Monthly Archives: September 2018

Bohm on the ratio of ratios

McLuhan saw the ratio of ratios, aka, the analogy of proper proportionality, as fundamental:

Perhaps the most precious possession of man is his abiding awareness of the Analogy of Proper Proportionality, the key to all metaphysical insight, and perhaps the very condition of consciousness itself. This analogical awareness is constituted of a perpetual play of ratios among ratios. A is to B, what C is to D, which is to say the ratio between A and B, is proportionable to the ratio between C and D, there being a [third] ratio between these [first two] ratios, as well. This lively awareness (…) depends upon there being no connection whatsoever between the components [of these various ratios]. If A were linked to B, or C to D, [or A:B to C:D], mere logic would take the place of analogical perception, thus one of the penalties paid for literacy and a high visual culture is a [loss of such perception through its] strong tendency to encounter all things through a rigorous [connecting] storyline… (Through the Vanishing Point , 1968)1

Twenty years before, in 1948, McLuhan had made the same point in a letter to Ezra Pound:

the principle of metaphor and analogy – the basic fact that as A is to B so is C to D – AB:CD (McLuhan to Pound, December 21, 1948, Letters 207)

Bohm’s 1980 explication of the ratio of ratios in Wholeness and the Implicate Order accords closely with McLuhan’s:

ratio is not necessarily merely a numerical proportion (though it does, of course, include such proportion). Rather, it is in general a qualitative sort of universal proportion or relationship. Thus, when Newton perceived the insight of universal gravitation, what he saw could be put in this way: ‘As the apple falls, so does the moon, and so indeed does everything.’ To exhibit the form of the ratio yet more explicitly, one can write:
A : B :: C : D :: E : F
where A and B represent successive positions of the apple at successive moments of time, C and D those of the moon, and E and F those of any other object.2
Whenever we find a theoretical reason for something, we are exemplifying this notion of ratio, in the sense of implying that as the various aspects are related in our idea, so they are related in the thing that the idea is about. The essential reason or ratio of a thing is then the totality of inner proportions in its structure, and in the process in which it forms, maintains itself, and ultimately dissolves. In this view, to understand such ratio is to understand the ‘innermost being’ of that thing.3
It is thus implied that measure is a form of insight into the essence of everything, and that man’s perception, following on (…) such insight (…) will thus bring about generally orderly action and harmonious living. In this connection, it is useful to call to mind Ancient Greek notions of  measure in music and in the visual arts. These notions emphasized that a grasp of measure was a key to the understanding of harmony in music (e.g., measure as rhythm, right proportion in intensity of sound, right proportion in tonality, etc.). Likewise, in the visual arts, right measure was seen as essential to overall harmony and beauty (e.g., consider the ‘Golden Mean’). All of this indicates how far the notion of measure went beyond that of comparison with an external standard, to point to a universal sort of inner ratio or proportion, perceived both through  the senses and through the mind. (21)4

  1. TVP, 240. This passage is from ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, the second of two essays that frame TVP at its beginning and end.
  2. Later in Wholeness and the Implicate Order: “Within this new Cartesian order of perception and thinking that had grown up after the Renaissance, Newton was able to discover a very general law. It may be stated thus: ‘As with the order of movement in the fall of an apple, so with that of the Moon, and so with all.’ This was a new perception of law, i.e., universal harmony in the order of nature, as described in detail through the use of coordinates.” (114)
  3. See Bohm on formal cause.
  4.  Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) was immediately reprinted with corrections in 1981 (UK) and 1982 (US). Page reference is to the 1982 edition.

Bohm on making and matching

The principle of complementarity is indispensable to understanding the unconscious effects of technologies on human sensibility since the response is never the same as the input. This is the theme of The Gutenberg Galaxy where it is explained that the visually oriented person stresses matching rather than making in all experience. It is this matching that is often mistaken for truth in general. (McLuhan to Robert J Leuver, July 30, 1969, Letters 388)

… “testing the truth” is not merely matching by congruence or classification; it is making sense out of the totality of experience (…) Making sense is never matching or mere one-to-one correspondence which is an assumption of visual bias. (…) matching the old excludes making the new. (McLuhan, ‘The Argument: Causality in the Electric World’, 1973)

