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Nobody is capable of producing 100% error—nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time (Wilber, 1999).
IN KEN WILBER’S THE EYE OF SPIRIT (1998), prefacing his criticism of Jenny Wade’s (1996) appropriation of physicist David Bohm’s “implicate order”-related ideas for her “holonomic” theory of consciousness, we find the following assertion:
Bohm himself tended to realize the indefensible nature of his position, and for a while he went through an awkward period of adding implicate levels. There was the implicate level, then the super-implicate level, then at one point, a super-super-implicate level. And all of this, of course, was claiming to be based on empirical findings in physics!
I published  a strong criticism of Bohm’s position, which has never been answered by him or any of [his] followers....
Until this critique is even vaguely answered, I believe we must consider Bohm’s theory to be refuted. And, anyway, over the last decade and a half it has generally fallen into widespread disrepute (and it has no support whatsoever from recent physics).
In reprint (e.g., third) editions, “indefensible nature” has become “inadequate nature”; “is even vaguely answered” has become “is answered”; “theory to be refuted” has become “theory to be suspect”; and “no support whatsoever from recent physics” has become “little support from most physicists.”
So presumably, in the interim, someone did give a “vague answer” to Wilber’s critique, pointing out to him that Bohm’s ideas were not quite as “indefensible” as kw would have imagined them to be. Also, that his objections to that reformulation of quantum theory, based in its apparent failure to accommodate mysticism’s hypothetical Great Chain of Being—i.e., the purported hierarchy of causal, astral, and physical realities and states of consciousness—did not entirely “refute” it. And, that his characterization of its ostensible lack of support from real physics and physicists, too, was overblown.
I will be addressing Wilber’s original critique, rather than his subsequently toned-down version of the same, in what follows. For, I do not believe that any of us should be required to purchase or slog through every new edition of each of kw’s repetitive books, just to see how he has tried to soften his previous bold misrepresentations of other people’s ideas. The conclusions here will stand firm, regardless. Plus, as we shall see, Wilber’s own attitude toward Bohm’s work, and corresponding attempts to easily dismiss it, have not improved at all in his other writings since then.
To begin, then, we note that the primary points in Bohm’s fully developed ontological/causal/deterministic formulation of quantum theory, in terms of its relation to “holographic paradigms” and for distinguishing it from the orthodox indeterministic theory, are the following:
We will examine each of those components (plus Bohm’s related “quantum potential”) in turn. In doing so we shall find, simply by comparing “what Wilber said” to “what Bohm said,” that Wilber has grossly misrepresented each of the three points above.
1. THE EXPLICATE AND IMPLICATE ORDERS
We are probably all familiar with Bohm’s colloquial “ink-drop in glycerine” analogy, utilized toward his explanation of the implicate order in his formulation of quantum theory. If not, the relevant device consists of two concentric glass cylinders, with glycerine between them, and drops of insoluble ink being placed into the glycerine as the outer cylinder is turned. With that turning,
the droplet is drawn out [or “implicated” into the glycerine] into a fine thread-like form that eventually becomes invisible. When the cylinder is turned in the opposite direction the thread-form draws back and suddenly becomes visible [or “explicated”] as a droplet essentially the same as the one that was there originally (Bohm, 1980).
The relation of the often-misunderstood implicate order to the explicate order could also be summarized as follows:
[Imagine] a wave that comes to focus in a small region of space and then disperses. This is followed by another similar wave that focuses in a slightly different position, then by another and another and so on indefinitely until a “track” is formed that resembles the path of a particle. Indeed the particles of physics are more like these dynamic structures, which are always grounded in the whole from which they unfold and into which they enfold, than like little billiard balls that are grounded only in their own localized forms (Bohm and Peat, 1987).
That contraction/unfoldment and subsequent dispersion/enfoldment, with the particle being visible/explicated only when its wave-energy is highly concentrated at the transition between those two processes, is exactly the means by which the implicate order manifests as the explicate order. The explicate order is thus a subset of the implicate order. That is, the two orders are not mutually exclusive, as Bohm himself confirmed:
[T]he explicate order itself may be obtainable from the implicate order as a special and determinate sub-order [i.e., a subset] that is contained within it (in Hiley and Peat, 1987).
Up till now we have contrasted implicate and explicate orders, treating them as separate and distinct, but ... the explicate order can be regarded as a particular or distinguished case [i.e., a subset] of a more general set of implicate orders from which latter it can be derived [italics added]. What distinguishes the explicate order is that what is thus derived is a set of recurrent and relatively stable elements that are outside of each other (Bohm, 1980).
Wilber (1982), however, has offered a different, and incorrect, understanding of what Bohm has stated so clearly above:
Some writers use the implicate order as a metaphor ... of transcendence. That is, the implicate realm is used as a metaphor of higher-order wholeness or unity, referring, presumably, to such levels as the subtle or causal.... The difficulty is that, as originally explained by Bohm for the realm of physis, the explicate and implicate “entities” are mutually exclusive [italics added]. The “ink-drop” particle is either unfolded and manifest (explicate) or it is enfolded and unmanifest (implicate). It cannot be both at the same time....
All of which is fine for the dimension of physis. But truly higher levels are not mutually exclusive with lower ones—the higher, as we said, transcend but include the lower.
