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”?