Monthly Archives: November 2018

Bohm and Hiley on “active information”

McLuhan was greatly struck by an observation in Norbert Wiener’s 1950 The Human Use Of Human Beings  concerning “the electron valve “:

it is no longer necessary to control a process at high energy-levels by a mechanism in which the important details of control are carried out at these levels. (173)

He had read Wiener’s book soon after it was published and then immediately wrote to Wiener relating this observation to his own field of English literature:

Your account of the uses of the vacuum tube in heavy industry is an exact description of the poetic techniques of Joyce and Eliot in constructing their works. Their use of allusion as situational analogy effects an enormous amplification of power from small units, at the same time that it permits an unrivalled precision. (McLuhan to Norbert Wiener, March 28, 1951, Norbert Wiener Papers M.I.T.)

In essays from the early 1950s1 McLuhan went on to specify further both how “a tiny amount of energy can be exactly controlled or stepped up instantly to very high potentials”2 and how this principle applied to language and communication in general. Wiener had traced the idea back to Edison3, but for McLuhan it could be seen at work throughout “the whole history of culture”:

When current is too weak for direct flow, it can, in a vacuum tube, be used as signal voltage on the grid of the tube. Then every variation in the shape of the wave will be faithfully reproduced in the output wave of the tube. Thus a tiny amount of energy can be exactly controlled or stepped up instantly to very high potentials. Now metaphor has always had the character of the cathode-anode circuit, and the human ear has always been a grid, mesh, or, as Joyce calls it in Finnegans Wake, Earwicker. But Joyce was the first artist to make these aspects of language and communication explicit. In so doing, he applied the principles of electronics to the whole history of culture.2

The central point was that control of an electric circuit or of sense requires a break through a repurposing takes place. As McLuhan would later put it: “the gap is where the action is”.

With electronification the flow is taken out of the wire and into the vacuum tube circuit, which confers freedom and flexibility such as are in metaphor and in words themselves.5

Such a break in flow occurs in all language and communication:

Metaphor means a carrying across. All speech is metaphoric because any oral sound is a gesture towards externalizing an inner gesture of the mind. (…) [Likewise] writing is metaphor for sound. It translates, or metamorphizes the audible into the visual. There is necessarily discontinuity in metaphor. There has to be a leap from one situation to another. (‘Radio and Television vs. The ABCED-Minded’, Explorations 5, 1955) 

Now Bohm and Hiley offer comparable considerations of what they call “active information” in The Undivided Universe:6

  • new properties of matter (…) are revealed by the quantum theory. The first of these new properties can be seen by noting that the quantum potential is not changed when we multiply the field ψ by an arbitrary constant.(…) This means that the effect of the quantum potential is independent of the strength (i.e. the intensity) of the quantum field but depends only on its form.
  • consider a ship on automatic pilot being guided by radio waves. Here, too, the effect of the radio waves is independent of their intensity and depends only on their form. The essential point is that the ship is moving with its own energy, and that the form of the radio waves is taken up to direct the much greater energy of the ship.
  • The basic idea of active information is that a form having very little energy enters into and directs a much greater energy. The activity of the latter is in this way given a form similar to that of the smaller energy.
  • consider a radio wave whose form carries a signal. The sound energy we hear in the radio does not come directly from the radio wave itself which is too weak to be detected by our senses. It comes from the power plug or batteries which provide an essentially unformed energy that can be given form (i.e. in-formed) by the pattern carried by the radio wave. This process is evidently entirely objective and has nothing to do with our knowing the details of how this happens. The information in the radio wave is potentially active everywhere, but it is actually active, only where and when it can give form to the electrical energy which, in this case, is in the radio.
  • in the process of cell growth it is only the form of the DNA molecule that counts, while the energy is supplied by the rest of the cell (and indeed ultimately by the environment as a whole). Moreover, at any moment, only a part of the DNA molecule is being ‘read’ and giving rise to activity. The rest is potentially active and may become actually active according to the total situation in which the cell finds itself. While we are bringing out (…) the objective aspects of [active] information, we do not intend to deny its importance in subjective human experience. [On the contrary]7, we wish to point out that even in this domain, the notion of active information still applies.
  • it seems that the general idea of something like active information is (…) needed for an ontological explanation of quantum theory.
  • The wave function is defined in the configuration space of all the particles. (…) Information is ordered in the configuration space rather than in the ordinary space of three dimensions.  The fact that the wave function is in configuration space implies that we have to look more carefully into the meaning of active information in such a context. First of all we may consider its implications for all the motions of the particles. These now respond in a correlated way to what is, in effect, a common pool of information. 