Of course, “disproving the [ink-drop] analogy” would obviously not necessarily say anything about the actual implicate and explicate orders of quantum theory. Even aside from that, however, it is not clear where the assertion that Bohm had “originally explained” that the implicate and explicate entities (and thus orders) were “mutually exclusive” could have come from, other than a disturbing lack of understanding, on Wilber’s part, of both the analogy and the actual quantum orders themselves. For, we note that Bohm, by 1980, had already published his explicit statement, quoted earlier, that the explicate order is a “particular or distinguished case” or a subset of the implicate, i.e., that they are not mutually exclusive. Bohm’s (1980) work, where that statement can be found, is actually included in the bibliography of Wilber (1998)—though being mis-dated there as from 1973, the year of publication of one of the papers which later became a chapter in that book. And it is again in that 1998 book where kw’s assertion of “unanswered refutation” is given.
Much of Wilber’s (1982) critique, including the block quote immediately above, was actually written in 1979. (Other interview-related parts pertaining to that critique have their original copyright from 1981.) That, however, still does not explain (or provide any excuse for) why Wilber did not correct those significant misstatements prior to their collected 1982 publication. Nor does it account for why he has not issued relevant written statements of correction in any of his many publications in the decades since then.
The idea of the enfolding and unfolding of the implicate and explicate orders in physics has its mathematical basis in the “Green’s function” of quantum wave mechanics (or via the “unitary transformation” in Heisenberg’s matrix formulation). As Bohm notes (in Hiley and Peat, 1987):
[W]hen I thought of the mathematical form of the quantum theory (with its matrix operations and Green’s functions), I perceived that this too described just a movement of enfoldment and unfoldment of the wave function. So the thought occurred to me: perhaps the movement of enfoldment and unfoldment is universal, while the extended and separate forms that we commonly see in experience are relatively stable and independent patterns, maintained by a constant underlying movement of enfoldment and unfoldment. This latter I called the holomovement.
In the usual way of thinking, something like an implicate order is tacitly acknowledged, but it is not regarded as having any fundamental significance. For example, processes of enfoldment, such as those described by the Green’s function, are assumed to be just convenient ways of analyzing what is basically a movement in the explicate order, in which waves are transmitted continuously through a purely local contact of fields that are only infinitesimal distances from each other. In essence, however, the main point of the implicate order is to turn this approach upside down, and to regard the implicate order as fundamental, while the explicate order is then understood as having unfolded from the implicate order (Bohm and Peat, 1987).
Even in the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, we have an alternating contraction and dispersion, or unfoldment and enfoldment. For, every time the quantum wave function is “collapsed” (by observation or whatnot) this is its sudden contraction. After that, the wave function again begins to spread or disperse (in “probability space” here, but still propagating via Green’s function), until its next collapse/contraction. As such, the existence of that basic, cyclic collapse/dispersion process in quantum theory—and thus of “implicate”/enfolding and “explicate”/unfolding phenomena—is not at all arguable. (Of course, the linear nature of Schrödinger’s equation does not actually allow for such discontinuous behavior as would be required in order for its wave-solutions to “collapse” instantaneously [Bohm and Peat, 1987]. That, however, is a separate point/inconsistency in the accepted view.)
[B]asically all the laws of movement in quantum mechanics do correspond to enfoldment and unfoldment. In particular, the relation between the wave function at one time ... and its form at another [later] time ... is determined by the propagator or the Green’s function....
A simple picture of the movement is that waves from the whole space enfold into each region and that waves from each region unfold back into the whole space....
Since all matter is now analyzed in terms of quantum fields, and since the movements of all these fields are expressed in terms of propagators, it is implied by current physics that the implicate order is universal (Bohm and Hiley, 1993; italics added).
In any case, the observable motions of particles in both Newtonian and quantum physics are part of the same explicate order. Thus, any attempt to associate quantum physics only with the “more wholistic” implicate order would be woefully misled, as Bohm himself noted:
Clearly the manifest world of common sense experience refined where necessary with the aid of the concepts and laws of classical physics is basically in an explicate order. But the motion of particles at the quantum level is evidently also in an explicate order (Bohm and Hiley, 1993; italics added).
All of that is fundamental and inherent to Bohm’s mature formulation of quantum theory, and existed well prior to Wilber’s first comments on that in the late ’70s.
The explicate order is again a part or a subset of the whole implicate order. That is, the latter implicate order transcends but includes the explicate order. Or, as Bohm again explicitly stated in Hiley and Peat (1987), the explicate order is “contained within” the implicate, not merely by analogy but by the mathematics of his ontological formulation. (You cannot get much less “mutually exclusive” than to have one thing contain another within itself.) And that inclusion, of course, is exactly what Wilber wants higher levels of reality to do with respect to their juniors, in accord with the theory and theology underlying the perennial philosophy or Great Chain of Being.
So why, then, is kw so unhappy whenever it comes to Bohm’s genuinely brilliant ideas, as compared to his own? Wilber could, after all, with minimal “transpersonalizing” of the physics, easily have taken those very concepts as largely supporting rather than competing with his own, had he wished to properly represent them.
Of course, none of the above would make naïve, transpersonal attempts to map astral-level prana (or even the nondual Absolute) to the implicate order, and physical matter to the explicate, any more valid. (It could be said regardless, though, via Bohm’s “converging/dispersing water wave” and ink-drop analogies, that the explicate order “condenses out of” the implicate, as matter is believed to do from astral prana.) It does, however, demonstrate that Wilber has fundamentally misunderstood and grossly misrepresented Bohm’s ideas, here. For again, nowhere did Bohm ever “originally explain” that the explicate and implicate orders are mutually exclusive, as kw wrongly claims. Indeed, had Bohm ever done that, he would have been radically misunderstanding the most basic nature of his own Nobel-caliber theories.
