The Cosmic Plenum: Bohm's Gnosis: The Implicate Order

This article discusses the vision David Bohm intuited from his insight (gnosis) into the quantum world. This vision discerns the characteristics of an evolving cosmos in process; and, also, it ponders upon the implications for humanity. Bohm's scientific presentations are not in this article; however, they can be found in his books listed in the Reference Section at the end of these series of articles.


David Bohm, an American, was one of the leading quantum physicists of our age. He died recently. Following a venerable career at the University of California (Berkeley) and at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Studies, he moved to become Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College of the University of London. During his later years he linked a formidable knowledge of the history and philosophy of science to his keen experience as a physicist.

In recent years, Bohm attempted to explain an ontological basis for quantum theory. The basis of quantum theory can be summarized in three propositions:

1.) In the subatomic world, few things can be predicted with 100 percent precision; however, accurate predictions can be made about the probability of any particular outcome.

2.) One has to work with the probabilities rather than certainties, because it is impossible (for an observer) to describe all aspects of a particle at once (speed and location).

3.) Electromagnetic energy (such as light or heat) does not always behave like a continuous wave--rather it is grainy, because energy can be transferred only in quantum packages. Therefore, light has a dual character. Under certain circumstances, it may display wavelike aspects; and in other circumstances, it may have the characteristics of particles.

Referring to quantum theory, Bohm's basic assumption is that "elementary particles are actually systems of extremely complicated internal structure, acting essentially as amplifiers of *information* contained in a quantum wave." As a conseqence, he has evolved a new and controversial theory of the universe--a new model of reality that Bohm calls the "Implicate Order."

The theory of the Implicate Order contains an ultraholistic cosmic view; it connects everything with everything else. In principle, any individual element could reveal "detailed information about every other element in the universe." The central underlying theme of Bohm's theory is the "unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders."

During the early 1980s Bohm developed his theory of the Implicate Order in order to explain the bizarre behavior of subatomic particles--behavior that quantum phyicists have not been able to explain. Basically, two subatomic particles that have once interacted can instantaneously "respond to each other's motions thousands of years later when they are light-years apart." This sort of particle interconnectedness requires superluminal signaling, which is faster than the speed of light. This odd phenomenon is called the EPR effect, named after the Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen thought experiment.

Bohm believes that the bizarre behavior of the subatomic particles might be caused by unobserved subquantum forces and particles. Indeed, the apparent weirdness might be produced by hidden means that pose no conflict with ordinary ideas of causality and reality.

Bohm believes that this "hiddeness" may be reflective of a deeper dimension of reality. He maintains that space and time might actually be derived from an even deeper level of objective reality. This reality he calls the Implicate Order. Within the Implicate Order everything is connected; and, in theory, any individual element could reveal information about every other element in the universe.

Borrowing ideas from holographic photography, the *hologram* is Bohm's favorite metaphor for conveying the structure of the Implicate Order. Holography relies upon wave interference. If two wavelengths of light are of differing frequencies, they will interfere with each other and create a pattern. "Because a hologram is recording detail down to the wavelength of light itself, it is also a dense *information* storage." Bohm notes that the hologram clearly reveals how a "total content--in principle extending over the whole of space and time--is enfolded in the movement of waves (electromagnetic and other kinds) in any given region." The hologram illustrates how "information about the entire holographed scene is enfolded into every part of the film." It resembles the Implicate Order in the sense that every point on the film is "completely determined by the overall configuration of the interference patterns." Even a tiny chunk of the holographic film will reveal the unfolded form of an entire three-dimensional object.

Proceeding from his holographic analogy, Bohm proposes a new order--the Implicate Order where "everything is enfolded into everything." This is in contrast to the explicate order where things are unfolded. Bohm puts it thus:

"The actual order (the Implicate Order) itself has been recorded in the complex movement of electromagnetic fields, in the form of light waves. Such movement of light waves is present everywhere and in principle enfolds the entire universe of space and time in each region. This enfoldment and unfoldment takes place not only in the movement of the electromagnetic field but also in that of other fields (electronic, protonic, etc.). These fields obey quantum-mechanical laws, implying the properties of discontinuity and non-locality. The totality of the movement of enfoldment and unfoldment may go immensely beyond what has revealed itself to our observations. We call this totality by the name *holomovement.*"

Bohm believes that *the Implicate Order has to be extended into a multidimensional reality;* in other words, the holomovement endlessly enfolds and unfolds into infinite dimensionality. Within this milieu there are independent sub-totalities (such as physical elements and human entities) with relative autonomy. The layers of the Implicate Order can go deeper and deeper to the ultimately unknown. It is this "unknown and undescribable totality" that Bohm calls the holomovement. The holomovement is the "fundamental ground of all matter."