“Configuration space” considered as “a common pool of information” and as differentiated from three dimensional space is closely related to Bohm’s notion of the “implicate order” of possibility.8



  1.  Documented in Poetry as circuit control.
  2.  ‘Radio and Television vs. The ABCED-Minded’,  Explorations 5, 1955.
  3. The Human Use Of Human Beings: “The most flexible universal apparatus for amplifying small energy-levels into high energy-levels is the vacuum tube, or electron valve. The history of this is interesting, though it is too complex for us to discuss here. It is however amusing to reflect that the invention of the electron valve originated in Edison’s greatest scientific discovery and perhaps the only one which he did not capitalize into an invention.” (173)
  4.  ‘Radio and Television vs. The ABCED-Minded’,  Explorations 5, 1955.
  5. Historical Approach to the Media, 1955.
  6. The selections here are from The Undivided Universe, sections 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4.
  7. Bohm and Hiley: “however”.
  8. For further discussion of this important jigsaw piece, see The keyboards of existenceBohm on the spacetimes of consciousness  and Riezler on possibility.

Riezler on possibility

Kurt Riezler’s considerations of ontology and of possibility are closely bound together. He conceives of Being as the urge to realize particular form from out of the range of possible forms: “Being is intrinsically mobile”. It is this dynamic urge that is fundamental to all movement, especially the movement of creative insight.1 For this is insight which is creative just to the extent that it aligns itself, knowingly or not, with the prior urge of Being itself. Both are essentially unmotivated by anything prior to them.2

The selections below are from Riezler’s 1940 Physics and Reality  In them Riezler speaks in the name of Aristotle to modern physicists.3 The selections are given here in the order in which they appear in Riezler’s text.

Being is intrinsically mobile, changing. What does that mean?

Before we attempt an answer [to the question of Being and its mobility], we shall have to agree upon the meaning of the [word] ‘is’.4 Perhaps here at the very beginning lies the source of our dissension. Your meaning of this ‘is’ may not be mine, mine not yours. If I am not mistaken you recognize only one possible meaning of that ‘is’.

I see, however, discontent and resistance in your faces. I can guess what annoys you — that dangerous word ‘is’. You fear to get entangled with its secret. You have worked out a thesis intended to elude it. You do not want to (…) hear that this ‘is’ is doubtful.

You admit perceptions only if they can be confirmed by any possible perceiver. [But] you eliminate the particular individuality of the perceiving subject. You have taken great pains to cast out the individual. You assume one ever present anonymous observer [as] the [only] possible observer. Statements relative to him are for you ‘objective’ statements about reality. By such statements you establish your order of nature. You have, as a consequence of this assumption5, no right to pretend that you coordinate a totality of all possible or real perceptions with your model of nature [or] that your design of this model is confirmed by the totality of your perceptions. You have made a selection [from the range of possible perceptions and perceivers] and a very narrow one at that.

You have not eliminated the subject; you have eliminated merely the individual differences [of subjects] in favor of an [undifferentiated] anonymous subject (…) an odd creature, a robot without blood and heart, whose only being consists in reading numbers from the pointers of your instruments.  Your ‘objective’ reality is merely an (…) order relative to this robot observer. All that is not measurement is closed to him. Your most intimate and impressive experiences mean nothing to him. He has no part in the colorful fullness of Being.

So your objective world has become a strange world relative to a strange observer.

Everything [in your view] is unequivocally determined — [your] Real is the only Possible [one] and the [only] Necessary [one]. There is [for you] only one modality of Being.

Where is your criterion (…) that permits one world line and forbids another (…)? You have no such criteria.

Let us look at the relation between [your] kind of causality and the principium rationis. This causality [of yours] presupposes an axiomatic order that underlies the successions [you posit] in time and is built in a very particular way. From this (…) follows the causal relation [you investigate] between events or states. Thus [your] law of causality presupposes a specific axiomatic system. [But we] may deny6 this specific order and yet maintain the principium rationis. If there are other axiomatic systems able to cover the order of physical happenings the law of causality [you posit] would have to give way to another kind of determination. The principium rationis would not be shattered. 

In every moment the possibility of motion, even if not actualized, is present, inherent in your reality, as something lacking.7

Between moving and being moved, between the possibility and actuality of either, life is suspended. The absent mode is silently present as danger or as need. In the interplay of all these modes of motion you have your life — in their concordance, tension, disunity. All these emotions are knotted together. By their being so knotted they and you are concrete.

Instead of [merely] consulting your [set] scheme of nature [objectively] (…) question your own reality in your actions: your own selves as possibility are the ‘Whence’ [of] yourselves as actuality, the ‘Whither’ of your actions.8  The Whence and the Whither are different modalities of Being. The two modes are interconnected in a unity that is not to be divided. In between the two you are at every moment of your life. You are both. You are what you  are able to be.9 Your potentialities, even if not actualized now or ever, are nonetheless part of you. From your potentiality you reach out toward your actuality; from your actuality you are bent back to your potentiality. That is the to and fro motion and tension ever present, at every moment. When we pose the one without the other we disrupt the living reality. 