Even just in terms of the ink-drop analogy, there are an infinite number of intermediate steps in which the drop is partly implicated, and partly explicated. Thus, it was never a question of the drop being either implicated or explicated, with those extreme states being forever mutually exclusive, as Wilber dualistically imagines. Even the existence of Bohm’s (1980) “implication parameter”—“the number of turns required to bring a given droplet of dye into [fully] explicate form”—would have disclosed as much.
2. THE SUPER-IMPLICATE ORDER
Regarding the existence of the super-implicate order, David Bohm, in Weber (1986), has given the following information:
In talking of a super-implicate order, I am not making any further assumptions beyond what is implied in physics today. Once we extend this [“pilot wave”] model of de Broglie to the quantum mechanical field rather than just to the particle, that picture immediately is the super-implicate order. So this is not speculation, it is the picture which is implied by present quantum mechanics if you look at it imaginatively.
Obviously, that solid basis cannot be reduced to the idea that Bohm might have just been “making up new levels” as he went along, even if the super-implicate order is itself reasonably regarded as being merely part of a still-greater order, to not be “the last word” in that. (The dialog from which the above block quote is drawn was first published in ReVision in 1983, at a time when Wilber [1999b] himself was still editing that journal.) There is thus precisely nothing “awkward” about the chronological development of Bohm’s ideas, in him adding those levels, as he himself explained (in Hiley and Peat, 1987):
[T]he original [holographic quantum mechanical particle theory] model was one in which the whole was constantly enfolded into and unfolded from each region of an electromagnetic field, through dynamical movement and development of the field according to the laws of classical field theory. But now [i.e., in extending this model to the quantum mechanical field], this whole field is no longer a self-contained totality; it depends crucially on the super-quantum potential. As we have seen, however, this in turn depends on the “wave function of the universe” in a way that is a generalization of how the quantum potential for particles depends on the wave function of a system of particles. But all such wave functions are forms of the implicate order (whether they refer to particles or to fields). Thus, the super-quantum potential expresses the activity of a new kind of implicate order [i.e., the super-implicate order].
That perspective then incorporates both the idea of the implicate order being a “movement of outgoing and incoming waves,” and Bohm’s original “causal” (or “hidden variable”) interpretation of quantum theory. (The latter formulation was published in 1952, and already contained the quantum potential term.)
The quantum potential appears when one is solving Schrödinger’s equation in deriving the “WKB approximation” of quantum theory, for example (see Chapter 3 of Bohm and Hiley ). That (mathematical) term is present immediately alongside the electromagnetic potential acting on the same system. And indeed, the quantum potential, with an effect that does not drop off with increasing distance, exerts a physical force on the matter in its vicinity, just as does the electromagnetic potential. In neither case does matter “arise” from such potentials, nor did the “original meaning” of the quantum potential ever suggest that it might, in spite of Wilber’s (1982) misunderstandings to the contrary:
[M]atter [possibly] arises from a physical energy-sea. This seems to me the original meaning of Bohm’s ... quantum potential.
The aforementioned super-implicate order, again, is a field which determines the behavior of the particles of the (first) implicate and the explicate orders. Although it is “the source from which the forms of the first implicate order are generated” (Bohm and Peat, 1987), it is not simply “another level of enfolding/unfolding particles,” akin to another link in the perennial philosophy’s Great Chain of Being. (This will become highly relevant later on, regarding Wilber’s use of his own misunderstandings in that regard to find additional fault with Bohm’s work.)
The super-implicate order makes the implicate order non-linear and organizes it into relatively stable forms with complex structures (Bohm, in [Weber, 1986]).
The essential flow [of explicated matter through time] is not from one place to another but a movement within the implicate and super-implicate ... orders. At every moment, the totality of these orders is present and enfolded throughout all space so ... they all interpenetrate (Bohm and Peat, 1987).
For the sake of completeness, and because Wilber (1982) has mentioned its existence, Bohm had this to say about the super-super-implicate order:
[A] little reflection shows that the whole idea of implicate order could be extended in a natural way. For if there are two levels of implicate order, why should there not be more? Thus if we regard the super-implicate order as the second level, then we might consider a third level which was related to the second as the second is to the first. That is to say, the third implicate order would organize the second which would thereby become non-linear. (For example there might be a tendency for the whole quantum state to collapse into something more definite) (Bohm and Hiley, 1993).
One would reasonably regard the keeping-open of those possibilities as more of a logical and open-minded position than an “awkward” one.
Note further that there is no correlation between Bohm’s “implication parameter” and the level of implicate order. That is, a greater degree of dispersion of the ink-drop in the first implicate order does not equate, even by analogy, to the super-implicate or higher-level orders. If we were looking for a level which organizes the implicate order in the ink-drop analogy, one loose option would be the person turning the handle on the glycerine-filled device.
In any case, the super-implicate order itself, as Bohm explicitly noted, does not require “any further assumptions beyond what is implied in physics today.” That is, contrary to Wilber’s misled claims, it most certainly is “based on empirical findings in physics.”
3. THE HOLOGRAPHIC NATURE OF (PHYSICAL) REALITY
As Bohm noted in Wilber (1982):
[A]ny form of movement could constitute a hologram, movements known or unknown [i.e., even beyond mere physical vibrations] and we will consider an undefined totality of movement, called the holomovement and say: the holomovement is the ground of what is manifest.