In Wholeness and the Implicate Order1 Bohm contrasts ‘making’ with ‘matching’ in much the same way as did McLuhan:

it is crucial that man be aware of the activity of his thought as such; i.e. as a form of insight, a way of looking, rather than as a ‘true copy of reality as it is’. It is clear that we may have any number of different kinds of insights. What is called for is not an integration of thought, or a kind of imposed unity, for any such imposed point of view would itself be merely another fragment. Rather, all our different ways of thinking are to be considered as different ways of looking at the one reality, each with some domain in which it is clear and adequate. (…) When we deeply understand that our theories also work in this way, then we will not fall into the habit of seeing reality and acting toward it as if it were constituted (…) corresponding to how it appears in our thought and in our imagination when we take our theories to be ‘direct descriptions of reality as it is’. (7-8)

to say: ‘This is a fact’ implies that the content of the statement in question is true. However, the root meaning of the word ‘fact’ is ‘that which has been made’ (e.g., as in ‘manufacture’). This meaning does have bearing here because, as is evident, in some sense we actually do ‘make’ the fact: for this fact depends not only on the context that is being  observed and on our immediate perception, it also depends on how our perceptions are shaped by our thoughts, as well as on what we do, to test our conclusions, and to apply them in practical activities. (43)

it is commonly believed that the content of thought is in some kind of reflective correspondence with ‘real things’, perhaps being a kind of copy, or image, or imitation of things, perhaps a kind of ‘map’ of things, or perhaps (along lines similar to those suggested by Plato) a grasp of the essential and innermost forms of things. Are any of these views correct? Or is the question itself not in need of further clarification? For it presupposes that we know what is meant by the ‘real thing’ and by the distinction between reality and thought. But this is just what is not properly understood… (53-54)

What, then, is the origin of the word ‘reality’? This comes from the Latin ‘res’, which means ‘thing’. To be real is to be a ‘thing’. ‘Reality’ in its earlier meaning would then signify (…) ‘the quality of being a thing’. It is particularly interesting that ‘res’ comes from the verb ‘reri’, meaning ‘to think’, so that literally, ‘res’ is ‘what is thought about’. It is of course implicit that what is thought about has an existence that is independent of the process of thought, or in other words, that while we create and sustain an idea as a mental image by thinking about it, we do not create and sustain a ‘real thing’ in this way. Nevertheless, the ‘real thing’ is  limited by conditions that can be expressed in terms of thought. Of course, the real thing has more in it than can ever be implied by the content of our thought about it, as can always be revealed by further observations. Moreover, our thought is not in general completely correct, so that the real thing may be expected ultimately to show behaviour or properties contradicting some of the implications of our thought about it. These are, indeed, among the main ways in which the real thing can demonstrate its basic independence from thought. The main indication of the relationship between thing and thought is, then, that when one thinks correctly about a certain thing, this thought can, at least up to a point, guide one’s actions in relationship to that thing to produce an overall situation that is harmonious and free of contradiction and confusion. (54)

Within this new Cartesian order of perception and thinking that had grown up after the Renaissance, Newton was able to discover a very general law. It may be stated thus: ‘As with the order of movement in the fall of an apple, so with that of the Moon, and so with all.’ This was a new perception of law, i.e., universal harmony in the order of nature, as described in detail through the use of coordinates.2 Such perception is a flash of very penetrating insight, which is basically poetic. Indeed, the root of the word ‘poetry’ is the Greek ‘poiein’, meaning ‘to make’ or ‘to  create’. Thus, in its most original aspects, science takes on a quality of poetic communication of creative perception of new order. (114)

The process of thought is not, however, merely a representation of the  manifest world; rather, it makes an important contribution to how we experience this world… (205)


  1. Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) was immediately reprinted with corrections in 1981 (UK) and 1982 (US). Page references are to the 1982 edition.
  2. See Bohm on the ratio of ratios.

McLuhan interview on The City as Classroom

In 1977, McLuhan did an “informal interview” with his student and chronicler, Carl Scharfe, about The City as Classroom, which had just been published. The interview is available in Youtube with a transcript. The transcript is given here in lightly edited form.


MM: The City as Classroom began out of Ivan Illich. Deschooling Society [1971] had challenged me. Illich was quite right in suggesting that we live in a new environment in which all the answers are now outside the school room and therefore he suggests, why don’t we close the schools?  I say, why not put the questions in the classroom? If the answers are now outside, let’s get the questions inside and set up a dialogue between the outside and the inside. So our book The City as Classroom [1977] is really designed to get students in small teams to go outside, to study the setup of the situations that they live with every day and to discover what they’re made of. I call it the figure-ground approach — to study sort of Ralph Nader style what is developing in this environment.

