw the universe in terms of a vast matrix of waves and energy through which reality unfolds and enfolds. Underlying and permeating this reality, Bohm proposed an idea of G-d as the Cosmic Mind or Player,  which extends beyond our perception of physical reality, space, and time as an 'unknown and undescribable totality' that gives form to an otherwise formless Universe. Bohm resolved the otherwise bizarre, light speed violating behavior observed in quantum entanglement by suggesting that entangled particles are in fact always connected to one another and it is only our human perception that is inaccurate and interprets them as being apart. If you imagine a dream in which you travel a great distance, the concept is the same. Although our perception may be that we have gone somewhere, in reality, we have never moved from the initial point of our own consciousness or minds.

In Bohm's world view, the totality of all seemingly individual things that exist is a subsystem of one undivided wholeness of G-d, yet he certainly considered some form of individuality and personal responsibility to work in tandem within this model:

On this stream, one may see an ever-changing pattern of vortices, ripples, waves, splashes, etc., which evidently have no independent existence as such. Rather, they are abstracted from the flowing movement, arising and vanishing in the total process of the flow. Such transitory subsistence as may be possessed by these abstracted forms implies only a relative independence or autonomy of behaviour, rather than absolutely independent existence as ultimate substances.1-David Bohm

Bohm put forth the idea that the universe is a sort of flowing three-dimensional projection or holomovement which he called the 'fundamental ground of all matter.' This can be seen in terms of a thought (implicate order) communicating the information necessary to form our perceptual reality (explicate order). In this view, the concept of tangible reality arises through an ever ongoing process of the enfoldment and unfoldment of particles which rise up like drops from the resonance of sub-atomic space through the guidance of the whole and perhaps, to some extent, through an individual kind of sub-atomic protointelligence, to assume the form of our unified reality before falling back into the quantum sea from which they came. Bohm saw this phenomenon manifest in many real world scenarios:

The actual order (the Implicate Order) itself has been recorded in the complex movement of electromagnetic fields, in the form of light waves. Such movement of light waves is present everywhere and in principle enfolds the entire universe of space and time in each region. This enfoldment and unfoldment takes place not only in the movement of the electromagnetic field but also in that of other fields (electronic, protonic, etc.). These fields obey quantum-mechanical laws, implying the properties of discontinuity and non-locality. The totality of the movement of enfoldment and unfoldment may go immensely beyond what has revealed itself to our observations. We call this totality by the name holomovement.2-David Bohm

Beyond being a potential unified theory and elegant explanation for reality, the implicate order appears to have been inherently spiritual to Bohm, who once said:

The implicate order could equally well be called idealism, spirit, or consciousness. The separation of the two (matter and spirit) is an abstraction. The ground is always one.3-David Bohm

Along these same lines, in 1987, Bohm, penned a short speech, which he recited at the funeral service of a close friend. In this speech, Bohm effectively encapsulated what is perhaps the most succinct, profound, and elegant description for a Panendeistic G-d I have ever encountered.

The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember, and describe. This field is basically that which is manifest, or tangible. The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word spirit, whose root meaning is "wind, or breath." This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds. This energy, or spirit, infuses all living beings, and without it any organism must fall apart into its constituent elements. That which is truly alive in the living being is this energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies.4-David Bohm

Bohm envisioned G-d as an entity outside of the constraints of space, time, and material quantification and just as all Panendeists, he saw the universe we call reality as something encapsulated within a greater being:

Our ordinary view holds that the field of the finite is all that there is. But if the finite has no independent existence, it cannot be all that is. We are in this way led to propose that the true ground of all being is the infinite, the unlimited; and that the infinite includes and contains the finite. In this view, the finite, with its transient nature, can only be understood as held suspended, as it were, beyond time and space, within the infinite.5-David Bohm

Bohm believed that life and consciousness was enfolded in everything that exists in varying degrees, an ideal that we as Panendeists uphold in affirming that everything is sacred and connected to G-d. He also believed that each being is fundamentally connected and in contact with the Plenum or Spirit. He saw each individual as fundamentally part of the whole of humanity, yet simultaneously capable of transcending it. His vision was to show humanity that while we may perceive ourselves as separate and seek to embrace this concept through arbitrary constructs of division such as tribalism, race, and social status, the ultimate deep down reality is that we are all interconnected and interrelated to one another and to everything that exists. Bohm hoped that this realization would bring about a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood throughout the world, making it a kinder and more compassionate place for all its inhabitants and moving humanity forward to greater realizations and accomplishments.

Given that Bohm's ideas possess the potential to radically alter our understanding of reality and render much of the prevailing interpretation of quantum physics invalid, it is perhaps unsurprising that his work has been met with a certain degree of reactionary hostility from the physics community. However, more recently, Bohm's ideas have been gaining traction and have found new champions at well established scientific institutions ranging from Paris Diderot University, France and University of Bath, England, to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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Footnotes

  1. David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, Boston, 1980, p. 48.
  2. David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, Boston, 1980, p. 225.
  3. Quoted in Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe, HarperCollins, New York, 1991, p. 271
  4. A short speech written by Bohm in 1987 for the memorial service of his friend and University of Pennsylvania classmate, Malcolm Sagenkahn. This speech was also read aloud during Bohm's own memorial service.
  5. F. David Peat, Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm, Basic Books, 1997, p. 322