Your actuality at any given time is real in its relation to your potential actions10, all your possibilities being mutely present. But this potential Being is diversely articulated: [its range includes all] the possibilities of your own selves (…) and [all] the possibilities of the external world constituting11 your environment. One might say: internal and external  possibility. They too are interrelated. They move between harmony and discord. (…)  We have to consider the logos that conjoins them. You cannot comprehend one of its members by tearing it from the others. The detached part would cease to be. The parts exist only as a whole articulated within itself, only together. Each is silently present in the others.

Being is nothing without a world in which it is actualized,  vain is a world that does not reveal Being.

We can say that living beings are always ‘on the way’ from a Whence to a Whither — and that not because Time goes on. Forget Time for a while. In acting and being acted on this ‘being on the way’ has a different meaning. In pure acting the self-constituent being is ‘on the way’ from itself to itself, from its innermost potentiality to the actualization of this potentiality (…) In pure acting the Whence of Motion is somewhat like your inner nature, the Whither somewhat like its fulfilment. In my terminology the Whence is dynamis, the Whither the energeia of this dynamis. This motion is self-movement. It is the joy of all your joy. 

Measured and judged by that self~movement, undergoing action means to be moved. But we are finite beings. Pure acting is not our lot. In undergoing action we move not from ourselves to ourselves, but from one something to another something, neither of which is entirely ‘we’. We are acted on in so far as we are moved aside from the way we are on; in our acting, we are [at once] deprived of our possibilities [and] our actualities are stunted and shattered. Thus I say: in acting and being acted on the Whence and the Whither are not the same Whence and Whither. In acting they are yours, in being acted on they are not. But keep in mind that both acting and being acted on are only modes of one and the same Being, that we are always on both [these] ways. We are able to act only because we are beings who are acted on. And we are acted on only as beings able to act.

All (…) your actions imply undergoing action. Suffering may even be the larger part of your acting.

When our acting is pure acting, which it never is, we move from a potential self to an actual self. This is one of the two modes of our ‘being on the way’. We are all at every moment ‘in between’ our potentiality and our actuality. Do not, please, think of these two termini of our acting as cause and effect, or apply Time to them. (…) Put your mind on the  logical structure linking the two terms together in yourselves so that each is the one of the other. If the first term, the Whence, appears to be prior to the Whither, it is certainly not prior in Time, as is cause to effect. Its priority, if there is priority, is by nature not by time. 

In this reading the two terms [potentiality and actuality, dynamis and energeia] would be related as ‘reason’ to ‘consequence’. (…) This ‘reason’ is, as it were, the soil, the
ground, out of which the action grows. It is ratio essendiDisregard your ratio cognoscendi.

From Sappho come forth sweet sounds. Only in singing is Sappho what she is; her own actuality. Sappho silent, the potential singer, is not yet quite what she is: the fullness of her Being. Or better still, consider her language. This language, as [the] pure potentiality of singing, certainly is and [yet] is not [yet] something real. Only in singing does it become wholly itself, its very own reality become sure of itself and enjoying being real. Potentiality thirsts for actuality [= “Being is intrinsically mobile”]. Language wants to be spoken, to sound, Sappho wants to sing.

Sappho’s singing will make clearer what I mean when I speak of pure action: the actualizing of Sappho’s inner nature, passing from potentiality to actuality. In her singing Sappho moves herself, from herself to herself. In this kind of motion singing, not the song, is the Whither, the end.

Consider the kind of Being you must attribute to your language, when you are not actually speaking it. It exists in that mode of Being I call possibility. The essence of language is that it can be spoken. But language is not a mere sum of possible utterances, of vocabulary, and grammar. It is all [an] organized whole, a system, embracing an immensity of possible phrases, styles, all manner of good and bad speaking. This mode of Being, I confess, is not altogether easy to grasp. In its innermost life language seems to be animated and governed by something you call its spirit, a thing to be neither denied nor understood clearly. As beings capable of speech you can conceive of yourselves as being ‘in’ your language as in a field of possibilities. You yourselves are this field. Its inner life, its hidden spirit is part of you. When you speak you pass from possibility to actuality. You actualize the language and yourselves. 

The basis of what you call your inner nature, your Whence, is such a field of possibilities. A field of possibilities is a kind of axiomatic system, like one of your spaces, the three dimensional space of Euclid, for instance. The axioms govern the figures that can be actualized in such a space. In the same way the immanent axioms — which, taken together, are what [one may]12 call the spirit of your language — rule your speech. Of course you do not know these axioms of your inner nature; they remain secluded. They limit your possibilities; they also guide your actualizing. You may again note for later, that a moment ago I used the term ‘space’, [but this is] not yet your space of the order of the Many…

This field of possibilities has nothing to do with your electrodynamic and gravitational fields. We are dealing with something far more fundamental. In your view of reality there is no such thing as a field of possibilities or even possibility at all. You deal with actualities after having deprived reality of its reach into the realm of the possible. But the possible too is real in its way.

When you regard your inner nature you will recognize that something like a field of possibilities is part of your reality and that this field is endowed with a dynamic force. You yourselves as [related to] such a field are a ‘dynamic agens‘. There is something urging you from possibility into actuality. This very urge is the lifeblood of your existence.

