Hjem Op


"Implicate Order" and the Good Life

Ib Ravn

Chapter 1: The Research Opportunity


1.1 The Theme

In his book, "Wholeness and the Implicate Order," the theoretical physicist David Bohm (1980b) presents an ontological concept of great power and elegance, the concept of implicate order. This concept is the latest fruit of his lifelong search for alternatives to the standard worldview of quantum mechanics, a search whose beginnings in the 1950's were described thusly by the philosopher Stephen Toulmin:

Within fundamental physics... David Bohm's critical questions about the finality [completeness] of the quantum-mechanical world view were widely being dismissed as being not merely heretical but downright perverse... (1982, p. 13).

These questions, no longer considered perverse but certainly heretical (Shimony, 1981; D'Espagnat, 1986), led Bohm to examine the notion of order that lies at the heart of the classical understanding of reality. Dissatisfied with the mechanistic scheme of the Cartesian system of co-ordinates which underlies practically all scientific inquiry, he proposed the alternative idea of implicate order.

The root of this neologism is the same as the word "implicit," and it denotes an order deeper and more subtle than the Cartesian order of mechanistic physics, the explicate, or "explicit," order. The implicate order is a domain of reality characterized by a dynamic wholeness, a domain of "unbroken wholeness in flowing movement" (Bohm, 1980b, p. 11), where information about the whole is represented in each of its parts. From this domain is abstracted the constituents of the explicate order, the distinct, stable and externally related objects and phenomena of classical physics and everyday perception.

The theme to be pursued in the following pages is the concept of implicate order as it applies, not in world of physical objects, but in the world of human beings, the world of everyday experience and interpretation. As we shall see, the special property of the implicate order--the whole is implicit in each of its parts--presents a unique opportunity for throwing new light on a fundamental problem of human existence, namely, the question of values. Elucidating the implications of Bohm's ontological concept for this considerable problem is the ambition underlying the present dissertation.


1.2 The Research Opportunity

What motivated the research to be presented was not a problem calling for a solution, as is the conventional starting point for a research effort, but an opportunity calling for realization. This opportunity involves, as already indicated, developing the concept of implicate order in such a way that its relevance to the human world and, in particular, to problems of experience and values, is demonstrated. The present research is, in other words, an effort in concept development intended to produce an enriched understanding of the chosen subject area.

Although the emphasis is on the constructive exploitation of a unique opportunity, the literature relevant to this effort does present two "problems" or weaknesses that need to be considered and critiqued. The first weakness is found in one particular aspect of Bohm's own application of the concept of implicate order to human consciousness, and the second resides in the manner in which holographic (= implicate-like) principles have been applied in organizational design by a group of organization researchers. Our critique of these "problems," which are really errors of omission rather than commission, enables us to identify certain key qualities of the human world that are neglected by Bohm and the holographic-design writers, and it thus proves most useful for the subsequent development of the conceptual framework.

Seizing the opportunity presented by the concept of implicate order requires reviewing a fair amount of scholarly material that is conducive to the realization of this opportunity. Our emphasis will be on elaborating the potential of this material for bringing out the meaning of our key concept not only in the human world, but also in other selected other domains of inquiry, such as cosmology, quantum physics, developmental biology, neuroscience and the study of visual perception. The attempt is to identify in these various topical areas common organizational principles that express the fundamental qualities of the implicate order, thus paving the way for an integrated approach to the human world in terms compatible (yet not reducible, as we shall see) with a particular line of scientific inquiry.

Since the intent of this work is thus to "verbinden, immer verbinden", as Goethe put it, the reader should not expect the sort of extensive critical examination of the philosophical and literay tradition that typifies much modern scholarship in the humanities, especially that conducted under inspiration from either the "critical theory" of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, 1979; Habermas, 1971) or the equally critical French schools of postmodernism and deconstructionism (Barthes, 1976; Derrida, 1984; Lyotard, 1984). In fact, the aspirations of the present research, as evidenced, for example, by the already indicated attempt to look at science and values under the same lens, puts it in marked contrast to these critical traditions and probably qualifies as a "meta-narrative," a label that postmodernists disapprovingly assign to accounts that purport to throw light on the larger scheme of things.