Finally, the manifest world is part of what Bohm refers to as the "explicate order." It is secondary, derivative; it "flows out of the law of the Implicate Order." Within the Implicate Order, there is a "totality of forms that have an approximate kind of recurrence (changing), stability, and separability." It is these forms, according to Bohm, that make up our manifest world.

Summarizing, Bohm uses analogies most ingeniously as he attempts to simplify his theory. Bohm suggests that instead of thinking of particles as the fundamental reality, the focus should be on discrete particle-like quanta in a continuous field. On the basis of this quantum field, Bohm breaks down the Implicate Order into three categories:

The first category is the original, "continuous field" itself along with its movement. Bohm likens this continuous field to a television screen displaying an infinite variety of explicate forms.

The second category is obtained by considering superquantum wave function acting upon the field. ("This is related to the whole field as the original quantum wave is related to the particle.") More complex and subtle, this second category applies to a "superfield" or *information* that guides and organizes the original quantum field. Bohm considers it to be similar to a computer which supplies the information that arranges the various forms--in the first category.

And last, Bohm believes that there is an underlying cosmic intelligence that supplies the information--the *Player* of this game who is the third category. Folling this analogy, Bohm sees the whole process as a closed loop; it goes from the screen to the computer to the Player and back to the screen.

Bohm's theory of the Implicate Order stresses that the cosmos is in a state of process. Bohm's cosmos is a "feedback" universe that continuously recycles forward into a greater mode of being and consciousness.

Bohm believes in a special cosmic interiority. It *is* the Implicate Order, and it implies enfoldment into everything. Everything that is and will be in this cosmos is enfolded within the Implicate Order. There is a special cosmic movement that carries forth the process of enfoldment and unfoldment (into the explicate order). This process of cosmic movement, in endless feedback cycles, creates an infinite variety of manifest forms and mentality. Bohm is of the opinion that a fundamental Cosmic Intelligence is the *Player* in this process; it is engaged in endless experimentation and creativity. This Player, the Cosmic Mind, is moving cyclically onward and onward accruing an infinity of experienced being!

The structural outline of Bohm's cosmic model is as follows: the Ground of All Existence, Matter, Consciousness, and the Cosmic Apex.


At the very depths of the ground of all existence Bohm believes that there exists a special energy. For Bohm it is the plenum; it is an "immense background of energy." The energy of this ground is likened to one whole and unbroken movement by Bohm. He calls this the "holomovement." It is the holomovement that carries the Implicate Order.

Bohm also refers to a law in the holomovement. He theorizes that the 'order in every immediately perceptible aspect of the world is to be regarded as coming out of a more comprehensive Implicate Order, in which all aspects ultimately merge in the undefinable and immeasurable holomovement. Holonomy, through a wide range of aspects, can be considered a "movement in which new wholes are emerging."

What is it that emerges from this ultimate ground, this "unknown totality of the universal flux?" It is the extension of the Implicate Order into a multidimensional reality. It is the interplay between the implicate and the explicate orders. It is the flow of matter, manifested and interdependent, towards consciousness.


Right off Bohm refers to the particle, the most essential building- block of matter. He considers the particle, fundamentally, to be only an "abstraction that is manifest to our senses." Basically, for Bohm, the whole cosmos is matter; in his own words: "What *is* is always a totality of ensembles, all present together, in an orderly series of stages of enfoldment and unfoldment, which intermingle and interpenetrate each other in principle throughout the whole of space."

Bohm's explicate order, however, is secondary--derivative. It flows out of the law of the Implicate Order, a law that stresses the relationships between the enfolded structures that interweave each other throughout cosmic space rather than between the "abstracted and separate forms that manifest to the senses."

Bohm's explanation of "manifest" is basically that in certain sub-orders, within the "whole set" of Implicate Order, there is a "totality of forms that have an approximate kind of recurrence, stability and separability." These forms are capable of appearing tangible, solid, and thus make up our manifest world.