As such, Bohm’s holomovement includes all possible implicate orders, not only his first implicate order.
[T]his enfoldment and unfoldment takes place not only in the movement of the electromagnetic field but also in that of other fields, such as the electronic, protonic, sound waves, etc. There is already a whole host of such fields that are known, and any number of additional ones, as yet unknown, that may be discovered later. Moreover, the movement is only approximated by the classical concept of fields (which is generally used for the explanation of how the hologram works). More accurately, these fields obey quantum-mechanical laws, implying the properties of discontinuity and non-locality (Bohm, 1980).
In no way, then, was the holographic structure of physical reality merely an appealing metaphor grafted onto quantum theory by Bohm.
Even aside from that, the overall idea of there being a holographic nature to reality is most certainly supported by recent physics, in particular in the realm of superstring or M-theory—the physicists’ best hope for a “Theory of Everything”:
[Dr. Juan] Maldacena’s work ... supports a hot new theory that the universe is holographic.... In the Maldacena model, the four-dimensional [quantum] field theory can be thought of as a holographic projection of the five-dimensional string theory (Johnson, 1998).
[I]n certain cases, string theory embodies the holographic principle (Greene, 2000).
Maldacena’s work regarding the holographic structure of quantum gravity in superstring theory is by now “a firmly established gravity/gauge theory” (Halbersma, 2002). Between that and Bohm’s ideas, then, it would be difficult for anyone to confidently assert that the physical universe is not holographic in its structure.
Whenever we are considering the nature of holograms in general, however, the following misunderstanding seems to invariably come up:
In the hologram, the sum total of the parts is contained in each part (Wilber, 1982).
That idea, however, is not accurate, as Bohm (italics added) explained earlier in the same book:
[I]t is characteristic of the hologram that if you illuminate a part of the hologram you will get the information about the whole picture but it will be less detailed and from less angles, so the more of the hologram you take, the more detailed and the more ample the information is always going to be.
Wilber (2003b), too, has recently come to understand that basic principle.
It is therefore incorrect to say that every piece or part of a holographic plate contains all (i.e., the “sum total”) of the information about the entire scene. Indeed, the need to illuminate the entire hologram in order to get back all of the information enfolded into it follows from elementary laws of wave behavior, regardless of the type of waves (sound, light, etc.) which are being used to create and then display the hologram.
We have thus seen that Wilber’s claim that the implicate and explicate orders are mutually exclusive is not at all valid. Also, contrary to kw’s assertions, Bohm’s super-implicate order was not merely an arbitrary addition to his earlier work. And, we have very good reason to regard reality as having a holographic structure. All of those distinguishing characteristics of Bohm’s work, further, are most certainly “based on empirical findings in physics.”
[O]ver the last decade and a half [Bohm’s work] has generally fallen into widespread disrepute (and it has no support whatsoever from recent physics).
We will consider that statement in two parts: first in terms of the evolving reputation of Bohm’s ideas, and then with regard to the documented support from recent physics for those same ideas. In doing so, we shall see that Wilber has unabashedly misrepresented the realities of both of those.
It is not clear from the ambiguities in Wilber’s writing whether the “disrepute” he is attributing to Bohm’s ideas refers merely to their relation to fuzzy, transpersonal “holographic paradigms” in general, or to serious physics. If the latter, consider the following:
Due largely to a 1994 Scientific American cover story and F. David Peat’s Infinite Potential—The Life and Times of David Bohm (1997), the means by which Bohm’s alternative quantum theory had been effectively suppressed came to light, and the general outlines of this alternative were finally presented to a substantial reading public. This theory, developed in collaboration with Prof. Basil Hiley and known in its mature form as the “ontological interpretation” of quantum mechanics, is now widely viewed as a serious critique of the Copenhagen interpretation [italics added], and proffers a revisioning of quantum theory in which objective reality is restored and undivided wholeness is fundamental (Lee Nichol, in [Bohm, 2003]).
The lack of “objective reality” in the orthodox interpretation was indeed one of Einstein’s primary objections to it, even above its “dice-playing,” indeterministic nature.
From a more hard-nosed perspective, consider the testimony of skeptic Martin Gardner. (Gardner wrote the “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American for more than twenty-five years, and was largely responsible for bringing knowledge of fractals to the masses via that medium in 1978.) Indeed, Gardner’s efforts at debunking New Age ideas have earned him the praise of both Stephen Jay Gould and Noam Chomsky. Yet he had this to say (2000; italics added) about Bohm’s ontological formulation of quantum mechanics:
[T]his theory, long ignored by physicists, is now gaining increasing support. It deserves to be better known.
Gardner there is endorsing the quantum potential aspect of Bohm’s ideas, not the implicate and explicate orders which Bohm found to exist in the mathematics of both the orthodox formulation and in his own. Nevertheless, as far as support from physicists for Bohm’s ideas goes, in Gardner’s wholly non-mystical regard that very advocacy is increasing.
Likewise, Eric Dennis (2001; italics added) has noted that, contrary to past “almost maniacal” reactions to the “dissidents” in quantum physics, and to Bohm in particular,
the last two decades have brought major changes.... Indeed, there now seems to be increasing support among physicists for exorcising the [Copenhagen interpretation-based] notion of observer-created reality from the foundations of physical science.