Rather, the present work may be seen as a contribution to what Griffin (1988a, p. x) recently termed "constructive postmodern thought," in contradistinction to the more widely known deconstructive postmodernism. Constructive postmodernism seeks an understanding of the relationship between science and human concerns that neither embraces modernist scientism, such as the reductive "unity of the sciences" advocated by logical positivism, nor discards science altogether as irrelevant to human existence, in the vein of deconstructive postmodernism. The alternative to be attempted in the pages that follow involves bringing together elements of science and human concerns, as guided by the research opportunity to use implicate order to illuminate the domain of human experience and values.

Although our purpose is primarily the development of a consistent and enlightening set of concepts, the unfolding of our argument will give us occasion to articulate in more detail a possible relationship between human experience and brain processes. This relationship will be hypothesized to be mediated by an implicate order of neural activity, and an experiment designed to test this hypothesis is outlined in a concluding section on further research. The possibility of there being such a relationship constitutes a small but important part of our attempt to fulfill the research opportunity.


1.3 Applying an Ontological Concept in the Human World

By an "ontological concept" is understood a concept used in ontological discourse, ontology being defined as the study of the nature of reality in general. Other disciplines study particular aspects or areas of reality: biologists study plants and animals, sociologists examine society, physicists look at matter and energy, and so on. In contrast, ontological inquiry goes beyond particular disciplinary concerns and asks questions about the general structure and nature of reality. Such inquiry is conducted through the use of "ontological concepts." Examples of such concepts that pertain to the most general nature of the world are space, order, time, sequence, motion, being, becoming, cause, telos, relation, essence, flux, system, element, and so on.

Concepts such as these have been applied in many scientific and philosophical subject areas, often quite unthinkingly, as if they were necessary or "natural" parts of the world as it simply "is." Our research opportunity presupposes the recognition of the taken, rather than given, nature of ontological concepts, and invites us to apply the ontological concept of implicate order in novel subject domains, in casu, the world of human experience and values.

The concept of implicate order derives, as indicated, from Bohm's inquiries into the foundations of quantum mechanics. Bohm questioned and ultimately suspended the traditional ontological concepts used in physics, such as time, space, continuity and locality, arguing that they were the source of the vexing paradoxes that have plagued the quantum theory since its first formulation in the 1920's. For an alternative he proposed the concept of implicate order, by means of which he has attempted to build an new ontological framework or background for quantum physics that is intended to resolve the paradoxes. Beyond applying it to the quantum paradoxes, Bohm has made frequent use of the concept in an effort to illuminate various problems in epistemology, philosophy of science, the study of mind, and social relations.

The present work may be considered an extension of these efforts, involving a modification of Bohm's application of the concept. As indicated, the domain of interest is the human world and it will be argued that the concept shows its relevance in this domain through the understanding it can bring to matters of experience and values. However, before launching into the development of this relevance we may pause to consider the nature of an inquiry that proposes to apply an ontological concept in the human world.

During the 1980's there has been a surge of interest in the role of metaphor in various disciplines, such as philosophy (Ortony, 1979), linguistics (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), economics (McCloskey, 1985), organization research (Morgan, 1986) and social theory (Brown, 1977). This has heightened the awareness of the potential benefits and hazards associated with applying ideas generated in one field of study to the subject-matter of another (this being the general definition of a metaphor).

However, some concepts are so abstract and detached from any one particular field of study that they do not qualify as metaphors. Among these very abstract concepts we must count the ontological concepts referred to above. "Time," "space," "order" and "element" can hardly be called metaphors. While the application of any of these concepts in a particular discipline must stand up to scrutiny and, if challenged, demonstrate its relevance and usefulness, this application cannot reasonably be considered metaphorical reasoning.

For an example of a study where an ontological concept ("time") has been used in a particular field of study, consider Toffler's popular book, "The Third Wave" (1980). Toffler argues that the precise measurement of time was a prerequisite for industrialization, "synchronization" being one of the six main characteristics by which he describes industrial culture. He demonstrates that time, its standardized measurement, and its role in the coordination of productive activities are crucial for industrial society. Nowhere, however, does he attempt to justify the use of time as a "metaphor," and rightly so. "Time" is simply a concept or an idea he finds important, and his intellectual task is to convince his readers that "time" is indeed critical to our understanding of his subject.

