OUTLINE OF THE CAREER OF DAVID JOSEPH BOHM
Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on 20 December 1917. He studied at Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 1939, then moved to the California Institute of Technology for post-graduate work, completing his Ph.D. on neutron-proton scattering in 1943 at the University of California at Berkeley under J.R. Oppenheimer. In 1947, after working on the Manhattan Project at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, he was appointed Assistant Professor at Princeton University. His first book Quantum Theory was published in 1951 and was well received by Einstein and Pauli among others.
While working at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory Bohm had been active in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT) trade union. The activities of FAECT at the Radiation Laboratory had occasioned some concern during the war and in 1949, as Cold War tensions increased, the House Committee on Un-American Activities began to investigate staff who had been working there. As a member of FAECT and as a former member of the Communist Party (he joined in 1942 but left a year later) Bohm came under suspicion. He was called upon to testify before the Committee on 25 May and 10 June 1949 but pleaded the Fifth Amendment refusing to give evidence against colleagues.
In September 1949 the Soviet Union tested its first atomic device and it was thought that atomic bomb secrets must have been passed to the USSR. Pressure to uncover Soviet spies was intensified. It was alleged that Bohm and other members of the FAECT were members of a Communist cell working at Berkeley during the war. In December 1950 Bohm was charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about colleagues before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May 1951. However, Princeton University had suspended Bohm in December 1950, barring him from the University, and after his acquittal refused to renew his contract, despite support from Einstein and others, thus effectively dismissing him.
Bohm left for Brazil in 1951 where he was appointed Professor of Physics at the University of Sao Paulo. Having surrendered his US passport Bohm found himself unable to leave Brazil and so took Brazilian citizenship. Bohm left Brazil in 1955, moving to Israel where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who was to become an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957 Bohm left Israel for the UK. He held a research fellowship at Bristol University until 1961, when he was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College London. After retirement in 1987 he continued research and he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1990. Bohm died in 1992.
Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics. As a post-graduate at Berkeley he discovered that in a high temperature gas (plasma), electrons that have been stripped from atoms do not behave as single particles but as part of an organised whole, making collective movements, now known as 'Bohm-diffusion'. Quantum Theory was followed by his second physics book Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, published in 1957. Both became standard textbooks, being reprinted in later years. In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, he discovered the 'Aharonov-Bohm effect', the first demonstration of how an isolated line of magnetic force could affect electrons around it without actually contacting it, so showing how a vacuum could produce striking physical effects. His third book, The Special Theory of Relativity, was published in 1965.
Bohm developed an unorthodox approach to quantum theory, described by his Nature obituarist as follows
'Dissatisfied with the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation, which he had beautifully expounded in his text book Quantum Theory in 1951, he published a preliminary investigation of what came to be known as the causal interpretation in 1952. This was a hidden-variables approach, in which the exact location of the particle played the role of the hidden variable and the standard quantum-mechanical predictions were deduced by including an extra term, the "quantum potential" in the classical Hamilton-Jacobi equation. Effectively, the theory involved waves and particles instead of the orthodox waves or particles'.
Bohm's scientific and philosophical views were inseparable. His holistic world-view posited an implicate order of inter-connectedness. He expressed his approach to philosophy and physics in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order. The central theme pursued is that of the 'enfolded' or 'implicate order', in which forms emerge as distinct entities from the universe, but are reabsorbed into it again later in a never-ending process. The most complete statement of Bohm's approach is described in Science, Order and Creativity, written with F.D. Peat and published in 1987.
In 1959 Bohm came across a book by the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. He was struck with how his own scientific views on quantum mechanics and modern physics meshed with the philosophical perspective on consciousness advanced by Krishnamurti. The two first met in 1961 and over the following years had many conversations or dialogues, being published as Truth and Actuality (1980), The Ending of Time (1985) and The Future of Humanity (1986).
In his later years, partly through his connection with Krishnamurti, Bohm developed the technique of Dialogue, in which a group of individuals engaged in constructive verbal interaction with each other. Out of the Dialogue Bohm believed a more powerful group creativity would emerge, which would transcend the divisions between individuals in the group. He believed that if carried out on a sufficiently wide scale these group Dialogues could help overcome fragmentation in society. Bohm led a number of Dialogues in the 1980s and early 1990s, the most well-known being those held at Ojai Grove School in California. From this a number of 'Bohmian Dialogue' groups appeared utilising Bohm's development of the Dialogue.
Voluminous correspondence on a wide range of philosophical and scientific subjects with the American artist and theorist Charles J. Biederman, spanning 1960-1969.