Book - On Dialogue - David Bohm
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What Dialogue Does
So one meaning of “to communicate” is “to make something common,” i.e., to convey information or knowledge from one person to another in as accurate a way as possible
Dialogue as creating space for something new to emerge
when one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering this difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content that is common to both participants. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.
Dialogue as basis for cooperation and co-creation
Thus, if people are to cooperate (i.e., literally to “work together”) they have to be able to create something in common, something that takes shape in their mutual discussions and actions, rather than something that is conveyed from one person who acts as an authority to the others, who act as passive instruments of this authority.
Practice of win-win situations
In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It’s a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose – if I win, you lose. But a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins.
Theory of Change?
I think that when we are able to sustain a dialogue of this sort you will find that there will be a change in the people who are taking part. They themselves would then behave differently, even outside the dialogue. Eventually they would spread it. It’s like the Biblical analogy of the seeds – some are dropped in stony ground and some of them fall in the right place and they produce tremendous fruit
Such a group might be the germ or the microcosm of the larger culture, which would then spread in many ways – not only by creating new groups, but also by people communicating the notion of what it means. Also, one can see that it is possible that this spirit of the dialogue can work even in smaller groups, or one-on-one, or within the individual. If the individual can hold all of the meanings together in his own mind, he has the attitude of the dialogue. He could carry that out and perhaps communicate it, both verbally and non-verbally, to other people
Dialogue and Thought
Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively.
Individual & Collective Thought
We could consider two kinds of thought – individual and collective. Individually I can think of various things, but a great deal of thought is what we do together. In fact, most of it comes from the collective background. Language is collective. Most of our basic assumptions come from our society, including all our assumptions about how society works, about what sort of person we are supposed to be, and about relationships, institutions, and so on. Therefore we need to pay attention to thought both individually and collectively.
Suspending Collective Assumptions
I’m saying that it is necessary to share meaning. A society is a link of relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture – which implies that we share meaning; i.e., significance, purpose, and value. Otherwise it falls apart. Our society is incoherent, and doesn’t do that very well; it hasn’t for a long time, if it ever did. The different assumptions that people have are tacitly affecting the whole meaning of what we are doing.
Then what is called for is to suspend those assumptions, so that you neither carry them out nor suppress them. You don’t believe them, nor do you disbelieve them; you don’t judge them as good or bad
[[ Anatta (no-self) ]] In the process of suspension, you may notice two things. First, that physical reactions are being produced by thought, and therefore are not as significant as they would be if they were not being produced by thought. The tremendously excited state of your body, which seems one of the reasons why you should do something, is no longer as significant as you had thought. Second, you can get direct evidence that the thoughts are affecting the feelings and the feelings are affecting the thoughts without passing through “me.”
The ordinary picture is that the only connection between thoughts, feelings, and actions is the central entity who does it all and experiences it all. That is one idea of how everything is connected up, and that is why the “central entity” is felt to be so important: everything goes through him. He is at their source, their center. But in fact you can get evidence that thoughts and feelings move as processes on their own; they are not being run by “me.” They are not being produced by the me, and they are not being experienced by the me.
Letting a Common Mind (Collective Intelligence) Emerge
All of this is part of collective thought – people thinking together. At some stage we would share our opinions without hostility, and we would then be able to think together; whereas when we defend an opinion we can’t. An example of people thinking together would be that somebody would get an idea, somebody else would take it up, somebody else would add to it. The thought would flow, rather than there being a lot of different people, each trying to persuade or convince the others. In the beginning, people won’t trust each other. But I think that if they see the importance of the dialogue, they will work with it. And as they start to know each other, they begin to trust each other. It may take time.
That would be participation, which means both “to partake of” and “to take part in.” It would mean that in this participation a common mind would arise, which nonetheless would not exclude the individual. The individual might hold a separate opinion, but that opinion would then be absorbed into the group, too. Thus, everybody is quite free. It’s not like a mob where the collective mind takes over – not at all. It is something between the individual and the collective. It can move between them. It’s a harmony of the individual and the collective, in which the whole constantly moves toward coherence. So there is both a collective mind and an individual mind, and like a stream, the flow moves between them (Both a collective and individual mind)
Spotting the Assumptions we Identify With
But there is a great deal of violence in the opinions that we are defending. They are not merely opinions, they are not merely assumptions; they are assumptions with which we are identified – which we are therefore defending, because it is as if we are defending ourselves. The natural self-defense impulse, which we got in the jungle, has been transferred from the jungle animals to these opinions. In other words, we say that there are some dangerous opinions out there – just as there might be dangerous tigers. And there are some very precious animals inside us that have to be defended. So an impulse that made sense physically in the jungle has been transferred to our opinions in our modern life. And in a dialogue, we get to be aware of that in a collective way.
