The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Wholeness and the Implicate Order: Physicist David Bohm on Bridging Consciousness and Reality

How to “include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken, and without a border.”

Wholeness and the Implicate Order: Physicist David Bohm on Bridging Consciousness and Reality

Life is an ongoing dance between the subjective reality of what it feels like to be alive, to tremble with grief, to be glad — what it feels like to be you — and the objective reality of a universe insentient to your hopes and fears, those rudiments of the imagination, the imagination at the heart of consciousness. We are yet to figure out how these two dimensions of being can be integrated into a totality. We are yet to figure out how the known physical laws can cohere with each other — relativity, the physics of the very large, is still at odds with quantum field theory, the physics of the very small — and yet to figure out how those physical laws give rise to the wonder of consciousness.

The urgency of this integration is what the physicist David Bohm (December 20, 1917–October 27, 1992) explores in Wholeness and the Implicate Order (public library).

“Planetary System, Eclipse of the Sun, the Moon, the Zodiacal Light, Meteoric Shower” by Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887. (Available as a print and as stationery cards.)

Bohm — who devoted his life to “understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment” — writes:

To meet the challenge before us our notions of cosmology and of the general nature of reality must have room in them to permit a consistent account of consciousness. Vice versa, our notions of consciousness must have room in them to understand what it means for its content to be “reality as a whole.” The two sets of notions together should then be such as to allow for an understanding of how reality and consciousness are related.

Acknowledging that these immense questions might “never be resolved ultimately and completely” — that they might belong to what Hannah Arendt insisted were the unanswerable questions that make us human — he adds:

Man’s* general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken, and without a border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.


The way could be opened for a world view in which consciousness and reality would not be fragmented from each other.

A generation after the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser contoured a view of this unfragmented reality in his notion of “the ever-present origin,” Bohm considers what arriving at such a holistic view would take:

Our general world view is itself an overall movement of thought, which has to be viable in the sense that the totality of activities that flow out of it are generally in harmony, both in themselves and with regard to the whole of existence. Such harmony is seen to be possible only if the world view itself takes part in an unending process of development, evolution, and unfoldment, which fits as part of the universal process that is the ground of all existence.

Art by Thomas Wright from An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe, 1750. (Available as a print and as stationery cards.)

Such a way of viewing reality, Bohm argues against the grain of our reductionist culture, requires fully inhabiting all aspects of the mind, including those that elude the clutch of quantification:

The proper order of operation of the mind requires an overall grasp of what is generally known not only in formal, logical, mathematical terms, but also intuitively, in images, feelings, poetic usage of language, etc… It is needed for the human mind to function in a generally harmonious way, which could in turn help to make possible an orderly and stable society… This requires a continual flow and development of our general notions of reality.


A new kind of theory is needed which drops these basic commitments and at most recovers some essential features of the older theories as abstract forms derived from a deeper reality in which what prevails is unbroken wholeness.

In the remainder of Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Bohm goes on explore how the relationship between thought and reality illuminates the way this unbroken wholeness is enfolded within each region of space and time. Complement it with Iain McGilchrist on how we render reality and John Muir on the transcendent interconnectedness of the universe, then revisit Bohm on creativity, the paradox of communication, and how we shape reality.

Published May 25, 2023




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