CS: What if we go back to to the word ‘school’ in ‘education’ — the roots of that — what were those words originally attended to mean?

MM: That’s what we have right at the beginning of the book. School,  scholia, among other things meant ‘leisure’ and so the persons who go to school are really the people who don’t have to work. On the other hand we have increasingly tended to turn the classroom into a place of work. We consider that the people in the classroom are workers. However the fact is that in the information environment outside, the workers are more engaged in learning than the people in the school room are. This is a paradox. There is more learning going on outside the classroom then there is inside the classroom, I mean a hundred times more.

CS: How has that situation come about?

MM: This has come about through the electronic environment. The information environment of the electric circuits and so on carry enormous quantities of information which are available to everybody outside the school room. Inside the school room not very much of this is available. The schools are committed to a form of learning which does not permit very much use of the electronic circuits. However, they’re aware of this now increasingly and aware that they might be able to take up some of the uses of the electric environment in the school. It however is merely a quantity approach and as a matter of fact I don’t think Illich in his de-schooling book made a very good analysis of the situation. He didn’t do a structural analysis, he merely noticed that the environment was now loaded with information.

CS: How would you suggest that the structure he put forth as a solution be [improved]?

MM: I don’t think he put forth any solution, he did a diagnosis. He said the situation is this and this and he suggested of course that the whole idea of the student in the school room is obsolete: that the student in the environment had been originally the form of learning. He was talking about a relatively non-man-made environment — the sort of environment he used as his model was pre-electronic and he saw that in the human past typically children and the young people were educated by simply working along with grown-up people in the community. Which is certainly true. Today the same thing is happening, we’re returning, rather. In the 17th and 18th centuries as the bourgeoisie got going they tended to pull their kids out of the environment and put them in school rooms where they could be given highly specialized training of what is now called literacy. But that sort of training had been alien to the studies of, say, the Middle Ages. Young people [then] became workers from the age of seven — they were fully qualified workmen, up to a point, by the age of seven. Today in the electronic environment a person of three years of age can be senile,  grey, with excess information.

CS: How did that come about?

MM: Just electronically. A child of three today has been around the world  thousands of times with advertisements. He has traveled to every corner of the earth with advertisements and other shows. So that he knows more  than Methuselah. Methuselah at the age of nine hundred had known very  little about this planet. He had never been around the world. But any infant today of three has been around the world many times in every corner of the world and this incredible situation is not recognized in the schools and not  taken advantage of. The phrase ‘grey at three’ comes out of James Joyce’s  Finnegans Wake but Finnegans Wake is quite aware that anybody who learns to speak a proper tongue or dialect has acquired vast information and vast skill. A child who at the age of one speaks English or his native tongue has learned more than he will ever learn again in all his life put together. That is because the language itself is a vast store of information and when a child has learned to speak English or Polish he has learned more than he will ever learn again in all his life put together. Well that is because language has this  peculiar character: it is a storehouse, it’s like a databank. Language is a vast databank stored with the impressions and knowledge of countless millions of people. Anybody who can speak any language has access to this huge databank of a language. Now electronically we are more and more aware of this and we’re more and more trying to simulate these databanks. We’re trying now mechanically as it were to store in databanks things which are  already inherent in any language.

CS: One of the things that occur to a lot of people is, if you take people out of the classroom, how much out of the classroom? What about thinking about that scheme through from high school all the way through to university into adult education. Is there a balance that you should have between inside and outside or should we totally do away [with school]?

MM: Well you can see that the book is loaded with projects which would take teams of students out of the classroom, two or three at a time. They would case the joint, size up their problem, and they’d have to do this by dialogue. They’d have to do a great deal of talking among themselves before, and then interviewing people, before they could go back to the classroom and report what they found. When they go back to the classroom there’s more and more and more dialogue with the people in the classroom and with the teacher of what they [had found].