Contrast this with a recent explicit example of metaphor usage. Keidel (1987) analyzes behavior in organizations in terms of the typical team behaviors in baseball, basketball and football. He uses this metaphor to construct a classification not only of organizational behaviors, but also of no less than forty-seven extant theories of organizational structure, planÐning, behavior and so on. As it is clear that "baseball" is not an ontological concept, his use of this game as a vehicle for understanding organizations places his efforts squarely in the metaphor tradition.

Of course, in the limit there is no distinct dividing line between metaphors and ontological concepts. However, the concept of implicate order, as we shall see, is so far from being a metaphor that subjecting it to discussion along the lines of baseball as used in organization analysis would be unreasonable. To be sure, the usefulness and relevance of the concept have to be demonstrated. Ontological concepts have no a priori relevance or utility in a particular discipline or aspect of reality, and they must show their worth wherever they are applied. The relevance and usefulness of the concept of implicate order as applied in the human world will be argued in due course.

A note on the phrase "the good life," as used in the title of the dissertation, is in order. This phrase is used to point to concerns that are variously grouped under labels such as ethics, moral philosophy, morality and human values, and has been chosen primarily because it is unstilted and forceful. It simply refers to the life or existence that is considered of good and of value (what meaning is to be given to the term "good" is, of course, a moot topic, and it will be discussed at length in this dissertation). The phrase is not meant to be understood exclusively in the classical Aristotelean sense, nor does it signify merely middle-class contentedness and material security.

Further, the definite article in "the good life" is merely part of the idiom and should not be understood as implying that only one way of life can be considered good, as the liberal critique of, for example, Plato's "Republic" goes. As will be discussed, one of the main problems in the field of values and the good life is to find principles for human action that are clear enough for a difference between good and bad to made, but not so clear-cut as to be inflexible and constraining. This conflict between too little valuational guidance and too much will be addressed directly by the conceptual framwork to be proposed.


1.4 Overview of the Argument

Besides the introductory and concluding chapters, this dissertation contains four substantive chapters. Briefly stated, the first chapter reviews Bohm's work, the next applies implicate order in biology and psychology, the one after that uses this application to construct "valuations," and the last builds a model of these valuations that allows to speak about the good life.

In more detail now, Chapter 2, David Bohm on the Implicate Order in Ontology, Physics, Epistemology and Human Existence, introduces the concept of implicate order by presenting three themes in Bohm's ontological writings: order, wholeness and movement. To convey the essence of these themes, Bohm uses three images or analogies: order is illustrated by a glycerine device with an ink drop that beomes smeared out, wholeness is illustrated by a hologram where the whole is represented in each part, and movement is illustrated by a river with vortices that channel the flow of water. Each of these images is discussed extensively and their relevance for physics is brought out, as discussed by Bohm. Together they illuminate the ontological concept of implicate order.

The chapter then reviews Bohm's attempts to use this concept in quantum physics and in certain other subject areas, such as science, thought, and society. One of Bohm's main points is that in the modern we have come to focus too much on the explicate order of things, resulting in an excessive emphasis on distinctness and separation, in our thinking as well as in our social relations. Bohm's ideas on ending this so-called fragmentation are reviewed and a preliminary critique is advanced.

Chapter 3, From the Physical World to the Human World: The Unfoldment of the Implicate Flux, provides a link between two domains in which Bohm has applied the implicate order: physics and the human world. This is done by casting the successive evolution of physical, biological and mental systems in terms of the unfoldment (manifestation) of an explicate order of stable and distinct forms that channel and organize the flux of the dynamic implicate order.

The development of the world of experience in the human individual is described in phenomenological terms, which leads us to see human experience as a process of interpretation that abstracts explicate categories and concepts from the undifferentiated implicate flux and thus constructs a stable world for the human mind to inhabit.

Chapter 4, Implicate Order in Experience and Valuation, suggests that although human experience is largely explicate, implicate order has special role to play. To bring out this role, work on organizational redesign using a holographic metaphor is reviewed and two important dimensions identified: values and experience. Values introduced into the discussion, we move on to consider and dismiss the naturalistic fallacy, a philosophical objection against using properties of the natural world (such as implicate order) to specify values and the meaning of the good life.