Of course, if Wilber’s asserted “widespread disrepute” of Bohm’s ideas was referring simply to the fading hopes of the “holographic paradigm” within transpersonal/integral psychology, he may well be right about the increasing disrepute of that endeavor. For, those attempts by his fellow transpersonal and integral psychologists (not by Bohm) to split psychological stages or states of consciousness between the implicate and explicate orders are indeed not worthy of serious consideration.
Regardless, even widespread “ill repute” (whether in serious physics, transpersonal/integral psychology, or both) would at most show the temporary unpopularity of a theory, not say anything about its truth-value. That is, given a community of intersubjective interpreters who have not bothered to properly understand the theory in the first place, as has been the case with Bohm’s ideas in both physics (Peat, 1997) and transpersonal/integral psychology, its degree of repute or disrepute is wholly irrelevant. That, indeed, is even aside from the separate problem that theories and paradigms again do not generally gain acceptance simply via any force of logical persuasion in their arguments. Rather, they eventually become accepted via the “old generation” of intersubjective interpreters dying out.
Having said all that, though, we still cannot help but note that both John S. Bell and Richard Feynman contributed papers, in explicit honor, celebration and good repute of Bohm and his work in serious physics, to Hiley and Peat’s (1987) Quantum Implications. (Bell was the creator of Bell’s Inequality, which he developed on the basis of Bohm’s work. Feynman was a Nobel Prize winner, and heir to Einstein’s mantle of being regarded as “perhaps the smartest man in the world.” He had little interest in the fundamental issues of physics or philosophy, yet considered Bohm to be a “great” physicist [Peat, 1997], deferring to the latter’s expositions in their talks together.) So too did Geoffrey Chew, Henry Stapp, Roger Penrose, Ilya Prigogine and David Finkelstein. That (1987) “book of good repute” was, of course, published well within “the last decade and a half” of Wilber’s (1998) initial quote, above.
In terms of Wilber’s suggestion that Bohm’s ontological formulation, with its implicate and explicate orders,
has “no support whatsoever from recent physics,” we can be even more categorical. For, there it is very clear
that he is referring to hard science, not to transpersonal/integral psychology’s
To begin, we note that the ontological formulation of quantum theory, by the very manner of its derivation, will always be compatible with the orthodox theory. That is, any experimental results which are in harmony with the orthodox theory will also accord with Bohm’s reformulation. As such, there is no experiment for which the orthodox theory could be “right,” and Bohm’s explanations “wrong” (Bohm and Hiley, 1993).
Conversely, any experiment which supports orthodox quantum theory—as every existing one has—will perforce also support Bohm’s causal/ontological formulation. Therefore, Bohm’s view has just as much support from recent physics in that regard as does the orthodox quantum theory.
Alternatively, if the alleged “absence of support from recent physics” derives from the idea that attempts to unify quantum theory and general relativity via superstring or M-theory have thus far not included the implicate/explicate order concepts, that position need hardly be taken seriously. For, if the theorists working on M-theory are only hoping to integrate the orthodox quantum theory, not Bohm’s more-detailed formulation, into that “Theory of Everything,” then of course the implicate/explicate order structure will not be openly brought over into it, and thus not mentioned in relevant scholarly or popularized literature. Integrating Bohm’s ontological formulation into superstring theory would automatically integrate the orthodox theory—since the ontological formulation mathematically simplifies to the orthodox view—but not vice versa.
In any case, with or without that integration,
physicists have not as yet been able to make predictions [from superstring theory] with the precision necessary to confront experimental data....
Nevertheless ... with a bit of luck, one central feature of string theory could receive experimental verification within the next decade. And with a good deal more luck, indirect fingerprints of the theory could be confirmed at any moment (Greene, 2000).
Dr. Brian Greene himself is not merely a popularizer of superstring theory, but a professional physicist and significant contributor to it.
As to the state of recent physics outside of superstring theory, the Nobel Prize-winner Sheldon Glashow—the “archrival of string theory through the 1980s”—has admitted (in Greene, 2000) that, as of 1997,
non-string theorists [in conventional quantum field theory] have not made any progress whatsoever in the last decade.
In terms of looking for “support from recent physics,” then, we evidently have one half of physics which had not progressed in the decade prior to Wilber’s (1998) denigration of Bohm—and thus has nothing to say about “recent” developments in the field. On the other hand, the superstring half of the profession has a theory which may, “with a bit of luck,” be testable in one aspect of its core within a decade or so after that denigration!
Clearly, then, there is nothing within the recent developments in physics to in any way gainsay Bohm’s ideas.
And how does orthodox quantum theory fare in the superstring theorists’ “recent physics” view?
[M]any string theorists [who tend to be unfamiliar with the details of Bohm’s work] foresee a reformulation of how quantum principles are incorporated into our theoretical description of the universe as the next major upheaval in our understanding (Greene, 2000; italics added).
After all that, we should now consider the relevance of Bohm’s ideas to the deep understanding of fundamental issues in physics:
[D]espite the empirical equivalence between Bohmian mechanics and orthodox quantum theory, there are a variety of experiments and experimental issues that don’t fit comfortably within the standard quantum formalism but are easily handled by Bohmian mechanics [i.e., by the ontological formulation of quantum theory]. Among these are dwell and tunneling times, escape times and escape positions, scattering theory, and quantum chaos (Goldstein, 2002).
