Unfolding the Implicate Order

Excerpts from interview with David Bohm

by Louwrien Wijers, 1989

-Do you feel that the scientist, like the artist, needs some kind of stirring of the muse?

David Bohm (1917-1992)Yes, I think most scientists would agree with that. I think the scientific and the artistic spirit have something in common. The scientist wants not only to learn about the facts, but to understand how they cohere, fit together, and make a whole. He even uses criteria such as beauty and symmetry to help decide which theory he wants.

The scientist cannot capture the whole cosmos in thought. In his mind he makes a kind of microcosm, which we see as an analogue of the cosmos. In this way we try to get a feeling for the whole. The artist I suppose gets a feeling for the whole some other way.

-Is it true that the scientific spirit comes close to a kind of religious awareness?

Yes. I read long ago, in some ancient saying, that there were three basic attitudes of spirit; the scientific, the artistic and the religious. They have certain things in common and certain differences. I think this is essential.

One of the most essential points of the scientific spirit is to acknowledge the fact, or the interpretation of the fact, whether you like it or not. This means not to engage in wishful thinking and not to reject something just because you don't like it. This is not a common attitude in life generally and scientists have been at great pains in their struggle to establish this spirit. This is obviously necessary for the artist too since he cannot just simply depict things according to what pleases him, or in the way he would like them to be. The religious spirit requires the same thing, otherwise it will get lost in self-deception, as happens so easily.

-Can I take you back to your own theory which you describe as implicate order? Where does it fit in?

I had the notion that one needs to understand the reality of the process, and that quantum mechanics gave no picture, no notion of what was happening. It merely talked about the result of measurements or observations. From such results you can compute the probability of another observation, without any notion of how they are connected, except statistically. Now I tried to get some idea what might be the process implied by the mathematics of the quantum theory, and this process is what I called 'enfoldment'. The mathematics itself suggests a movement in which everything, any particular element of space, may have a field which unfolds into the would be a hologram. In a photograph, made by a lens, you have a point to point correspondence. Each point in the object corresponds to a point in the image. In a hologram the entire object is contained in each region of the hologram, enfolded as a pattern of waves, which can then be unfolded by shining light through it.

If you look at the mathematics of the quantum theory, it describes a movement of just this nature, a movement of waves that unfold and enfold throughout the whole of space. You could therefore say that everything is enfolded in this whole, or even in each part, and that it then unfolds. I call this an implicate order, the enfolded order, and this unfolds into an explicate order. The implicate is the enfolded order. It unfolds into explicate order in which everything is separated.

So I say that this movement is the basic movement suggested by quantum theory. The best analogy to illustrate the implicate order is the hologram, which I contrast to a photograph. Every part of the hologram contains some information about the object, which is enfolded.

One may now notice that we don’t need this hologram, because each part of space contains waves from everywhere, which enfold the whole room, the whole universe, the whole of everything. In the implicate order everything is thus internally related to everything, everything contains everything, and only in the explicate order are things separate and relatively independent.

-You went far beyond the current theory.

It did not change the mathematics of the theory. It was an interpretation to see what it means. Everybody has many experiences of this implicate order. The most obvious one is ordinary consciousness, in which consciousness enfolds everything that you know or see. It doesn't merely enfold the universe, but you act according to the content as well. Therefore you are internally related to the whole in the sense that you act according to the consciousness of the whole.

The enfolded order is a vast range of potentiality, which can be unfolded. The way it is unfolded depends on many factors. The way we think and so on is among those factors. The implicate order implies mutual participation of everything with everything . No thing is complete in itself, and its full being is realised only in that participation. The implicate order provides an image of how this might take place in physics in various ways. In participation, we bring out potentials which are incomplete in themselves, but it is only in the whole that the thing is complete. This makes it clear that we are not acting mechanistically, in the sense that we would be pushed and pulled by objects in the surroundings, but rather we act according to our consciousness of them so if you are not conscious of them you cannot act intelligently toward them. Consciousness, therefore, is really our most immediate experience of this implicate order.

Ordinarily we aim for a literal picture of the world, but in fact we create a world according to our mode of participation, and we create ourselves accordingly. If we think in our present way, we will create the kind of world that we have created. Then if we think in another way, we might create a different world, and different people as well.

-Does a creator God also exist in your implicate order?

The issue is not raised. I have an idea of an implicate order and beyond that a super-implicate order, and so on - to orders that are more and more subtle. I say there are many more subtle levels. The word 'subtle' has a root sub-text meaning 'finely woven'. You may think of nets of consciousness that are finer and finer, or we may think of capturing finer and finer aspects of the implicate order. This could go on indefinitely. Then it's up to the individual. I think there is an intelligence that is implicit there. A kind of intelligence unfolds, the source of which is not necessarily in the brain. The ultimate source of intelligence is much more enfolded into the whole.

Now as regards the question whether you want to call that 'God', this depends on what you mean by the word, because taking it as a personal God might restrict it in some way. There is something like life and mind enfolded in everything. If you carry that to the ultimate then that might be what some religious people mean by the word 'God'. But the word 'God' means many different things to different people, and it becomes hard to know exactly what is implied. The implicate order does not rule out God, nor does it say there is a God. But it would suggest that there is a creative intelligence underlying the whole, which might have as one of the essentials that which was meant by the word 'God'.


From book Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy, SDU publishers, Amsterdam, 1990


[David Joseph Bohm (December 20, 1917 Wilkes-Barre, PA–October 27, 1992 London, UK) was an American quantum physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to scientists working on the Manhattan Project.]