Chapter 1. Childhood: From Fragmentation to Flow.
David Joseph Bohm was born on December 20, 1917, in the Pennsylvania mining town of Wilkes-Barre. His place of birth may have come as something of a surprise to those who first met him later in life for, with his quiet, polite and hesitating manner and dressed in his perpetual green tweed jacket it would have been easy to take him for an Englishman. Yet, in his youth, David Bohm was very much an American, inspired by the American Dream of a New Order, of freedom and equality, and of scientific and technological progress that would lead to the elimination of poverty and human betterment through a more rational approach to the traditional problems of society. From his Pennsylvania home the young Bohm dreamed of the great frontier that was the American West and projected those visions onto distant planets and civilizations in the remote future in which consciousness had transcended its present limitations. In a world in which the potential of electricity was just being demonstrated Bohm mused about new and unlimited sources of energy, and his boyhood fascination with the rays of the setting sun depicted on an American coin may have inspired him to envision a great and powerful light that would stretch out to illuminate the entire universe. While an image of the sun's rays had appeared on an early $20 gold piece, it was without doubt the half dollar, first issued in 1926 that must have attracted his attention. This was minted to commemorate the Orgeon Trail and depicted a settler's wagon driving West towards the setting sun. The other side contained the proud image of a stylized Native American.
Tthe way in which so many of David Bohm's childhood dreams and fantasies were, in later life, translated into scientific theories, philosophical reflections, insights into the nature of consciousness, and hopes for the transformation of human society is the underlying theme of this biography. Yet, we will also see how Bohm's aspirations were soured by the changing nature of American society and his life was increasingly dogged by depression, and his despair that human nature would never wake up to the pain, suffering, stupidity and general disorder that it was creating throughout the world.
As an adult, Bohm was to become a thinker who combined power and subtlety with a vast breadth of interests. To professional physicists, he represented one of the last links to that older generation of physicists, represented by thinkers like Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli; scientists who sought a true understanding of the universe and combined a talent for physics with a passion for philosophy. His contributions were considerable and his influence extended far beyond physics for whenever he lectured his audience was just as likely to contain poets, painters and psychiatrists as philosophers and physicists. Indeed, it was his very eclecticism and desire to integrate understanding and avoid the fragmentation of specialization that at times made him unpopular with a certain section of his academic colleagues.
All this, however, lay in the future for the boy growing up in Wilkes-Barre. And what an unlikely future it must have seemed, for there was little interest in academic matters within the Bohm household and an active dislike of what his father, Solomon, referred to as the unpractical nature of "scientism." Moreover, the school he attended was more renowned for producing skills with the fists than facilities of the mind.
David Bohm grew up living sometimes above, at other times next to, his father's furniture store in a poor area of town. It was a district occupied by miners - mainly Polish and Irish, with a handful of Welsh and English and it was here that he began to react to his father's stated ambition that his two sons should own the largest furniture store in Wilkes-Barre.
David Bohm's father, Shalom, had been born in the town of Munkacs, Hungary and emigrated to the United States where he worked for a time as a peddler before going to live with the Popky family who owned a furniture store in Wilkes-Barre. (David Bohm believed that is father arrived in the United States during his teens, while Irving Bohm who has acted as the informal Bohm family historian believes that he was aged 20.) At the time of Shalom's birth, Munkacs was a thriving business center of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Founded in the 10th century, the town had a large Jewish population, for it was the first major city that emigrating Jews would reach after crossing the Carpathian mountains using the Veretsky Pass. Following World War I the town became part of Czechoslovakia, and its name was change to the Czech form Mukachovo. Later it was absorbed into the Ukrainian region of the USSR.
Shalom's family name was not, in fact, Bohm but Dum. Shalom's father, Aaron David Dum had married Esther Kalish and both families were followers of the Chassidism branch of the Jewish religion; the Chassidism of Munkacs were reputed to be learned men. Nine children were born, Shlomo, Yenta, Moshe, Leah, Shalom (David Bohm's father), Raisel, Ezekial, Mirel and Yaakov and it was a family that over the years was to be touched by tragedy. In 1904, at the age of 35, Aaron David Dum died of influenza. His wife, Esther, died the following year, also at the age 35, of what was described as "heartbreak".
With both parents dead the children were scattered amongst other Jewish families in the town. Both Shlomo and Shalom were eventually to emigrate to the United States and raise families of their own. Yenta, died along with two of her children in the Holocaust, another of her daughters surviving. Moshe Dum married Sarah Hollander and, after having two children in Munkacs, emigrated to the United States where four more children were born.