According to Richard Feynman, the two-slit experiment for electrons [which clearly shows the wave-particle duality inherent in quantum particles] is “a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality it contains the only mystery.” This experiment “has been designed to contain all of the mystery of quantum mechanics, to put you up against the paradoxes and mysteries and peculiarities of nature one hundred per cent.” As to the question, “How does it really work? What machinery is actually producing this thing? Nobody knows any machinery. Nobody can give you a deeper explanation of this phenomenon than I have given; that is, a description of it.”
But Bohmian mechanics is just such a deeper explanation (Goldstein, 2002).
Compare Feynman’s above presentation, from within the perspective of orthodox quantum theory, with J. S. Bell’s (1987; italics added) explanation of the same experimental context, based on Bohm’s formulation of quantum mechanics (which originated as an extension of an idea first proposed independently by Louis de Broglie in the late 1920s):
De Broglie showed in detail how the motion of a particle, passing through just one of two holes in screen, could be influenced by waves propagating through both holes. And so influenced that the particle does not go where the waves cancel out, but is attracted to where they cooperate. This idea seems to me so natural and simple, to resolve the wave-particle dilemma in such a clear and ordinary way, that it is a great mystery to me that it was so generally ignored. Of the founding fathers, only Einstein thought that de Broglie was on the right lines.
If one is truly interested in understanding what is going on beneath phenomenological appearances in the physical universe, then, one has no choice but to give an audience to formulations such as Bohm’s. As such, whatever degree of “support” may be given or withheld from Bohm’s ideas by “recent physics,” his ideas—and the questions as to the basic nature of reality which he courageously and insightfully asked—are absolutely relevant. Without such questioning there is no hope of understanding how the universe really works, in ways beyond the severe ontological limitations of the Copenhagen interpretation (in which one is not allowed to ask “what happens” to reality in between observations of it).
Taking all of that into account, the best that one can say about the assertion (by Wilber) that Bohm’s ontological interpretation “has no support whatsoever from recent physics” is that that idea itself is wholly unsupportable.
One might hope that Wilber’s perspective on this subject had improved in the twenty-plus years since his original “strong” critique of Bohm. Unfortunately, however, such is not the case, as we can see from his recent (2003) writings. Those are posted online as part of 200,000 words worth of “first draft” excerpts from the forthcoming installments in his “Kosmos” trilogy:
[T]he simplistic and dualistic notion that there is, for example, an implicate order (which is spiritual and quantum) and an explicate order (which is material and Newtonian) has caused enormous confusion, and is still doing so. But even David Bohm, who introduced that notion, eventually ended up tacking so many epicycles on it that it became unrecognizable....
[I]f you absolutize physics ... then you will collapse the entire Great Chain into merely one implicate and one explicate order....
Bohm vaguely realized this—and realized that his “implicate order,” precisely because it was set apart from the explicate order, could not actually represent any sort of genuine or nondual spiritual reality. He therefore invented a third realm, the “super-implicate order,” which was supposed to be the nondual spiritual realm. He then had three levels of reality: explicate, implicate, super-implicate. But because he was unfamiliar with the subtleties of Shunyata [i.e., trans-conceptual, metaphysical “Emptiness”] ... he was still caught in dualistic notions (because he was still trying to qualify the unqualifiable). He therefore added yet another epicycle: “beyond the superimplicate,” to give him four levels of reality....
This is not the union of science and spirituality, but the union of bad physics with bad mysticism.
At the risk of being overly repetitive, we again note the following:
Wilber’s improvements to his model of consciousness are (purportedly) grounded in empirical research in psychology. Bohm’s levels of implicate order, likewise, are certainly based on empirical research in physics. Indeed, they are grounded in measurement to a far greater degree of precision than one will find in any of Wilber’s own work, or for that matter in anything extant in transpersonal psychology or integral studies.
Bohm is thus guilty of neither “bad physics” nor of “bad mysticism.” Wilber, however, is embarrassingly culpable, if not for both of those, then for the worse repeated violence against a mere “straw man” misrepresentation, created by no one but himself, of Bohm’s ideas.
Amazingly, none of the points discussed here require an advanced understanding of physics or mathematics in order for one to sort fact from fiction. Rather, all that they ever required was for one to read Bohm’s self-popularized ideas carefully, and thus to properly understand them.
Note further that, through all of this, no “interpretation” of Bohm’s ideas is involved. Rather, all that one has to do is to look at what Bohm actually said in print, and compare that with Wilber’s presentation of the same ideas—often in the same (1982) book, no less—to see the glaring distortions in the latter.
In writing this defense, I have been given pause to wonder why Bohm himself never responded to Wilber’s original (and relatively well-tempered, compared to the gratuitous unkindness in  and ) critique. For, nearly everything quoted throughout this paper was already present in Bohm’s own published writings. Indeed, anything which wasn’t already in print two decades ago could easily have been produced by him in writing “over a weekend.”
Bohm of course passed away in 1992, after having suffered aperiodic crippling depressions throughout his life, notably in the final decade of that. Yet through all that, he continued working on his own thrillingly original ideas in both physics and metaphysics.
The answer most likely lies in Bohm’s overall attitude toward productive dialog—applied just as well in his interactions with professional physicists. Earlier in his life, arguments between Bohm and his colleagues would occasionally escalate to shouting, heard all the way down the corridors from his office. After one particularly belligerent public confrontation, however, in a realization that he and his opponent were not communicating, Bohm ceased that adversarial way of working (Peat, 1997).