Bohm also declares that the "implicate order has to be extended into a multidimensional reality." He proceeds: "In principle this reality is one unbroken whole, including the entire universe with all its fields and particles. Thus we have to say that the holomovement enfolds and unfolds in a multidimensional order, the dimensionality of which is effectively infinite. Thus the principle of relative autonomy of sub-totalities--is now seen to extend to the multi-dimensional order of reality."

Bohm illustrates this higher-dimensional reality by showing the relationship of two televised images of a fish tank, where the fish are seen through two walls at right angles to one another. What is seen is that there is a certain "relationship between the images appearing on the two screens." We know, Bohm notes, that the two fish tank images are interacting actualities, but they are not two independently existent realities. "Rather, they refer to a single actuality, which is the common ground of both." For Bohm this single actuality is of higher dimensionality, because the television images are two-dimensional projections of a three-dimensional reality, which "holds these two-dimensional projections within it." These projections are only abstractions, but the "three-dimensional reality *is* neither of these--rather it is something else, something of a nature beyond both."

If there is apparent evolution in the universe, it is *because the different scales or dimensions of reality are already implicit in its structure.* Bohm uses the analogy of the seed being "informed" to produce a living plant. The same can be said of all living matter. "Life is enfolded in the totality and--even when it is not manifest, it is somehow implicit." The holomovement is the ground for both life and matter. There is no dichotomy.

What lies ahead? For Bohm it is the development of consciousness!


Bohm conceives of consciousness as more than information and the brain; rather it is information that enters into consciousness. For Bohm consciousness "involves awareness, attention, perception, acts of understanding, and perhaps yet more." Further, Bohm parallels the activity of consciousness with that of the Implicate Order in general.

Consciousness, Bohm notes, can be "described in terms of a series of moments." Basically, "one moment gives rise to the next, in which context that was previously implicate is now explicate while the previous explicate content has become implicate." Consciousness is an interchange; it is a feedback process that results in a growing accumulation of understanding.

Bohm considers the human individual to be an "intrinsic feature of the universe, which would be incomplete--in some fundamental sense" if the person did not exist. He believes that individuals participate in the whole and consequently give it meaning. Because of human participation, the "Implicate Order is getting to know itself better."

Bohm also senses a new development. The individual is in total contact with the Implicate Order, the individual is part of the whole of mankind, and he is the "focus for something beyond mankind." Using the analogy of the transformation of the atom ultimately into a power and chain reaction, Bohm believes that the individual who uses inner energy and intelligence can transform mankind. The collectivity of individuals have reached the "principle of the consciousness of mankind," but they have not quite the "energy to reach the whole, to put it all on fire."

Continuing with this theme on the transformation of consciousness, Bohm goes on to suggest that an intense heightening of individuals who have shaken off the "pollution of the ages" (wrong worldviews that propagate ignorance), who come into close and trusting relationship with one another, can begin to generate the immense power needed to ignite the whole consciousness of the world. In the depths of the Implicate Order, there is a "consciousness, deep down--of the whole of mankind."

It is this collective consciousness of mankind that is truly significant for Bohm. It is this collective consciousness that is truly one and indivisible, and it is the responsibility of each human person to contribute towards the building of this consciousness of mankind, this noosphere! "There's nothing else to do--there is no other way out. That is absolutely what has to be done and nothing else can work."

Bohm also believes that the individual will eventually be fulfilled upon the completion of cosmic noogenesis. Referring to all the elements of the cosmos, including human beings, as projections of an ultimate totality, Bohm notes that as a "human being takes part in the process of this totality, he is fundamentally changed in the very activity in which his aim is to change that reality, which is the content of his consciousness." Bohm is intuiting that the human person and mankind collectively, upon accomplishing a successful noogenesis, will come to fullness within that greater dimension of reality--the Cosmic Apex.


Bohm refers to this ultimate level--the source of the nonmanifest--as the Subtle Nonmanifest, something akin to spirit, a mover, but still matter in the sense that it is a part of the Implicate Order. For Bohm, the Subtle Nonmanifest is an *active intelligence* beyond any of the "energies defined in thought."

