Wholeness and the Implicate Order

“The prevailing trend in modern physics is thus much against any sort of view giving primacy to formative activity in undivided wholeness of flowing movement. Indeed, those aspects of relativity theory and quantum theory which do suggest the need for such a view tend to be deemphasized and in fact hardly noticed by most physicists, because they are regarded largely as features of the mathematical calculus and not as indications of the real nature of things. When it comes to the informal language and mode of thought in physics, which infuses the imagination and provokes the sense of what is real and substantial, most physicists still speak and think, with an utter conviction of truth, in terms of the traditional atomistic notion that the universe is constituted of elementary particles which are ‘basic building blocks’ out of which everything is made. In other sciences, such as biology, the strength of this conviction is even greater, because among workers in these fields there is little awareness of the revolutionary character of development in modern physics. For example, modern molecular biologists generally believe that the whole of life and mind can ultimately be understood in more or less mechanical terms, through some kind of extension of the work that has been done on the structure and function of DNA molecules. A similar trend has already begun to dominate in psychology. Thus we arrive at the very odd result that in the study of life and mind, which are just the fields in which formative cause acting in undivided and unbroken flowing movement is most evident to experience and observation, there is now the strongest belief in the fragmentary atomistic approach to reality.

Of course, the prevailing tendency in science to think and perceive in terms of a fragmentary self-world view is part of a larger movement that has been developing over the ages and that pervades almost the whole of our society today: but, in turn, such a way of thinking and looking in scientific research tends very strongly to reenforce the general fragmentary approach because it gives men a picture of the whole world as constituted of nothing but an aggregate of separately existent ‘atomic building blocks’, and provides experimental evidence from which is drawn the conclusion that this view is necessary and inevitable. In this way, people are led to feel that fragmentation is nothing but an expression of ‘the way everything really is’ and that anything else is impossible. So there is very little disposition to look for evidence to the contrary. Indeed, as has already been pointed out, even when such evidence does arise, as in modern physics, the general tendency is to minimize its significance or even to ignore it altogether. One might in fact go so far as to say that in the present state of society, and in the present general mode of teaching science, which is a manifestation of this state of society, a kind of prejudice in favour of a fragmentary self- world view is fostered and transmitted (to some extent explicitly and consciously but mainly in an implicit and unconscious manner).


As pointed out, we try to divide what is one and indivisible, and this implies that in the next step we will try to identify what is different.

So fragmentation is in essence a confusion around the question of difference and sameness (or one-ness), but the clear perception of these categories is necessary in every phase of life. To be confused about what is different and what is not, is to be confused about everything. Thus, it is not an accident that our fragmentary form of thought is leading to such a widespread range of crises, social, political, economic, ecological, psychological, etc., in the individual and in society as a whole. Such a mode of thought implies unending development of chaotic and meaningless conflict, in which the energies of all tend to be lost by movements that are antagonistic or else at cross-purposes.

Evidently, it is important and indeed extremely urgent to clear up this deep and pervasive kind of confusion that penetrates the whole of our lives. What is the use of attempts at social, political, economic or other action if the mind is caught up in a confused movement in which it is generally differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical? Such action will be at best ineffective and at worst really destructive. Nor will it be useful to try to impose some fixed kind of integrating or unifying ‘holistic’ principle on our self-world view, for, as indicated earlier, any form of fixed self-world view implies that we are no longer treating our theories as insights or ways of looking but, rather, as ‘absolutely true knowledge of things as they really are’. So, whether we like it or not, the distinctions that are inevitably present in every theory, even an ‘holistic’ one, will be falsely treated as divisions, implying separate existence of the terms that are distinguished (so that, correspondingly, what is not distinguished in this way will be falsely treated as absolutely identical). We have thus to be alert to give careful attention and serious consideration to the fact that our theories are not ‘descriptions of reality as it is’ but, rather, ever-changing forms of insight.”

David Bohm