Also, as time wore on, Bohm’s ideas drifted ever-farther from the mainstream in both physics and metaphysics. He thus predictably encountered the additional problem of finding it extremely rare for him to meet anyone with the open-mindedness and background necessary for them to have a productive conversation. Rather, he would have first needed to spend several days explaining his entire philosophy and metaphysics, before any satisfying communication could occur.
One might then very reasonably relate Bohm’s non-responsiveness to Wilber’s demonstrated misunderstandings and distinctly inadequate background in physics to these same ideas, and indeed could do so almost point by point. Bohm would, after all, have had to write (if not talk) for at least several days, in explaining how Wilber had misunderstood his work. And in doing so, unlike other writing in which he passionately indulged, Bohm would have discovered few if any new ideas for himself. Instead, that time would have necessarily been spent just re-hashing what he had already explicitly and implicitly put into print, and which was thus already available for anyone who cared to read his books and interviews with even a minimally attentive eye.
In any case, as far as the lack of response to Wilber’s critiques over the decade since Bohm’s death goes, few of Bohm’s admirers, past or present, have had a background in both physics and metaphysics. And overall, such a background is necessary in order for one to understand Bohm’s ideas well enough to realize how drastically Wilber has misrepresented them.
For the present purposes, as we have seen, all that one has to do in order to see the relevant misrepresentations of Bohm’s work by Wilber is to “A-B” Bohm versus Wilber. In doing so, one will again readily recognize that where Bohm himself explicitly calls something “white,” Wilber is claiming that Bohm has called it “black,” and then deriding him for that, from no more than a straw-man perspective of Bohm’s work, which Wilber himself has solely created.
If there is one overarching point which we can take from all that, then, it would be that ideas which have been proved “wrong” and “impossible” by seemingly watertight logical argument today may well be shown to be not merely possible but unavoidable tomorrow. Conversely, arguing so persuasively in favor of wrong or grossly misrepresented ideas that they seem to be inarguably correct can easily do more harm than good in the service of truth. In such a case, merely “doing one’s best” to spread one’s preferred gospel, whether integral or otherwise, is in no way good enough.
At any rate, a “late” answer to a critique is better than none at all; and the interim absence of the same should never have been confidently taken as a sign that the bold misrepresentations of Bohm’s brilliant and precise work, on Wilber’s unapologetic and inexcusably sloppy part, were unanswerable.
As Robert Carroll (2003) has noted, Wilber’s facile arguments against Darwinian evolution “dismiss one of the greatest scientific ideas ever in a few paragraphs” of what can only charitably be called gross misrepresentations. And having gotten away with that sleight-of-mind, kw does exactly the same thing to another of the truly “greatest scientific ideas” ever—in Bohm’s Nobel-caliber reformulation of quantum mechanics—in a comparable number of indefensibly misrepresentative paragraphs.
Interestingly, Albert Einstein himself—a man not prone to endorsing epicycles or “simplistic notions”—considered David Bohm to be his “intellectual successor” and “intellectual son” (Peat, 1997):
It was Einstein who had said, referring to the need for a radical new quantum theory, “if anyone can do it, then it will be Bohm.”
Conversely, Bohm did not “realize the indefensible nature of his position”—there was no “indefensible nature” to realize, only a Nobel-caliber one.
Perhaps significantly, practically nowhere does Wilber ever quote directly from (or provide page references for) the work he is claiming to synthesize or critique. Instead, he throws out long lists of scholars whose work ostensibly supports whatever point he may be trying to make at the time. As a writing style for popularizing established ideas, that would be one thing. And even when one is attempting to bring hundreds of different psychological models into a coherent spectrum, it may be partly understandable. For, the man’s books have never tended toward the slim side, even with that relatively concise approach.
Still, that method puts readers in the precarious position of having to either trust kw to have properly represented other people’s ideas—which the overwhelming majority of his admirers would indeed be fully willing to do—or find the time to reproduce the mounds of research themselves. In doing the latter, though, they would be pitting themselves against an “Einstein” who would surely not have gotten to that high position of respect were his work not all that it is claimed to be.
Ironically, Wilber himself has suffered much misrepresentation of his work by others. Indeed, in the midst of his claims that he greatly values “responsible criticism,” he has opined:
[Often] somebody will give a blistering attack on, say, Wilber-2, and that attack gets repeated by others who are trying to nudge me out of the picture (Wilber, 2001c; italics added).
KW goes on to assert, probably reasonably, that misrepresentation of his work is present in over 80% of the published/posted criticisms of it.
Bohm’s work too, however, again involved a chronological development of the ideas (or Bohm-1, Bohm-2), etc. When Wilber criticizes Bohm for his own wrong perceptions in seeing tacked-on “epicycles” in the latter’s work, then, he is doing very nearly exactly what he rightly will not accept in argument from his own critics.
One might conclude, then, by parity of argument, that in behaving thusly Wilber is trying to nudge Bohm “out of the picture,” even without being consciously aware of that.
Likewise, Wilber (2001c) quotes Keith Thompson to the effect that, given the various “studied” misrepresentations of kw’s work, none of which involved mere differences of interpretation, it becomes difficult to not attribute “bad faith” to Wilber’s critics.
By parity of argument, though, one must then allow for equal “bad faith” on the part of Wilber himself, in his studied misrepresentations of Bohm’s ideas. For none of those, too, can be reduced to differences of interpretation.