Trying to describe the Subtle Nonmanifest, Bohm states that the "subtle is what is basic and the manifest is its result." T îve intelligence "directly transforms matter." And finally, Bohm says it straight: "there's a truth, an actuality, a being beyond what can be grasped in thought, and this is intelligence, the sacred, the holy."

Bohm poetically thinks of this cosmic Subtle Nonmanifest in a state of meditation. But what is it doing? Meditation means "to reflect, to turn something over in the mind, and to pay close attention." Without explanation, Bohm wonders aloud that while we meditate on that which we term the subtle nonmanifest, does the Subtle Nonmanifest concentrate on *its* Subtle Nonmanifest?" Does this mean that the Cosmic Apex ponders upon something beyond or outside of itself? Possibly Bohm is considering the infinite potential of what he terms "multidimensional reality." He might also be thinking of the possibility of Something Separate.

For Bohm, the Cosmic Apex is a Holy Intelligence. It is a Player who operates in a feedback universe. The Player *is* the Impicate Order. Bohm provides the analogy of the "continuous field," the information, and the Player of the whole game. This process is ever endless, ever expanding or evolving, as the Player gathers all to itself. The player continuously grasps itself. *This is the Play of the Cosmic Process!*

There are certain characteristics that can be discerned from Bohm's cosmic model. They are Order, Intelligence, Personalization, Creativity, and a sense of Holiness.


Bohm believes that a special cosmic energy holds the All together, and this cosmic energy follows a cosmic law (order). Bohm refers to it as the law in the holomovement. His viewpoint is that of "wholeness." The law of his holographic cosmic system is simply a movement which enables new "wholes" to emerge. These new holistic aspects may appear possibly to have some autonomy, but ultimately they are all aspects of the All.


Before consciousness there is information; it is information, an inwardness, according to Bohm, that enters into consciousness. Bohm speculates that this inwardness in consciousness may be likened to an *insight* which could, if refined, be used as an instrument for letting the "energies (of the Subtle Nonmanifest) come through." Bohm refers to this as an "active intelligence."

Bohm considers thought as basically mechanical in its operation. What makes the mechanical thought process relevant is intelligence. Bohm puts it thus: "The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or fitting requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we shall call intelligence." He continues: "For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one's whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach--such a flash is essentially an *act of perception.*"

Bohm believes that if intelligence is an "unconditioned act of perception," than the intelligence cannot be grounded in "structures such as cells, molecules, atoms, and elementary particles." The operation of intelligence, for Bohm, has to be beyond any factors that can be included in any knowable law. The "ground of intelligence must be in the undetermined and unknown flux, that is also the ground of all definable forms of matter." For Bohm, intelligence has always been at the very core of the Implicate Order!


Bohm is somewhat reserved about the theoretical prospects of cosmic personalization; nonetheless, he points to such a possibility in vague, cyclic terminology about human projections: "each of these elements is a projection, in a sub-totality of yet higher dimension. So it will be ultimately misleading and indeed wrong to suppose, for example, that each human being is an independent actuality who interacts with other human beings and with nature. Rather, all these are projections of a single totality. As a human being takes part in the process of this totality, he is fundamentally changed in the very activity in which his aim is to change that reality which is the content of his consciousness."

Bohm considers that consciousness is an exchange between the explicate and implicate orders. Consciousness is part of the play of the cosmic process, grasping itself (through its sub-totalities) into higher and higher levels of consciousness. Logically, if cosmic sub-totalities (such as human beings) can be considered to be persons (of which only a few are developing toward higher levels of Personhood), than through the feedback interchange, the cosmos is becoming progressively personalized as well.


This Cosmic Knower, the *Player of the Cosmic Process,* is pure energy. It is intelligent. It is conscious. It is a Person. And this Player is also creative!

Considering cosmic creativity, Bohm introduces a new concept in which he describes the Implicate Order as a kind of *generative order.* He notes that "This order is primarily concerned not with the outward side of development, and evolution in a sequence of successions, but with a deeper and more inward order out of which the manifest form of things can emerge *creatively.*"

Bohm believes that the generative order "proceeds from an origin in free play which then unfolds into ever more crystallized forms." Generative order can be seen in the work of an artist. Bohm uses the example of Mandelbrot's mathematically-derived fractals to illustrate more scientifically this cosmic generativity. "Fractals involve an order of similar differences which include changes of scale as well as other possible changes." Bohm notes that "By choosing different base figures and generators, but each time applying the generator on a smaller and smaller scale, Mandelbrot is able to produce a great variety of shapes and figures--All are filled with infinitesimal detail and are evocative of the types of complexity found in natural forms."


