Friday, April 15, 2016

4 metaphors from David Bohm’s “Unfolding meaning”

Unfolding Meaning” is an edited transcript of a weekend dialogue with David Bohm that occurred in May 1984 in a small country hotel in England. It is similar in spirit with the other seminar Bohm held in Ojai in 1991 and is published as a book “Thought as a system”. However, it is very different in its content especially the dominant metaphors used to communicate the abstract and subtle aspects of our true nature. In this article we look at the 4 metaphors from the book which appealed to me and what they mean.

Thought as a source and the simulation of a program: This is the most dominant metaphor Bohm uses throughout the book. Every thought we have gets stored as a program in a peculiar sort of encrypted form. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t have the capacity to see that the thought made a program and its subsequent actions are determined largely by that program. Thought is a program that is programmed to conceal itself. When we are thinking, the results of the simulation shows up in the body (hormonal changes, blood pressure, heart beat etc.) and the emotions (anxiety, anger, happiness) but the connection between that and the thought is concealed. In fact, thought attributes the actions of the program to the ‘self’ – a mistake. Bohm says – the attempt to watch one’s own programs is the beginning of a kind of meditation. The picture on the side is from the movie "The Matrix" at a point when the protagonist Neo, for the first time, begins to see the world as a simulation of a program.

Why do I still kick the cat? One of the participants observed, “You can get excited about things like this and then go home and still kick the cat.” Bohm replied, “Why shouldn’t you kick the cat?” If one were really cruel then one would kick the cat and not bother about how it hurt the cat. For those of us who regret the act later, there must be a tacit connection between the cat and oneself. Then the question is – how to see the connection even before I kick the cat? Bohm suggests that it requires attention to your thoughts. When you feel the impulse to kick the cat, you should suspend that impulse. And then you should attentively watch the thought behind it. The thought could be that of frustration (boss shouted at me) or something is not working out (I am doomed). Whatever it is, one should follow that thought and see how it triggers the program of “kicking the cat” automatically.

What to do when I miss the mark: Suppose I am an archer and I miss the mark and I say some evil spirit made me miss the mark. That would never get me anywhere. You have to be attentive as you practice to how you are missing the mark. If you don’t do that then you won’t learn. Every time we have sustained fear or worry or anxiety, it is similar to an archer missing the mark. At that time, if we identify a situation or a person as the cause then it is an incorrect attribution like identifying evil spirit as the cause. Instead what we need is to pay attention to the program that is getting triggered by some thought. 

Seeing beyond Las Vegas lights: Why don’t we see the vastness beyond the world of thoughts? Bohm says following: If you go to a place like Reno, Nevada or Las Vegas and we turn on all these electric lights then you don’t see the stars, and you say that all these lights are the main thing. And there is no universe. They blot out the universe. So when you turn off the lights, then the universe comes through. At first, it seems something very faint, but that faint thing may represent something immense, whereas the very powerful bright thing may represent nothing much.

In short, every thought we have makes or adds to a program which, in turn, determines our subsequent actions. When we kick the cat or when we miss the mark, it is the program that is in action. And we are mostly unaware of it. We are so lost in the thought-world that it blinds us like the lights of Las Vegas. Only when the “lights” are off, do we see the vastness beyond thought-world. When we pay attention to the program in action, it is a kind of meditation.

Related articles:
Matrix as a system vs thought as a system, July 22, 2015 (a presentation)
Metaphors from "Thought as a system", Nov 15, 2015 (a presentation)
Image source: Program snapshot from movie "The Matrix", Archer pic is from

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