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.