David Bohm’s Ontological Interpretation Of Quantum Theory – A Simple Summary
“Formulas are means of talking utter nonsense until you understand what they mean.” – David Joseph Bohm, from a 1987 interview
A Revolutionary Thinker
David Joseph Bohm (1917 – 1992) was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of modern times. He was a talented physicist, as well as a cutting edge philosopher— active during the world’s most revolutionary period of scientific discovery. During this period, Einstein’s theory and the quantum theory both were changing the way physicists studied the universe.
Mechanics Meets Metaphysics
Bohm was a highly skilled mathematician, as well as a deeply informed student of Eastern philosophy. Among his accomplishments was a textbook on quantum mechanics that he wrote. He understood the advanced equations of quantum mechanics backwards and forwards. His thorough understanding of the math, in fact, enabled him to develop a unique interpretation of quantum theory that went against the grain of the usual interpretation.
The Usual Interpretation Of Quantum Theory
- The mathematics of quantum theory provides absolutely all the information about a system that is possible for us to obtain. The wave function (or state vector) provides this information.
- The wave function does NOT represent a real wave or any other real entity. The only possible description of nature, thus, is a statistical description, where we can know only probabilities of certain events happening.
- We can never know all the measureable properties of a system at the same time. To measure one property precisely disables us from measuring another property (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle).
- Matter exhibits properties of both a particle and a wave, depending on the experimental set up. We can never observe both properties simultaneously – we must simply accept certainty in the measurement of one property, and probability in the measurement of the other property.
- Reality is indeterminate. We cannot use quantum mechanics to describe objective reality beyond the observer and the observer’s measuring devices.
Bohm’s Interpretation Of Quantum Theory
- There are hidden variables for which the current quantum theory does NOT account. Any system, thus, has greater complexity than quantum mathematics can reveal.
- The wave function corresponds to an objectively real entity.
- Matter consists of both particles and waves, inseparably connected. The waves guide the particles (somewhat as ocean waves guide their crests).
- Reality always has deeper layers that exist for new theories to reveal.
David Bohm never achieved (during his lifetime) the popular legendary status of some of his contemporaries, such as Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, and Richard Feynman. He suffered an unfortunate episode with the United States government that resulted in the U.S.A. Congress kicking him out of the country. This setback, plus the established way of doing physics at the time, kept Bohm somewhat removed from the public eye. Even so, he made many professional accomplishments, and he gained a loyal following who professed his genius then, and who continue to profess his genius today.
David Bohm’s Accomplishments
- attended The Pennsylvania State College (now The Pennsylvania State University), graduating in 1939
- attended California Institute of Technology for a year
- transferred to the theoretical physics group under Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught physics and completed his PhD. in 1943
- became an assistant professor at Princeton University, where he worked closely with Albert Einstein
- became Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo, Brazil
- later worked at the Israel Institute of Technology for two years
- appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College University of London in 1961
- developed a theory of plasmas while at Berkeley, discovering a phenomenon known as “Bohm-diffusion”
- completed his first book, Quantum Theory in 1951, which was well received by Einstein and others
Bohm authored and co-authored a number of publications, including:
- 1951. QUANTUM THEORY, New York: Prentice Hall. 1989 reprint, New York: Dover, ISBN 0-486-65969-0
- 1957. CAUSALITY AND CHANCE IN MODERN PHYSICS, 1961 Harper edition reprinted in 1980 by Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1002-6
- 1962. QUANTA AND REALITY, A Symposium, with N. R. Hanson and Mary B. Hesse, from a BBC program published by the American Research Council
- 1965. THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY, New York: W.A. Benjamin.
- 1980. WHOLENESS AND THE IMPLICATE ORDER, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-7100-0971-2, 1983 Ark paperback: ISBN 0-7448-0000-5, 2002 paperback: ISBN 0-415-28979-3
- 1985. UNFOLDING MEANING: A Weekend Of Dialogue With David Bohm, (Donald Factor, editor), Gloucestershire: Foundation House, ISBN 0-948325-00-3, 1987 Ark paperback: ISBN 0-7448-0064-1, 1996 Routledge paperback: ISBN 0-415-13638-5
- 1985. THE ENDING OF TIME, with Jiddu Krishnamurti, San Francisco, CA: Harper, ISBN 0-06-064796-5.
- 1987. SCIENCE, ORDER AND CREATIVITY, with F. David Peat. London: Routledge. 2nd ed. 2000. ISBN 0-415-17182-2.
- 1991. CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS: Exploring The Hidden Source Of The Social, Political And Environmental Crises Facing Our World, (a dialogue of words and images), coauthor Mark Edwards, Harper San Francisco, ISBN 0-06-250072-4
- 1992. THOUGHT AS A SYSTEM (transcript of seminar held in Ojai, California, from 30 November to 2 December 1990), London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-11980-4.
- 1993. THE UNDIVIDED UNIVERSE: An Ontological Interpretation Of Quantum Theory, with B.J. Hiley, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-12185-X (final work)
- 1996. ON DIALOGUE. editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, hardcover: ISBN 0-415-14911-8, paperback: ISBN 0-415-14912-6, 2004 edition: ISBN 0-415-33641-4
- 1998. ON CREATIVITY, editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, hardcover: ISBN 0-415-17395-7, paperback: ISBN 0-415-17396-5, 2004 edition: ISBN 0-415-33640-6
- 1999. LIMITS OF THOUGHT: Discussions, with Jiddu Krishnamurti, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-19398-2.
- 1999. BOHM-BIEDERMAN CORRESPONDENCE: Creativity and Science, with Charles Biederman. editor Paavo Pylkkänen. ISBN 0-415-16225-4.
- 2002. THE ESSENTIAL DAVID BOHM, editor Lee Nichol. London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-26174-0. preface by the Dalai Lama