Before leaving [discussion of] the Whence I should mention that it has to do with what I called matter. Matter is potentiality. It is not your matter.

Applying the concept or the Whence as a field of possibilities to our being among others in a common world we may say that your inner nature as a field of possibilities governed by an unseen system of laws or norms or axioms or codes, and endowed with that dynamic urge for actuality, is merely a field in a field or [a] space in space. (…) Your individual field of possibilities stands in a more general space, common to you and to others. You may think of this general space too as governed by laws, ordered by axioms valid for you as well as for others. There may even be, as in your geometry, a hierarchy of spaces of increasing generality leading to the odd conception of the still undetermined space of unlimited possibility, which awaits fashioning: a receptacle of axioms. That I call ultimate matter, but I do not mean your matter. It is this space Plato speaks of in the Timaeus

In this general space, which is neither your space nor your matter, you and the others-to-you are begotten. The  different individual fields are not side by side, unconnected.  They are in a more general field. It is in this field that you actualize yourselves as individual fields, and so do the others. Thus your moving changes the fields of the others [and] their moving changes yours. Referring to your possibilities you must distinguish between an inner and an outer possibility, the first expressing your inner nature, the other representing the situation that permits you to do A and restrains you from doing B.

Pure possibility is an abstraction. Possibility is nothing in itself. It is what it is through its relation to actuality. Your possibility is a momentum of your reality.

Your present individual actuality (…) may be [conceived as] your possibility actualized at the moment. It is by no means all your possibilities or the best. It is never quite your own. In this present actuality you ‘are’ all you are [currently] capable of, [but at the same time] you ‘are’ somehow [also] your not yet actualized possibilities. At any moment you may be said to be acting in so far as you move from yourselves to yourselves, actualizing and continuing to actualize your innermost possibility [from the range of possibilities]. Acting you enjoy your own selves — and the world.

Your potential being holds more than one actuality. Choosing means a movement from more than one to one.

To you [modern physicists] possibilities are not real. An observer who happened to be of your cast of mind would insist that the actuality expanded in actual space-time is the whole of reality. He would try desperately to connect the actualities located at different points of this space-time by means of your straight-line causality.

[We] move from the possible to the actual within the range of [our] possibilities, actualizing one of them, be it germane or more remote. In their action these two modes of being on the way [from the the possible to the actual and between actualities] are intermeshed.

The movement from actuality to actuality includes another movement from the potential to the actual. (…) This beginning [in the potential] and this end [in the actual], the Whence and the Whither of acting, are not separated by a stretch of time. They must be thought of as synchronous.

Your world is the plane of actuality. Your laws relate  actualities to one another. They are verified by experience in a stratum detached by the anonymous observer from the totality of phenomena. (…) But the plane of actuality is not the entire body of reality. Reality embraces both actuality and potentiality; the surface and the depth, in which the [identities we experience] are engendered [and] from which they strive to emerge. These [identities], called substances, relate [potentiality to actuality and] actuality to potentiality.  At every moment they are in between the concord and discord [of potentiality and actuality]. They move and are moved, act and are acted on.

There is only one foundation. Possibilities progress to  actuality. This is the primary movement.

The past is the actualized part of possibilities, the future the part waiting to be actualized. The past ever increases, the future decreases. It is beyond your power to change the past, an absolute impotence; you may be able13 to change the future, a relative weakness [but also a relative potency].

A certain movement is concealed that connects not only present with past and future actualities but also your potentiality with your actuality. In remembering you do not merely go back to past actualities. You remember what you were from the beginning, your potentiality, your inner nature with its secret rules and tendencies. The learning child remembers what he never knew. That is Plato’s Anamnesis. [When] you go back to the ‘Whence’ of your acting in every moment you are fully alive; when not, you lose yourselves.

You will never be able to comprehend the concrete interplay of past and future by merely connecting past and future as parts of your straight-line time of actualities. You must draw in possibility. Then you transcend your concept of time as a line of now points, to each of which belongs a given actuality.

Differentiate actual fields and fields of possibility, which are [fundamentally to be distinguished but are] related to each other. Perhaps that would help physics too and make it easier for you to deal with matter.

When you take hold of Matter — a bit of Matter here and now — it becomes to you nothing but a physical field of force. Thinking about the physical field of force and its changes you feel you need something that produces and agitates such a field: Matter reappears as a ‘dynamic agent’. So you endow Matter with a kind of double nature. In that you are right. But note: this double nature is not contradictory, nor is it something to get free from. The doubleness is unity, articulated within itself. The field of force is the present actuality of a field of possibilities which strive to actualize themselves. That is ‘matter’.