Bohm on percept and concept

pattern re-cognition (…) requires not only concepts but active perception (…) Concepts always follow percepts.1 In fact they are a kind of ossification of percepts — endlessly repeated percepts [ossified into concepts] which frequently obscure invention and innovation. (McLuhan, ‘The Argument: Causality in the Electric World’, 1973)

In Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980)2 Bohm discusses ‘percept’ in a way that illuminates McLuhan’s contrast of percept to concept:

we have to emphasize (…) the possibility of free movement and change in our general notions of reality as a whole, so as to allow for a continual fitting to new experience, going beyond the limits of fitting of older notions of this kind [what McLuhan termed ‘the rear-view mirror’]. (42)

There is in (…) mechanical [mental] process no inherent reason why the thoughts that arise should be relevant or fitting to the actual situation that evokes them.3 The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or fitting requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory. For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one’s whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach in which all the elements fit in a new order and in a new structure. Clearly, such a flash is essentially an act of perception, rather than a process of thought. (51, Bohm’s italics)

it is necessarily implied, in any statement [being communicated], that the speaker is capable of talking from intelligent perception, [and the hearer of listening from intelligent perception,] which [intelligent perception] is in turn capable of a truth that is not merely the result of a mechanism based on meaning or skills acquired in the past. So we see that no one can avoid implying, by his mode of communication, that he accepts at least the possibility of that free, unconditioned perception that we have called intelligence. (52) 

Within this new Cartesian order of perception and thinking that had grown up after the Renaissance, Newton was able to discover a very general law. It may be stated thus: ‘As with the order of movement in the fall of an apple, so with that of the Moon, and so with all.’ This was a new perception of law, i.e., universal harmony in the order of nature, as described in detail through the use of coordinates. Such perception is a flash of very penetrating insight, which is basically poetic. Indeed, the root of the word ‘poetry’ is the Greek ‘poiein’, meaning ‘to make’ or ‘to create’. Thus, in its most original aspects, science takes on a quality of poetic communication of creative perception of new order. (114)

Bohm associates intelligent perception with communication as does McLuhan. For if it were not possible to begin anew in one’s understanding, how could a child (or the species for that matter) ever learn to speak?  Or learn anything (ie, learn anything new) in the continuing process of e-ducation?

  1. Concepts are percepts which have forgotten what they are.
  2.  Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) was immediately reprinted with corrections in 1981 (UK) and 1982 (US). Page references are to the 1982 edition.
  3. For both McLuhan and Bohm, this thought was closely tied to the question of how communication is possible at all, especially that first communication of the species or a child. “Mechanical  process” as “just a modification of what is already known or present in memory” cannot account for such novelty. So the further questions were prompted for both McLuhan and Bohm: how to explicate this possibility of communication (dual genitive!) and how to relate it to that other possibility (and predominance) of “mechanical process”?

Bohm on formal cause

McLuhan in a letter to Peter Drucker from December 15, 1959 (Letters, 259):

I refer to formal cause not in the sense of the classification of forms, but to their operation upon us and upon one another [of the forms themselves]. (…) Had a fascinating evening with Bernie Muller-Thym, last week, discussing these matters. He agreed with [the notion that] the entire order of existence and change becomes unintelligible if formal causality is banished from the center of study and awareness. At any rate, my media studies have gravitated toward the centre of formal causality, forcing me to re-invent it.

In Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980)1 Bohm discusses ‘formal cause’ in a way that illuminates McLuhan’s recourse to it:

It is of crucial significance (…) to understand (…) formal cause. Unfortunately, in its modern connotation, the word ‘formal’ tends to refer to an outward form that is not very significant (e.g. as in ‘formal dress’ or ‘a mere formality’). However, in the ancient Greek philosophy, the word form meant, in the first instance, an inner forming activity which is the cause of the growth of things, and of the development and differentiation of their various essential forms. For example, in the case of an oak tree, what is indicated by the term ‘formal cause’ is the whole inner movement of sap, cell growth, articulation of branches, leaves, etc., which is characteristic of that kind of tree and different from that taking place in other kinds of trees. In more modern language, it would be better to describe this as formative cause, to emphasize that what is involved is not a mere form imposed from without, but rather an ordered and structured inner movement that is essential to what things are. Any such formative cause must evidently have an end or product which is at least implicit. Thus, it is not possible to refer to the inner movement from the acorn giving rise to an oak tree, without simultaneously referring to the oak tree that is going to result from this movement. So formative cause always implies final cause.2(12-13, Bohm’s italics)

  1. Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) was immediately reprinted with corrections in 1981 (UK) and 1982 (US). Page references are to the 1982 edition.
  2. Just as “formative cause always implies final cause”, so does it also imply material cause and efficient cause. The “structured inner movement that is essential to what things are and that tends to a particular final end must be embodied in some material (which need not be physical matter) and must be initiated in its movement by some impetus (which need not be physical force).