Bohm on the spacetimes of consciousness

What is is always a totality of ensembles, all present together, in an orderly series of stages of enfoldment and unfoldment, which intermingle and inter-penetrate each other in principle throughout the whole of space. (183-184)1

one moment gives rise to the next, in which content that was previously implicate is now explicate while the previous explicate content has become implicate… (205)

  Here is Bohm’s description of the electron according to this model:

the electron is (…) to be understood through a total set of enfolded ensembles, which are generally not localized in space2. At any given moment one of these may be unfolded and therefore localized [in ‘normal’ space], but in the next moment, this [unfolded] one enfolds [= resumes its status as only enfolded] to be replaced by the [next unfolded] one that follows. The notion of continuity of existence is  approximated by that of very rapid recurrence of similar forms, changing in a simple and regular way…(183)3

In this representation, an electron can be said to be a series of (so to say) sparks4 where each spark is a certain position in spacetime. Below such “unfolded” spacetime is another space and another time, in which all possible spacetime positions are enfolded. The ‘path’ of the electron is a “very rapid recurrence of similar forms”, that is, it is the sequence of possibilities that are sparked into “unfoldment”, one after the other, such that a path of an electron appears (for a certain kind of measurement). Compare the keyboard of a piano that enfolds the possible notes of an infinite series of unfolded melodies. A particular melody results from the activation in a particular way of a particular order of particular keys. 

Here the “continuity of [the electron’s] existence” is the result of a particular sort of measurement or experience.5  Measured differently 

sequences of moments that ‘skip’ intervening spaces are just as allowable forms of time as those which seem continuous. (211)6

For Bohm, consciousness, like everything else, exhibits such an ontological movement between “enfoldment” in an implicit order and “unfoldment” in an explicit one.

each moment of consciousness has a certain explicit content, which is a foreground, and an implicit content, which is a corresponding background. We now propose that not only is immediate experience best understood in terms of the implicate order, but that thought also is basically to be comprehended in this order. Here we mean not just the content of thought (…) we also mean that the actual structure, function and activity of thought is [grounded] in the implicate order. The distinction between implicit and explicit in thought is thus being taken here to be essentially equivalent to the distinction between implicate  and explicate in matter in general. (204)

Consciousness exercised in what Bohm calls the mechanical order (= McLuhan’s “visual space”), restricted as it is to ‘one thing at a time’, is unaware of such multiple synchronic levels of reality. Or, more precisely, it is aware of them, but only as a fearsome and inexplicable “emptiness” that haunts it:

Whatever may be the nature of these inward depths of consciousness, they are the very ground, both of the explicit content and of that content which is usually called implicit. Although this ground may not appear in ordinary consciousness, it may nevertheless be present in a certain way. Just as the vast ‘sea’ of energy in space is present to our perception as a sense of emptiness or nothingness so the vast ‘unconscious’ background of explicit consciousness with all its implications is present in a similar way. That is to say, it may be sensed as an emptiness, a nothingness, within which the usual content of consciousness is only a vanishingly small set of facets. (210)


  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. This is ‘space’ as normally conceived. In Bohm’s conception, space, like time, is inherently plural. “Evidently, this leads to a fundamentally new notion of the meaning of time. Both in common experience and in physics, time has generally been considered to be a primary, independent and universally applicable order, perhaps the most fundamental one known to us. Now, we have been led to propose that it is secondary and that, like space, it is to be derived from a higher-dimensional ground.” (211)
  3. Cf, Bohm, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 1957: “if a free electron of high energy passes through a photographic plate, it leaves a record of its track in the form of small grains of silver (…) These grains of silver are deposited as a result of the interaction of the electron with atoms near which it passes (…) Thus, the grains of silver approximately localize the path of the electron. (…) According to our customary way of reasoning, we would suppose that the track of grains of silver indicates that a real electron moves continuously through space in a path somewhere near these grains, and by interaction caused the formation of the grains. But according to the usual interpretation of the quantum theory, it would be incorrect to suppose that this really happened. All that we can say is that certain grains appeared, but we must not try to imagine that these grains were produced by a real object moving through space in the way in which we usually think of objects moving through space. For although this idea of a continuously moving object is good enough for an approximate theory, we would discover that it would break down in a very exact theory. Moreover, if we tried to see by experiment whether an electron really moved between the points on the track, for example, by means of a very precise microscopic observation of the position as it passed some point, say P, we would discover that, because of the transfer of a quantum (in the process of observation), the track would change in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way and become another track. Thus, according to this view, the notion of a moving electron which supplies a continuous connection between the points at which a track is observed is at best a purely metaphysical one that could never be subjected to experimental verification.” (89-90)
  4. Cf, Bohm on the atom: “an atom is said to ‘jump’ from one state to another without passing through intermediate states and in doing this to emit an indivisible quantum of light energy” (David Bohm, ‘A new theory of the relationship of mind and matter’, Philosophical Psychology, 3:2, 1990, 271-286).
  5. The recording of a melody is subject to speed-up and other sorts of manipulation. The result is to change the temporal relationship of the notes so that they sound as (say) a linear measure or as a simultaneous chord.
  6. See the passages from Bohm in notes 3 and 4 above.