  1. ‘The movement of creative insight’ — a dual genitive!
  2. See Bohm on making and matching.
  3. Occasionally clarifications of Riezler’s words have been inserted — his English was very good, but it was not his mother tongue. The first word of a selection has sometimes been capitalized where it is not capitalized in the original. Reference page numbers have been omitted since the book is very short (121 pages) and several of the formats of the book available at the Internet Archive are searchable. Finding the original passages is very easy at the Archive site or by downloading the book in one of the searchable formats.
  4. Riezler: “We shall have to agree, before we attempt an answer, upon the meaning of the ‘is’.”
  5. Instead of ‘as a consequence of this assumption’, Riezler has ‘then’.
  6. Riezler: ‘You may deny’.
  7. Something lacking: Aristotle’s steresis (στέρησις).
  8. The two instances of ‘actions’ in this sentence have been substituted for Riezler’s ‘acting’.
  9. Instead of ‘what you are able to be’, Riezler has ‘what you are able to do’.
  10. Riezler has ‘acting’ here, not ‘actions’.
  11. Riezler: ‘concerning’.
  12. Riezler: ‘you’.
  13. Riezler: ‘unable’.

Riezler on ontology

Kurt Riezler was Kurator (regent) and professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt from 1928 to 1933, where he assembled an outstanding faculty including Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Max Wertheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Karl Mannheim, Paul Tillich and others. Riezler attempted to recruit Heidegger as well and although he did not succeed, the two became good enough friends that Heidegger stayed with Riezler when he visited Frankfurt.

As seen in his 1940 Physics and Reality lectures, given in New York after Riezler’s emigration from Germany, he was greatly influenced by Heidegger’s appeal to a renewed consideration of Being and to do so especially with Aristotle. Indeed, in these lectures, Riezler spoke in the name of Aristotle.  First person constructions in the selections below therefore relate to the Stagirite, while second person constructions refer to contemporary physicists.

The nature you talk about as scientists is not the nature you mean when you say ‘l am’. Nature is one, immutable,  eternally varying — the way of Being in all beings, revealed as eternal movement, formation, deformation, and transformation. You yourselves, [with] your desire for knowledge, you are Nature. And yet you have opened between your comprehension of yourselves and your knowledge of Nature a chasm that engulfs in darkness your common being.  

You cannot (…) find the way back to the unity of Being, to that one Nature in which you are kin to all beings, the eternally equal, which, imperturbable, conceals and reveals itself in all that is

You dispense with ‘is’.

A statistical law does not state anything about the nature of elementary events. It is from their inherent nature, preliminary to all aggregates, that the arrow of Time springs. Here must be its source. This source you cannot find.

The answer the world gives to your way of questioning is an order of [instrumental] pointer readings. (…) This answer is an answer neither of the world nor of your own Being. You can make it pass neither as one nor the other. You have not examined the ‘Being’ of the subject. Maybe from its knowledge of its own Being the subject would have given [and been given] an entirely different answer. [But] you have lost the ability to inquire in that way: you no longer even know that such a way of inquiry is possible and still less that you could obtain an objective answer to such questions. 

You know and accomplish a great deal, yet you have no picture of Nature, no total design of Being. 

You have cut science into parts. I am aghast, seeing that in your hands the specialization of sciences has resulted in dissecting the world into many worlds. I cannot make myself believe that this satisfies you. The world is one. Nature is one. One tie links all Being. That uniting logos of Being must be unearthed. My name for this task, ontology, has acquired ill fame. But what’s in a name? The task remains — soluble or not — yours [today] as [much as] it was mine [yesterday].

Thought, even when proceeding  without contradiction, remains empty unless it refers to Being. We must question Reality and listen patiently to what it condescends to tell us.

The logos of Being revealed in you and in the world surrounding you — that is the kind of knowledge Man by his very nature longs for.

In putting this question you must step back1 — far, perhaps so far as to revise the meaning of the’ is’ in your questions. 

I must go behind your very first assumptions. I return to the meaning of the tiny word ‘is’.

There is in your subjectivity an objective reality by virtue of which you ‘are’. That is what I am speaking of. It is the soil all beings are rooted in.

I court Being in this sense. On this quest you must not start from an order of the Many in space and time. 

The inward denseness, not the outward breadth, has to be grasped. What l am searching for I call ‘Being’, concreteness, [the] Being of beings so far as they ‘are’

Empty is this cosmos and all within it futile unless it is founded in this Being of Being. 

Only the whole ‘is’. In this whole the inner density of Being resides. 

My master and friend, Plato, said: all Nature is ‘born together’ [Menon 81d]. This statement, interpreted as a statement about the order of the cosmos, would mean: all the different beings that exist — stones, animals, plants, stars — were born together.2 That is not the primary sense of Plato’s words. Not the Many, distributed in time and space, were born together, but that logos by virtue of which every one of these Many has its being is a unity of ‘momenta’ that are born together.3 The body of this unity cannot be disjointed. Physis means the nature of Being qua Being. This nature is the same in all beings that ‘are’.

It is not the Many of the world ordered in space and time, but the oneness of Being folded within itself. It is this One that needs to be inquired into and comprehended before the Many can be brought into an order.