Participatory vs Literal Thought
Participatory thought is a different way of perceiving and thinking, and that is the way we were for more or less a million years. In the last five thousand years we have turned it around, and our present language says, “That’s all nonsense. We won’t pay attention to that at all.” This kind of thought, which we largely favor nowadays, has been called “literal thought.” Literal thought aims at being a reflection of reality as it is – it claims just to tell you the way things are. We tend to say that’s the best kind of thought. (Emphasis on claims)
▪ We could say that in a way we are worshiping our words and our thoughts, insofar as they claim to be descriptions or statements about reality just as it is. In fact, they cannot do that – we are giving them too high a value. They can cover some of reality, but they don’t cover “all.”
But as long as we stick only to this literal thought, there is no room in it for participation. We think only of external mechanical relationships. We think the self is there as an object, and that everything comes from this self. I would propose, however, that in true participation, thought may establish distinctions, but there is participation between those distinctions – between people, between thought and feeling, between anything. I will say: ultimately the nature of all the world is that it is all mutual participation – everything is everything. That is what was meant in my book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order. It’s another way of looking at things – to say everything “enfolds” everything. Ultimately, the ground of everything is the en-folded, and the unfolded is just a display, or a show of the enfolded.
everything is interconnected -interbeing- The individual body is in certain ways separate from others – although not totally, because it merges with air and light and food. There is no place where the body really ends – its boundary is relative. We can’t say that when an oxygen molecule comes into the body, it suddenly becomes alive, and that when it leaves as carbon dioxide it’s dead. We must say that there is really no sharp end to the body
Watch out for Truth
How can you share if you are sure you have truth and the other fellow is sure he has truth, and the truths don’t agree? How can you share? Therefore, you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned directly with truth – it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning. If the meaning is incoherent you will never arrive at truth. You may think, “My meaning is coherent and somebody else’s isn’t,” but then we’ll never have meaning shared. You will have the “truth” for yourself or for your own group, whatever consolation that is. But we will continue to have conflict
Science, Truth, Dialogue
Science is predicated on the concept that science is arriving at truth – at a unique truth. The idea of dialogue is thereby in some way foreign to the current structure of science, as it is with religion. In a way, science has become the religion of the modern age. It plays the role which religion used to play of giving us truth; hence different scientists cannot come together any more than different religions can, once they have different notions of truth. As one scientist, Max Planck, said, “New ideas don’t win, really. What happens is that the old scientists die and new ones come along with new ideas.
There are also the relativists ( [[ Postmodernism ]]), who say that we are never going to get at an absolute truth. But they are caught in a paradox of their own. They are assuming that relativism is the absolute truth. So it is clear that people who believe that they are arriving at any kind of absolute truth can’t make a dialogue, not even among themselves. Even different relativists don’t agree.
So we can see that there is no “road” to truth. What we are trying to say is that in this dialogue we share all the roads and we finally see that none of them matters. We see the meaning of all the roads, and therefore we come to the “no road.” Underneath, all the roads are the same because of the very fact that they are “roads” – they are rigid (Emptiness).
Sharing Meaning-Making (Fabrication?)
The senses will tell you what is happening, and then the consciousness must build a form, or create some sense of what it means, which holds it together. Therefore, meaning is part of it. You are sensitive to the meaning, or to the lack of meaning. It’s perception of meaning, if you want to put it that way. In other words, it is a more subtle perception. The meaning is what holds it together. As I said, it is the “cement.” Meaning is not static – it is flowing. And if we have the meaning being shared, then it is flowing among us; it holds the group together. Then everybody is sensitive to all the nuances going around, not merely to what is happening in his own mind. From that forms a meaning which is shared. And in that way we can talk together coherently and think together. Whereas generally people hold to their assumptions, so they are not thinking together. Each one is on his own.
Power of Thought to Affect our Reality (Ways of Looking)
I think we can get a further insight into why concepts and images have such a powerful effect, if we more fully consider that thought is able to provide a representation of what we experience. “Representation” is a very appropriate word here, because it just says “re-present” – to present again. Thus, we may say that perception presents something, and that thought re-presents it in abstraction
### Thought Lack Proprioception Thought lacks proprioception, and we have got to learn, somehow, to observe thought. In the case of observing the body, you can tell that observation is somehow taking place – even when there is no sense of a distinct observer.
The essential thing is that the body process is a movement, beginning with an impulse and going on to a result, and you sense it as it develops. Now thought is also a movement – if it is a process, it is also a movement. But thought doesn’t treat itself as a movement. It treats itself as truth – as just being there, telling you the way things are.
### Ways of Looking But the thing to notice – the key point – is that this representation is not only present in thought or in imagination, but it fuses with the actual perception or experience. In other words, the representation fuses with the “presentation,” so that what is “presented” (as perception) is already in large part a re-presentation. So it “presents again.” You then get what we might call a “net presentation,” which is the result of the senses, of thought, and possibly some insight. It all comes together in one net presentation. The way you experience something, therefore, depends on how you represent it – or mis-represent it.
Take the example of a forest. It could be represented as a source of lumber, and it would then be presented to a lumberman in that way. To the artist it could be represented as something worth painting. To someone who wants to take a walk, it would be represented as a place he could enjoy himself walking along the path. There are countless representations of the forest, which will present the forest in different ways.
