Dialogue Theories: David Bohm’s Holographic Dialogue

In this second column, we continue our exploration of the quantum scientist the late Professor David Bohm’s notions of dialogue. Previously we looked at Bohm’s definition of dialogue by contrasting dialogue with debate. Here we will see how Bohm’s quantum theories and insights into the structure of the cosmos, which were holistic rather than reductionist or mechanistic, informs his ideas of dialogue in very subtle ways. In Bohm’s dialogue, every individual is an equal, a whole rather than a mechanistic subordinate part and so everyone has an equal voice. There is no hierarchy or privileged position based upon any kind of authority. To help us grasp the deep structural importance of this holistic egalitarian participation, Bohm used the comparison between photography and holography.

Regular photography involves the direct correspondence between points of light reflected from an object and the recording of these points on a medium such as a photographic plate or negative. If one were to break the recorded plate or cut the negative into fragments the information of the whole would be fragmented too. So that if we were to examine one fragment we would only recover whatever particular piece of the whole image was recorded on that fragment.

As an example, if we took a photograph of a group of one hundred people equally distributed across the photograph and then cut the negative into one thousand pieces we would only recover the information on that fragment- in this example it would probably be one tenth part of a particular person- ninety- nine others would be completely lost. This is because in photography there is a direct correspondence between the recorded image on the negative and the light reflected from each of the individuals comprising the whole group.

In contrast, a holograph records an interference pattern created by both the light from an original source plus the light from that source reflected off the object (our group of one hundred people). In our example, light from a laser is bounced off the object and then it then arrives at the negative where it mixes with the original direct laser source light. The plate records the interference pattern created by these two light sources as they interfere with one another. When a laser is then shone through the recorded plate the full image of the group is re-created as the hologram.

The critical difference is that if we were to break this holographic plate into a thousand pieces, we can take any one of these single fragments and when the laser is shone through, the whole group image (our one hundred people) will appear. This is because the holograph embeds the total image within every part of the plate. Each fragment contains the whole image albeit in proportionally lesser detail than if we still had the whole plate. The more pieces the more detail, but a single fragment will provide the whole image.

The two major implications for dialogue are that just as in the holographic fragment, each individual contains the whole within it, so the individual is viewed as a cosmos in miniature. This means that the value of every individual must be seen as an end in itself and not as a means.

Secondly, the full detail of the bigger picture or whole requires that each individual also plays his or her unique part. The individual is not merely a minor mechanistic part that can be forgotten or replaced. It quickly becomes apparent that in Bohmʼs holographic paradigm full participation in the dialogue is encouraged because each individual has a unique detail or contribution that only they can provide. If their voice is lost or dismissed then the bigger whole is diminished.

*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society

Paul Becque

Paul Becque

Paul Becque holds an MA in International Conflict Analysis and a PhD in International Relations (both from the University of Kent) and is currently completing an LLM in Public International Law and International Human Rights at Nottingham Trent University.

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