You must seek in a quite unaccustomed way. Nature is one. The little word ‘is’ [here] has a double meaning. Corresponding to this double meaning are two senses of the word ‘nature’. First yours: the order of the Many in time and space, Nature as world. Then mine: nature as  ‘Physis‘, the structure of concreteness so far as the concrete is concrete; Nature as Being.

Nature as world is ‘given’ as a compound of phenomena in the breadth of space and in the length of time. Nature as Physis is revealed to you in yourselves as [the] inner density of your existing, as [the] substantiality of your Being. Either is [= ‘can be’] experience. To each kind of experience corresponds a way of putting questions: To the first, the question concerning the order of the Many, the frame of this order, the relations connecting the Many, the laws governing these relations. To the second corresponds another way of questioning: inquiry into ‘Being as far as it is’, into that logos and that community of momenta in which reality is really real. To me the second question is the one to be put first. You lost sight of this question when you separated subject and object. Thus the double meaning of ‘is’ cleaves in two the meaning of the word ‘nature’, of experience, the framing of the question, the logos of an answer, and [of all] knowledge. And yet Nature is one in both senses of ‘is’, in both kinds of revelation, in both ways of putting questions. This unity is Nature’s own secret. To distinguish the two senses is not a whimsy of human thought and speech; the realness of reality imposes it. A Mystery divides and unites the two. It will not do to put the one question without also putting the other.

Being is nothing without a world in which it is actualized, vain is a world that does not reveal Being. Either reading of Nature remains devoid of meaning without the other. Only in each other ‘are’ they both. 

Being is a logical unity, the unity of a structure. (…) Each [particular one] is a One, however, not only by virtue of being countable as one but by that very unity of modes united in a logos whose wholeness is antecedent to its articulations.

Nature antecedes your separating subject and object. She embraces both. Their correlation is what is ‘given’ first. If you separate the two and break their unity she will elude you.

You receive reality from others as well as give it to others. In give and take, in to and fro, in the concord and discord of both, has your Being the wholeness of Being.

In between all these momenta, in their unity, tension, conflict, Substance ‘is’ and confers Being on things through relating them to itself. 

The order of the Many, called ‘world’, is a plurality of Ones. These Ones are Ones by nature not by human thought. They are autonomous Ones, substances. In Substance the substantiality of the One and of the Many is tethered. Substance unites World and Being. Through Substance World becomes Being, Being becomes World. All other categories are related to Substance. Like Substance they must (…) play a double role: they must order the Many and articulate the logos of Being. Charged with erecting the frame of the order of the Many, these categories should have a meaning in that logos of Being qua Being that is able to cover the inner concreteness [of all things]. 

Being includes the correlation between Subject and Object that is antecedent to your separating. 

I inquire into ‘Being’ — into the structure of the logos by virtue of which a being essentially ‘is’. 

Consider the kind of Being you must attribute to your language, when you are not actually speaking it. It exists in that mode of Being I call possibility. The essence of language is that it can be spoken. But language is not a mere sum of possible utterances, of vocabulary, and grammar. It is an organized whole, a system, embracing an immensity of possible phrases, styles, manners of good and bad speaking. This mode of Being, I confess, is not altogether easy to grasp. In its innermost life language seems to be animated and governed by something you call its spirit: a thing to be neither denied nor understood clearly. (…) You may think and speak of the different styles of a language as of spaces in space, fields in a field. (…) In this general apace, which is neither your space nor your matter, you and the others to you are begotten. The different individual fields are not side by side, unconnected. They are in a more general field. It is in this field that you actualize yourselves as individual fields, and so do the others. Thus your moving changes the fields of the others [and] their moving changes yours.

All these momenta of time, however, are ‘born together’; none can be isolated. Thus in articulating Substance we articulate Motion; in articulating Motion we articulate Time; but in all this articulating we meet one and the same logos of momenta, interconnected by an eternal necessity: the logos of Being. Nature’s very nature.

The logos of substance uniting the creator and the creature,  natura naturans and natura naturata, is the logos of Being — to be enjoyed and to be endured.

Relation is prior to the relata. You actually do not define one by means of the other but each by means of a whole that is articulated within itself.

The One is folded within itself.

Being is immortal; all beings die.

Reality has both an outward breadth and an inward density.4 (…) The two are correlated. They must be seen together. The one must help you to decipher the other. Their relation  precedes the relata.

So you [must learn to] know Being — the realness of reality. Try to grasp the iron logos welding together the inseparable joints of this Being; you will find it at the bottom of whatever you choose to look into.

  1. The step back — der Schritt zurück in German — has been considered in Germany at least since Schiller’s ästhetische Briefe and was an important topic for Heidegger.
  2. Riezler seems to have intended the phrase “born together” in the sense of ‘born joined’, not (or not primarily) as ‘born at the same time’.
  3. See the previous note. Logos for Riezler is the joint of things.
  4. See Riezler on possibility.