Thus unencumbered, we advance some ideas on a possible role for an implicate order in the brain. We hypothesize a relationship between, on the one hand, two types of experience deriving from being in a decision situation and, on the other, their physical realization in an implicate order of neural activity. The same two experiences are approached and clarified from another approach that starts from a consideration of two remarkable qualities of implicate order: one is the fact that a whole is present in each of its parts, and the other is the point that different parts yield different persepctives of the same whole.

These two characteristics are found to correspond phenomenologically to the two types of experience mentioned, which are now christened the unity and diversity experiences, respectively. The former is the experience of being part of a larger dynamic whole or flow, and the latter is the appreciation that this ego-transcendence may be attained by many different avenues, or perspectives. Some reflection and a review of relevant literature suggests that these two experiences may well be accorded status of valuations (stipulations proposing a meaning for "the good"). Hence, we have obtained the so-called unity and diversity valuations from a consideration of implicate order.

Chapter 5, The Experience of Unity-in-Diversity and the Good Life: A Matrix, explores the interaction of the two experiences. They are depicted as two dimensions in a simple two-by-two model, called the unity-diversity matrix. Each dimension is divided into a high and a low, producing four cells that are pure or extreme types. Since this matrix combines two dimensions that were previously defined as equally desirable, it follows that the high-high cell is the more desirable of them all, and it is labelled "the good life."

The clarification of what this might mean is presented mostly through a discussion of the high-low and low-high cells. They are referred to as "degenerate" cases, because, as our analysis will show, attaining one experience and not the other corrupts the experience attained; it manifests as lower or degenerate version of what it could have been in the presence of the other. Thus, the unity experience unaccompanied by the diversity experience degenerates into an insistence that one's outlook or path in life is the only proper one. This attitude represents a clinging attachment to the one "true" path and is liable to degenerate into an absolutistic fanaticism. Similarly, the diversity experience without the unity experience leads to excessive tolerance of other paths in life and belief systems, to the point of indifference, utter detachment and complete value relativism.

Only in the high-high cell do the unity and diversity experiences attain full fruition. The unity-in-diversity experience unifies the opposites of the degenerate cells: an individual in this cell feels connected with a larger whole or flow (unity experience) and harbors a deep appreciation of the legitimacy and equal worth of other people's pursuits; he attaches and commits himself things and people yet is able to let go and embrace novelty, and so on and so forth. The chapter presents a variety of descriptions of the four pure types of experience or attitudes identified by the unity-diversity matrix.

The chapters closes with a discussion of the manner in which the matrix may be used. It is recommend that it be "tried on" for personal use in the context of a community of other users as well as critics of the matrix. The matrix may thus become a lens through which actions, beliefs and ideas can be judged for their valuational content, enabling the user to steer between the extremes of absolutism and relativism toward the union of diversity and unity, the designated "good life." The matrix gives no final answers to concrete valuational or moral problems but provides a language by which a community of matrix users and critics may negotiate their interpretations of the world and their thoughts about what is to be done.

The final Chapter 6, Conclusions, summarizes the research, elaborates the critique of Bohm's work in the light of the unity-diversity matrix, evaluates the unity-diversity model as well as the argument from ontology to values, and proposes an experiment for the testing of the hypotesized connection between experience and brain order.

The Appendix presents an independent paper, What Should Guide Reality Construction? - Implicate Order and Values in Social Research, to be published in an anthology on method and reflexivity in social research (Steier, in press). This paper combines the unity-diversity matrix with some earlier research (Ravn, 1987) in which a valuational framework not unlike the present matrix was used in a process of social research. The five-step methodology outlined in the paper is offered as an avenue of further research capable of "testing" the unity-diversity model in a closely monitored process of community development.



1. Ontology (or metaphysics) is commonly defined as the study of being or of the essence of things. As such, ontology/metaphysics has been seen by some (such as Marx) as antagonistic to a view of reality that emphasizes dynamic process over static being or essence. Ideally, there would be a term for the study of reality that is neutral to whether a process view or a static, essentialistic view is taken. For want of such a term, "ontology" has been adopted here; and it is meant to imply no preference for a process view or an essentialistic view.