Another example would be a rainbow – everybody sees the same rainbow. There’s a collective representation of the rainbow – we all have a consensus about it. But physics, which looks at things “literally,” says, “No, there is no rainbow. There are a lot of droplets of water, the sun is in back of you and it’s being reflected and refracted off the water and forming colors. In seeing this, each person is forming his own perception of a rainbow. It happens they all look very similar, therefore they all think they’re all looking at the same rainbow.”
a lot of what we take to be fact is not really fact. This implies a different way of seeing the world – it implies that our whole way of seeing the world could change. We see the world according to the general collective representations circulating around our society and culture, and insofar as these could be dropped, then we may change, because the world is presented differently.
Alternate explanation for Rob Burbea’s ways of looking
#### Collective Ways of Looking Get Stronger (Idea of Self) It is important to see that most of our representations arise collectively, and that gives them greater power. If everybody agrees on something, we take that as evidence that it’s right, or that it could be right. This then creates a pressure on us – we don’t want to get out of the consensus. This means that we are constantly under pressure to accept any particular representation, and to see it that way. For example, what we call the “self” is represented in a certain way, and therefore presented in a certain way. This representation is basically collective, in the sense that the general properties of the self are determined collectively, and particular details are determined individually. The consensus all over the world is that you have a self, because all the evidence is that you’ve got one.
#### Observer Affects the Observed Normally we don’t see that our assumptions are affecting the nature of our observations. But the assumptions affect the way we see things, the way we experience them, and, consequently, the things that we want to do. In a way, we are looking through our assumptions; the assumptions could be said to be an observer in a sense.
Either way, the observed is profoundly affected by the observer, and the observer by the observed – they really are one cycle, one process. The separation between them is not very significant.
##### Matter may respond to perception Matter may be infinitely subtle. Science doesn’t know all about it, and probably never will. But matter is not just mechanical. Therefore, it could respond to perception in very deep and subtle ways which may be beyond what science could even trace; there could be a change. That’s the notion: that insight or perception will affect the whole thing. It not only affects the inferential understanding, but it also affects the chemical level, the tacit level – everything
### We are not aware of it We generally do not notice the connection between representation and presentation – the two-way connection. Thought seems to lack the ability to see that this is happening. The process is unconscious, implicit, tacit – we don’t know exactly how it happens. But we can see that something happens in which thought mixes these up. Imagine the information coming in from the senses and being organized in the brain, but then another stream of information comes in from thought, and the two mix in the whole. The net presentation is a result of the two. The important point is that we are not aware that this is happening. The human race by and large has seldom known this – if ever. Perhaps a few people have known it, but by and large we go ahead without being aware of it. We’re not saying that this process is bad or good. What’s wrong with it is not that it takes place, but rather that we are not aware of it
Problem and Paradox
It has to be emphasized, however, that as long as a paradox is treated as a problem, it can never be dissolved. On the contrary, the “problem” can do nothing but grow and proliferate in ever-increasing confusion. For it is an essential feature of thought that once the mind accepts a problem, then it is appropriate for the brain to keep on working until it finds a solution. This feature is indeed necessary for proper rational thinking. Thus, if a person were confronted by a real problem (e.g., the need to obtain food) and dropped it before it was adequately solved, the result could be disastrous. In any case, such a mode of operation would indicate an unhealthy flightiness or lack of seriousness. On the other hand, if the mind treats a paradox as if it were a real problem, then since the paradox has no “solution,” the mind is caught in the paradox forever. Each apparent solution is found to be inadequate, and only leads on to new questions of a yet more muddled nature. Thus, a paradox which has taken root early in life (e.g., that arising out of a situation in which a child is made to feel a sense of inadequacy) may continue for the whole of a person’s life, (Paradox (complex psychological problem with mutually reinforcing loops) vs. Problem)
But a group that is too small doesn’t work very well. If five or six people get together, they can usually adjust to each other so that they don’t say the things that upset each other – they get a “cozy adjustment.” People can easily be very polite to each other and avoid the issues that may cause trouble. And if there is a confrontation between two or more people in such a small group, it seems very hard to stop it; it gets stuck. In a larger group, we may well start out politely. After a while, though, people can seldom continue to avoid all the issues that would be troublesome. The politeness falls away pretty soon. In a group of less than about twenty it may not, because people get to know each other and know the rough edges that they have to avoid.
In the dialogue group we are not going to decide what to do about anything. This is crucial. Otherwise we are not free. We must have an empty space where we are not obliged to do anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. It’s open and free. It’s an empty space. The word “leisure” has that meaning of a kind of empty space
We see that it is not an arbitrary imposition to state that we have no fixed purpose – no absolute purpose, anyway. We may set up relative purposes for investigation, but we are not wedded to a particular purpose, and are not saying that the whole group must conform to that purpose indefinitely. All of us might want the human race to survive, but even that is not our purpose. Our purpose is really to communicate coherently in truth, if you want to call that a purpose
Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.