For Bohm the Holy is a "being beyond what can be grasped in thought." and Bohm calls the Subtle Nonmanifest "holy" in the sense that it is whole. It is a Presence within cosmic energy.

The Bohm cosmic model also suggests that this "holiness" has existed since the foundation of the cosmos. It is present in the cyclical process of the universe. It is pure, active intelligence from which all that is manifest in the cosmos comes. It acts through an inwardness in consciousness. It enfolds information into the many levels of consciousness, into all of life. It is the Implicate Order which is the Ground of All Existence.


Humanity is the pilgrim in this cosmic process. What does Bohm have to say about the human condition?

What of Evil? For Bohm there are the evils of disorder (which causes suffering) and death. Bohm does not believe that there is disorder at the level of the non-human universality, rather it is at the level of humanity--mainly because of ignorance. Nature has allowed humanity the luxury to make mistakes, because humankind must have the "possibility of being creative." It is our fledgling ranking in this cosmic process that places us in these circumstances of choice and possible chaos. Disorder, and its consequent suffering, will prevail as long as all the different elements (of any given system, whether a human body or human society) "chaotically grow independently of each other, don't work together."

Bohm is dispassionate about Life and Death. He uses the analogy of a live oak tree. Creation-dissolution-creation all coexist in that live oak tree. The "leaves are continually forming and some are dropping off at the same time, so that it looks as if it's a constant tree." Bohm continues, noting that "its from the nonmanifest that the tree is continually forming and into the nonmanifest that it is dying."

What of the evil of Ignorance? The ignorance of humanity, in Bohm's opinion, is a matter of closed mindedness. He considers it the "darkness in the human brain." It is a matter of the human ego closed to the Universal Mind, to the supreme intelligence who communicates through the mode of insight.

According to Bohm, insight is pure perception. Because of the low level of our ego development (manifested by our grandiosity, our emotional fears and pressures, our ignorant worldviews, and our gross extraversion), this insight is more than often deflected by a closed mind. The opposite of the closed mind is the openness to interiority. Human beings must look within in order to meet and scrutinize universal insight.

What does Bohm think of human Consciousness and Creativity? For Bohm unfolded creative intelligence originated in the depths of the generative order (the Implicate Order). "In the free play of thought," Bohm says that the "creative intelligence responds to opposition and contradiction with new proposals." He believes that every aspect of human experience, whether physical or mental, emotional or intellectual, can be "profoundly affected by creative intelligence, wherever this is able to act." And *this* in Bohm's mind is a *breakthrough* experience, because through the action of cosmic creative intelligence "everything may take on a new meaning."

What of Human Destiny, how does Bohm consider this? Bohm's overall vision of human destiny is short and straightforward: "The consciousness of mankind is one and not truly divisible." Each person ha s a responsibility to achieve this and nothing else. "There is no other way out. That is absolutely what has to be done and nothing else can work."

Bohm believes that only through collective cooperation can man accrue the high degree of energy required to "reach the whole of the consciousness of mankind." Bohm believes that the individual is in total contact with the Implicate Order. In that sense, the individual "is part of the whole of mankind and in another sense he can get beyond it."

Bohm goes no further. It can only be speculated that Bohm is thinking of a kind of ascension, of a new way of being, perhaps of a New Being?



  • David Bohm and B.J. Hiley, THE UNDIVIDED UNIVERSE.
  • David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti, THE ENDING OF TIME.
  • David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti, THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY.
  • David Bohm and F. David Peat, SCIENCE, ORDER, AND CREATIVITY.


  • David Bohm, "Quantum Theory as an Indication of a New Order in Physics--Implicate and Explicate Order in Physical Law," PHYSICS (GB), 3.2 (June 1973), pp. 139-168.
  • David Bohm, B.J, Hiley, and P.N. Kaloyerou, "Ontological Basis for the Quantum Theory," PHYSICS REPORTS (Netherlands) 144.6 (January 1987), pp. 323-348.

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