Riezler on the situation of the world

Kurt Riezler (1882-1955) may or may not have been read by McLuhan or Bohm.  But even if they did not, his 1940 Physics and Reality is important to consider in the context of their work in multiple perspectives.

Riezler’s short book is a consideration in the name of Aristotle of modern physics. Both for the sake of the dire situation of the world (not only on account of the then raging WW2) and for the sake of physics itself, Riezler recommended a return to the Greeks and to the notion (particularly developed by Aristotle) of the implication of possibility with actuality — or, in Bohm’s terms, of the implicate with the explicate order. Indeed, in the course of the book, Riezler raised a series of issues which are close to those found in McLuhan and Bohm and which, therefore, may be considered as additional jigsaw pieces for comparison to theirs. Further, Riezler had been close to Heidegger before emigrating to the US so that his work served to introduce little appreciated aspects of Heidegger’s thought without weighting them with Heidegger’s name or with the further complications of Heidegger’s difficult texts. Further yet, by applying Aristotle and Heidegger to modern physics, Riezler placed them in a context outside of philosophy where verification or falsification might be possible in a way, or ways, that are impossible within it.

Riezler’s analysis of the contemporary world closely matched those of McLuhan and Bohm:1

You are caught in a maze, snared by habits and trapped by methods from which you cannot free yourselves. (…) You have the most ingenious instruments, you use the most efficient methods, you know the most astounding laws. Your ships, automobiles, airplanes, and radios unite the globe and connect events. Your catapults pull down cities and upturn stones from the bottoms of your fields. You endow your rulers with superior technical means that choke all possibilities of opposition. (…) The most intense of all your experiences is your desire for knowledge; [but] in vain do I look for the place of this experience in your scheme of the Universe. There is no place [for it]. This, not your successes, is what astonishes me most. This experience has not and cannot have a place in your scheme. You have shut yourselves off from Nature. The further you penetrate into what you call nature the more elusive you become to yourselves. What, by Zeus, have you been doing? (…) You have opened between your comprehension of yourselves and your knowledge of Nature a chasm that engulfs in darkness your common being. You realize it. In all the splendor of your inventions this is your secret grief and the scandal of your science. (…) I must confess a tinge of admiration in my horror. This world [of yours], however, is merely the world of your anonymous observer: a world of [instrumental] pointer readings. (…) It is bleak and barren  and lacks sun despite its lucidity.  (…) I have been wondering how you are able to live in this world without freezing. (…) Your science is a mirror inadequate to the object to be reflected. There is something to which it is and must be blind. You are not able even to name this something, let alone detach it from the qualities of the mirror and separate the object from its reflection. (…) In this mirror neither everything that is can appear nor can everything appear as it is. The mirror both fails to reflect and distorts. This is its nature. In the image you cannot separate the qualities of the thing reflected from those of the mirror. You cannot know what is omitted and what distorted. Your mirror has begotten the image with the thing. You cannot distinguish the qualities of the [thing] parent in the [image] child. This inadequacy of the mirror to reflect the thing has led you up to now to conclude that the mirror must be ·transformed. From Newton to Einstein you have done this successfully. Now [today with quantum mechanics] there seems to be a limit beyond which you cannot go. (…) By the wonder of the harmony between calculation and observation Nature has led you astray from the reality you are yourselves into a net of concepts, in which you yourselves are futile, your weal and woes dumb, your experience a paper of ciphers you are neither able nor willing to read: World and Being are disconnected. You have no way of understanding the nature of yourselves in the light of Nature outside yourselves, no way of comprehending Nature as one and the same in ruling yourselves and in ruling the myriads of beings. Thus you feel homeless and isolated wherever you are. Amid your vast knowledge you miss the very knowledge you were born to desire. (…) You deal with abstractions, no longer with physical things. (…) Again and again just that in which the realness of reality resides will elude you. It must. (…) Here you are blocked, fenced in by your own procedure. (…) Your cosmos is a void. Reality has evaporated into numbers (…) into the void of bodiless abstractions. (…) When rulers of another breed run the enormous machines of your states and use your discoveries as means for their ends, and everywhere thought is banished into secret societies, you may one day be disposed to ask my question and ponder my answer [as proferred in this book].2 


  1. As well as those of Innis and Havelock.
  2.  Physics and Reality: pages 3, 3, 4, 4, 14, 14, 14, 28, 35, 61, 105, 105, 112, 115, 117.

Bohm on “the wrong turn”

Bohm’s 1980 dialogues with Krishnamurti published in 1985 as The Ending of Time begin as follows:

Krishnamurti: How shall we start? I would like to ask if humanity has taken a wrong turn.
Bohm: A wrong turn? Well it must have done so, a long time ago, I think.
K: That is what I feel. A long time ago… It appears that way —why? You see, as I look at it, mankind has always tried to become something.
B: Well possibly. I was struck by something I once read about man going wrong about five or six thousand years ago, when he began to be able to plunder and take slaves. After that, his main purpose of existence was just to exploit and plunder.
K: Yes, but there is the sense of inward becoming.
B: Well, we should make it clear how this is connected. What kind of becoming was involved in doing that? Instead of being constructive, and discovering new techniques and tools and so on, man at a certain time found it easier to plunder his neighbours. Now what did they want to become?
K: Conflict has been the root of all this.
B: What was the conflict? If we could put ourselves in the place of those people of long ago, how would you see that conflict?
K: What is the root of conflict? Not only outwardly, but also this tremendous inward conflict of humanity? What is the root of it?