Further, contrary to Wilber’s claim that he “greatly appreciate[s] responsible criticism,” he has (to my knowledge) totally ignored Lane’s (1996) solid deconstruction of the numerous invalid aspects of his worldview. By contrast, he did find time to respond (1999) in excruciating detail to Heron’s (1997) more recent critique of his psychological model, and even later to Hans-Willi Weis (Wilber, 2003a) and de Quincey (Wilber, 2001c). Of course, those responses were given in contexts where, unlike the situation with Lane, Wilber could show, at least to his own satisfaction, that the criticisms of his ideas were not valid. (Needless to say, more recently, kw has given no satisfactory response to Meyerhoff’s excellent work—containing research and reasoning far superior to his own, by any scholarly evaluation. Nor has he, to my knowledge, even admitted to being aware of the previous online publication of any of the components of the present book.)
And note: Lane actually endorsed Wilber’s (1983b) A Sociable God, saying that it was “not only destined to become a classic, but also adds further testimony to the fact that Wilber may singlehandedly alter the course of future research in consciousness.” That is, Lane—like myself—began as an admirer of Wilber, but just kept thinking and researching. And that is all that anyone actually needs to do, to extricate himself from Wilber’s slanted version of reality. That, though, is also why the transpersonal and integral communities will ever fail to competently police themselves: people who keep reading outside of the field, into skeptical perspectives, predictably soon leave the discipline. All that is left, then, are the ones who cannot do competent research to save their lives, or otherwise face the basic facts of reality.
In defending his own published polemics, Wilber (2000) has offered the following misleading explanations:
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is in some ways an angry book. Anger, or perhaps anguish, it’s hard to say which. After three years immersed in postmodern cultural studies, where the common tone of discourse is rancorous, mean-spirited, arrogant, and aggressive ... after all of that, in anger and anguish, I wrote SES, and the tone of the book indelibly reflects that.
In many cases it is specific: I often mimicked the tone of the critic I was criticizing, matching toxic with toxic and snide with snide. Of course, in doing so I failed to turn the other cheek. But then, there are times to turn the other cheek, and there are times not to.
As for the dozen or so theorists that I polemically criticized [in the first edition of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality], every single one of them, without exception, had engaged in “condemnatory rhetoric” of equal or usually much worse dimensions (Wilber, 2001c; italics added).
Bohm, however, although not mentioned in SES—except in that his (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order is included in the bibliography, though once again being mis-dated there as 1973—is an exception to that self-absolution. For, he never stooped to any such nasty, snide behavior toward Wilber. Thus, the above rationalizations cannot be validly applied to justifying kw’s unduly vexed comments about Bohm’s consistently honest, humble and insightful work. The most that Bohm was ever “guilty” of was in having simply never responded to Wilber’s original (1982), off-base but relatively well-tempered critique, nothing more provocative.
What are the odds, then, that Wilber’s polemics in other contexts can be excused as being altogether noble attempts to “spiritually awaken” others? Or as having arisen only from others having “started” the mud-slinging? A betting man would not, one supposes, wager in favor of that.
Conversely, what are the far better odds that he is simply not being psychologically honest with himself as to the basis of his anger, cloaking it instead in a veneer of high ideals?
In further defending his behavior toward others, Wilber (1999) has written:
Even in my most polemical statements, they are always balanced, if you look at all of my writing, by an appreciation of the positive contributions of those I criticize.
Sadly, that claim, too, is untrue. For, in no way did Wilber provide any such balance himself in his own (1998 and 2003) attempted demolitions of Bohm, or anywhere else throughout his life’s work. It is difficult, after all, to “appreciate” what you have not understood—as Wilber proves in his original (1982) critique. That is so, particularly if the potential validity of the competing ideas seems to threaten your own high place in the world.
Wilber may have feebly tried to “appreciate” Bohm’s work there, but he certainly did not succeed, instead at best misrepresenting and damning it with very faint praise relative to its Nobel caliber.
Wilber (2001c) then poses the rhetorical question as to his own motivations for lashing out at others:
Did they do anything to possibly bring it on themselves, or was this just a unilateral case of me being rotten to the core?
In the case of his dissing of Bohm, however, it absolutely was demonstrably a “unilateral case” of Wilber “being rotten to the core.” For, Bohm never provoked Wilber in any way, except by being right (and silent, even while alive; and moreso since then) where Wilber has been embarrassingly, confidently and verbosely wrong. (Throughout the 1980s, Bohm was a near guru-figure to the “holographic” New Age movement—a position obviously coveted intensely by Wilber, and reason enough for him to do all he could to discredit his primary “competitor.”)
Significantly, following his (1998) misrepresentations of Bohm’s work, and even while utterly failing to respond to Lane’s (1996) devastating deconstruction of his foibles, Wilber himself again expressed the following confident opinion:
Until this [“straw man,” in kw’s case] critique is even vaguely answered, I believe we must consider Bohm’s theory to be refuted.
By parity of argument, then, until Wilber has even vaguely answered this critique....
Note: I submitted (and received confirmation of receipt for) an earlier version of this paper to The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, for peer review, in November of 2003. That process “generally takes 6+ months.” As of January, 2016, I have yet to receive a verdict from them as to whether properly researched and coherent ideas such as these have a place among their other “make believe” theorizings. Nor am I optimistic about that status changing.
No surprise, then, that there are so few published criticisms of Wilber’s work, if that is what happens to even the most thorough of them.
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