David Bohm

Scientific American has a personal recollection piece about David Bohm that captures just a slice of his humanity and his genius.

Bohm did a PhD thesis at UC Berkeley under J Robert Oppenheimer which offered basic insights into the physics of plasmas.  This was toward the beginning of the reign of Joe McCarthy and the Unamerican Activities Committee, which introduced the phrase witch hunt into the American lexicon.  [Oliver Stone’s video]   Bohm was commanded to testify against another student, who was a Berkeley activist, and he refused.  In retribution, the HUAC blacklisted him and, though he was one of the most brilliant physicists of his generation, no university could hire him.  His thesis was classified, so that he could not publish it nor talk about it in applying for jobs.  He fled to University of São Paolo in Brazil, and the State Department took away his passport, so he could not attend scientific meetings or interview for professorships outside Brazil.

It was during this time that Bohm did some of his most important and original work, writing a textbook about quantum mechanics that offered a new view of what it means.  Eventually, Bohm found asylum in England, and a professorship at University of London.  He could not return to the US because there was a warrant for his arrest.

Later in his life, Bohm offered us a fundamental insight into physics that we know how to study and physics that is impossible to study by our usual methods.  What we know how to study are patterns in space and time, where things close together are related to one another, and where an event has effects that ripple out from that center, becoming weaker as the waves travel further out.  What is so difficult to study are patterns that are spread over space and time, but the laws of quantum mechanics suggest that fully half the order in the universe is spread out in this way.

What appears to us as disorder or randomness or Heisenberg’s uncertainty is actually not disorder at all, but rather an order that is spread out so that we cannot see it with our eyes or instruments.  For example, if you put a drop of ink into a glass of water and stir the water, the dot disappears as the ink spreads through the water.  On a microscopic level, all the information is still there, specifying where the water was clear and where the ink drop was.  Under some conditions, you can actually unstir the water, and get your ink drop back.  (The secret ingredient in this video is corn syrup.)

Bohm gave us the insight that half of physics is hidden from us in a form that he dubbed the Implicate Order.  Bohm became a disciple of Krishnamurti, and though he never wrote about the connections of quantum mechanics to spirituality, his work was popularized by Nick HerbertGary ZukavFritjof Capra, and others.

 

 

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Maybe love isn’t a feeling, but a seamless connection between the interiors of two minds.

Toward the end of C. S. Lewis’s classic memoir, A Grief Observed, he recounts in similes being visited briefly by the presence of his recently-departed wife, Joy Davidman.

 It’s the quality of last night’s experience — not what it proves but what it was — that makes it worth putting down. It was quite incredibly unemotional. Just the impression of her mind momentarily facing my own. Mind, not ‘soul’ as we tend to think of soul. Certainly the reverse of what is called ‘soulful’. Not at all like a rapturous re-union of lovers. Much more like getting a telephone call or a wire from her about some practical arrangement. Not that there was any ‘message’ — just intelligence and attention. No sense of joy or sorrow. No love even, in our ordinary sense. No un-love. I had never in any mood imagined the dead as being so — well, so business-like. Yet there was an extreme and cheerful intimacy. An intimacy that had not passed through the senses or the emotions at all.

If this was a throw-up from my unconscious, then my unconscious must be a far more interesting region than the depth psychologists have led me to expect. For one thing, it is apparently much less primitive than my consciousness. Wherever it came from, it has made a sort of spring cleaning in my mind. The dead could be like that; sheer intellects. A Greek philosopher wouldn’t have been surprised at an experience like mine. He would have expected that if anything of us remained after death it would be just that. Up to now this always seemed to me a most arid and chilling idea. The absence of emotion repelled me. But in this contact (whether real or apparent) it didn’t do anything of the sort.

One didn’t need emotion. The intimacy was complete — sharply bracing and restorative too — without it. Can that intimacy be love itself — always in this life attended with emotion, not because it is itself an emotion, or needs an attendant emotion, but because our animal souls, our nervous systems, our imaginations, have to respond to it in that way? If so, how many preconceptions I must scrap! A society, a communion, of pure intelligences would not be cold, drab and comfortless. On the other hand it wouldn’t be very like what people usually mean when they use such words as ‘spiritual’, or ‘mystical’, or ‘holy’. It would, if I have had a glimpse, be — well, I’m almost scared at the adjectives I’d have to use. Brisk? cheerful? keen? alert? intense? wide-awake? Above all, solid. Utterly reliable. Firm.

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Matter and Antimatter

In the early days of quantum mechanics, Paul Dirac figured out that for every kind of particle there is another particle that is the opposite in every way.  We live in a world of electrons, neutrons, and protons.  But if the world were made of anti-electrons, anti-neutrons, and anti-protons, it would be just the same.

The standard story you hear cosmologists tell goes like this:  The recipe for the big bang included a whole lot of matter and a whole lot of antimatter.  But for every 2,000,000,000 anti-electrons, there were 2,000,000,001 electrons.  And very similar numbers for anti-protons and protons.  By the time the universe was a thousandth of a second old, all the anti-electrons had found electrons, and all the anti-protons had found protons and all the anti-neutrons had found neutrons.  But there was a tiny residue left over of unpaired particles, and that’s what our universe is made of.