McLuhan contemplated something like such a wrong turn in terms of the neolithic revolution and the institutionalization of visual space. For Innis and Havelock, too, the ascendancy of the eye relative to the ear introduced a dynamic of change in human history which has never yet been deeply understood.  Verstand in Hegel and Metaphysik in Heidegger introduce comparable concerns.

In all of these investigations, a key requirement is to understand what Krishnamurti calls “the root of conflict”. If there was some great change in human history, that change must have been rooted in some existing capacity for change, some dynamic as Aristotle put the point, that was already present in humans and that then came to particular emphasized expression. 

Not only outwardly, but also this tremendous inward conflict of humanity…

Indeed, time itself must have such possibility within it.  Or is time nothing other than such dynamic possibility for change?

K: …as I look at it, mankind has always tried to become something. (…)
What kind of becoming was involved?

The fundamental demand is to understand humans beings and their history in terms of potentials. What was — or is — already the case such that human history has unfolded as it has unfolded? As McLuhan wrote to Innis in 1951: 

I think there are lines appearing in Empire and Communications, for example, which suggest the possibility of organizing an entire school of studies. Many of the ancient language theories of the Logos type which you cite for their bearings on government and society have recurred and amalgamated themselves today under the auspices of anthropology and social psychology. Working concepts of “collective consciousness” in advertising agencies have in turn given salience and practical effectiveness to these “magical” notions of language. But it was most of all the esthetic discoveries of the symbolists since Rimbaud and Mallarmé (developed in English by Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Lewis and Yeats) which have served to recreate in contemporary consciousness an awareness of the potencies of language such as the Western world has not experienced in 1800 years.

McLuhan Bohm jigsaw pieces

Seemingly with no connection between each other, McLuhan and Bohm set out an astonishing number of parallel thoughts.1

These comparable thoughts may be taken to exemplify “the unintended parallelisms in methods” that Sigfried Giedion described in his introduction to the 1941 first edition of Space, Time & Architecture as “springing up” in the twentieth century between “the specialized sciences and the equally specialized arts”:

Unity, for us, will have to come about through the unintended parallelisms in methods that are springing up in the specialized sciences and the equally specialized arts. There are the indications that we are nearing a spontaneously established harmony of emotional and intellectual activities. In both contemporary science and contemporary art it is possible to detect elements of the general pattern which our culture will embody. The situation is a curious one: our culture is like an orchestra where the instruments lie ready tuned, but where every musician is cut off from his follows by a soundproof wall. It is impossible to foretell the events that will have to come before these barriers are broken down.

A number of questions ensue:

  • considered as similar pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, or puzzles, how do the individual pieces compare?2 how do they serve to augment or to modify or to clarify one another?
  • once one of these jigsaw pieces is put forward, is there a red thread which then leads an investigator on to others in the series?3
  • what pieces were taken by McLuhan on the one hand and Bohm on the other as particularly significant for putting the whole puzzle together?
  • how do the final ‘wholes’ compare?
  • what can be concluded from the repeated appearance of these pieces and their compound wholes throughout history?
  • how do these pieces and their compound wholes compare to other notions of the whole and their pieces?4 
  • how does this way of investigating compound wholes relate to the “comparative philosophy” of Paul Masson-Oursel5, Rupert Lodge (McLuhan’s first mentor) and others?


  1. A start on setting out these parallels has been made in posts on Bohm. Furthermore, many of these thoughts have recurred throughout the tradition in roughly similar form since the time of Plato and Aristotle (and arguably before them with the pre-Socratics). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,  many have been highly elaborated in the work of Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. These comparable (not to say identical) further jigsaw pieces in philosophy must ultimately be examined with those of McLuhan and Bohm in the ways described in this post. In this context, see also the posts on Plato and on Riezler.
  2. As referenced in the preceding note, a start on this question in reference to Riezler and Bohm has been instituted elsewhere in this blog.
  3. Such a red thread might be considered as a kind of self-replication procedure belonging to the series itself. Or, in any case, as the activity of a kind of organic compound.
  4. This comparison of discrete ‘wholes’ — or galaxies — might be thought to be the question to which The Gutenberg Galaxy is an attempted answer.
  5. Paul Masson-Oursel published La philosophie comparée dedicated to his mentor, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, in 1923. It was translated into English in 1926 by F.G. Crookshank, who contributed an essay, along with one by Bronisław Malinowski, to Ogden and Richards’ The Meaning of Meaning (also from 1923).