If it sounds fishy to you, it sounds fishy to cosmologists, too.  Nobody likes this story very much.   Physicists don’t like to be too obvious about putting the rabbit in the hat.

There are other possibilities.  The obvious one is that maybe we live in a part of the universe where matter predominates, but there are other parts where anti-matter predominates.  They just got separated.  That’s not such a crazy idea, but we run into trouble at the boundaries.  Matter will annihilate with the antimatter wherever they mix, turning into two very energetic light particles called gamma rays.  According to E=mc2,  the gamma ray would have exactly as much energy as the proton has mass, and the gamma ray astronomers have looked for such rays, and we don’t find them.

Are there antimatter galaxies?

Maybe there are galaxies made of matter and other galaxies made of antimatter and they never touch each other, so they never turn into gamma rays.  Actually, to make that work, the galaxies have to be pretty far apart.  Even the ‘empty’ space around the galaxies contain enough protons and electrons that if there were antiprotons and antielectrons, they would find each other and we would see gamma rays.

Here’s a long-shot idea that’s been bounced around.  We don’t have a quantum theory of gravity, so we don’t know for sure whether the matter galaxies and the antimatter galaxies would attract each other.  Maybe they repel each other.  Maybe that’s why the expansion of the universe is getting faster?

Here’s and article and a video by Fraser Cain.

What is depression?

I’m sure the experience and the causes vary deeply from one person to the next.  Here is a view that counterposes against the medical model that most of us have been exposed to.

Laura Delano was a highly successful student who got swallowed by the Harvard student health system, treated with a cocktail of different pharmaceuticals, as her ability to cope with daily life spiraled downward. Ten years later, she took it on herself to taper off her meds, and endured a year and a half of even worse pain and new symptoms. Then she began to heal. She now runs The Inner Compass, an community to support people looking for alternatives to medical treatment.

In this interview, she talks to Charles Eisenstein.  Their thesis, in a nutshell, is that many problems identified as psychological actually derive from a mismatch between a person’s deep sensitivity about what it is to be human and the expectations of their social environment. They go on to describe ways in which treating the issue as biochemical invalidates the patient’s experience, and sometime can worsen or at least complicate the issue with the message “there’s something wrong with you.” Charles and Laura (I agree) cite evidence that data reported in medical journals about the effectiveness of antidepressants are distorted by economic interests, and that alternatives to pharmacology are not compared on a level playing field.

There’s a segment at the end where Charles asks Laura, “What would you say if you could go back and talk to your 13-year-old self?” Laura responds:

“Trust.  I’d say, What you’re feeling and thinking, this terror and confusion that you’re grappling with — trust that this is happening for a very important reason. And if you listen to it and have the courage to stay with it, it’s going to lead you closer and deeper into who you really are. The fact that you don’t know who you are right now, the fact that you want to die and that you are debilitated by those racing thoughts, the urge to channel your pain into hurting yourself — It’s not because there’s something wrong with you; it’s because you’re awake and you’re feeling the pain of the world around you. Don’t let them tell you you’re broken. Don’t let them tell you your pain is a sign of sickness. It’s really a sign of your aliveness.

“And I’d also say: You are so far from alone. At the time, I was convinced I was the only one going through this. I had no idea that there were so many people experiencing something, if not the same, at least akin to what I was feeling.”

 

What is money? A new understanding expands what is possible.

For those who like their information compact and concise, here is a video that takes you from A to Z in 15 minutes. German/British economic professor Richard Werner gives us his theory of money and references the empirical support for that theory above more conventional views.  He goes on to diagnose the simultaneous concentration of wealth and stagnation of productive activity, to trace it to concentration of the power to decide who gets credit, and to propose a comprehensive solution.

  • Banks don’t merely recycle depositors’ money; they actually create new money each time they issue credit.
  • The great majority of money in our American and European economies is created in this way.
  • Who gets the newly-created money?  When it is loaned against assets, it inflates the prices of those assets.  But when it is invested in research, education, and new manufacturing capacity the result is increased productivity.
  • When banks are large and decisions are centralized, the credit tends to be issued to entities that are nominally very profitable but are fundamentally unproductive: Real estate, insurance, finance, or the FIRE sector.
  • Small, community-owned cooperative banks tend to lend small businesses, where new productivity comes from.

(The only thing he doesn’t tell us is why the banksters aren’t telling us the truth about the power they have and how they’ve been using it to enrich themselves at our expense.  That would be a conspiracy theory.)

(And I would also add that investment in science has a long-term, large-scale value that small, local banks might not be able to appreciate.  We need government funding of science, and not just the kind of science that is already close to offering technological innovation, but the very speculative science that usually fails, but succeeds spectacularly when it succeeds.)

Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again. – JFK

 

Utopia

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

Wislawa Szymborska would have been 95 years old today.

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Ed Stafford

Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. Its made up of all those whove consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners — and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.” —W.S.