Leah married and moved to Rumania where she, her husband and six of their eight children perished in the Holocaust. Two daughters survived and went to live in California. Raisel and seven of her children also perished in the Holocaust, one daughter survived and moved to Brooklyn.
Ezekial had four children, two of whom died in the Holocaust, two others survived, one to settle in the United States and the other in Israel.
Finally the youngest son, Yaakov, was killed in World War I at the age of twenty, fighting with the Hungarian Separatists.
The orphaned Shalom was fostered by the Jewish families in the town who attended to his education. It appears that, while Shalom was forced to move from family to family, he was at least inculcated with the spirit of learning, attending the Yesheva, or Jewish academy of higher education, where he could study the Talmud. Shalom enjoyed this period of his life and, in the opinion of surviving family members, he was an intelligent man who would probably have preferred to have continued his studies rather than enter into business. He had a good voice and enjoyed singing in the Temple, later in life he was to become a Cantor and was noted for his love of Opera and Theater. Shalom maintained the Jewish traditions throughout his life, if not quite to the orthodox extent of some of his brothers. As an adult he served, for example, as a shamus - an assistant to the Rabbi - having the authority to perform circumcisions, slaughter animals and supervise the preparation of food.
An important aspect of the Jewish faith is the maintenance of the Law and Customs of Israel; along with this comes a respect of learning and for Talmudic studies. Later, when he was to have a family of his own Shalom Bohm wanted his son, David, to continue in his tradition. However, as we shall see, the teenager David rebelled and rejected the values of his family.
It was decided by the Munkacs families that young Shalom Dum should emigrate to the United States and so he was given addresses of Jewish families who would look after him. It was at this point that his name was also changed. The family story is that when Shalom arrived at Ellis island as an immigrant from the Old World, he was told that the name Dum had unfortunate connotations in American slang - dumb meaning stupid or dull. The official changed the D into a B and then transformed the umlauted U to become Bohm. Later, as he established himself in business, he became know as Sam or Samuel Bohm. ( I also heard a family story that the name Bohm had been taken from a dead soldier, but Irving Bohm the family historian did not think much of this account.) When his brothers Shlomo and Moshe arrived in the United States they also took on the name Bohm.
Shalom, or Samuel as we shall now call him, first made his living as a peddler working in the Pennsylvania area. Later he took lodgings with the Popky family in Wilkes-Barre and it was here that further plans were laid for his future.
Wilkes-Barre was a coal mining town, mainly populated by Polish and Irish miners. The Popkys themselves were a religious family whose origins lay in Lithuania. It was said that, before emigrating, Harry Popky had served two terms in the Army so that his brother could attend medical school and train to become a doctor in Lithuania. After arriving in the United States, Harry Popky operated a furniture store and proved to be an excellent businessman. Although not deeply devout, he maintained the Jewish traditions and customs and the family generally spoke Yiddish in the home. The story was told that Mr Popky had arrived in the US virtually penniless and had started in business by stealing $10 then using the money to buy something which he then sold at a profit. From such modest beginnings he was to build up a considerable sum of money.
The family lived in the Polish part of town where Mr Popky would drink schnapps with the customers who entered his store and speak to them in Polish. Mr Popky's friend Horst Bennish was the non-Jewish owner of a very large furniture store. When Bennish obtained secondhand furniture in part exchange for the sale of new he would pass this on to Popky for virtually nothing. This furniture could then be offered at low prices. Popky would joke with his clients and then engage in a bargaining session. The Polish families enjoyed this traditional way of doing business and, as they left the store, felt that they had made a good bargain. For his part Mr Popky had make a fair profit and, as with all good business, everyone was happy.
The result was that the Popky family became quite rich, amassing in the neighborhood of $100,000 - a small fortune in those days. However, each time a religious person arrived from Europe with a hard luck story Mr Popky would part with some of his fortune; the result was that by the end of his life he appeared to have given a great deal of it away.
His wife, Hanna Popky, was hard working and devout. Each week she put away a little of her housekeeping money in order to send one of her sons, Charles, to Pennsylvania State College. Harry Popky disapproved of this, for he felt that a secular education was unnecessary and would only give the boy radical ideas. The young man was later to go into the electrical business but remained somewhat of an idealist. His brother, Nathan, while not benefiting from a college education, appears to have been more energetic when it came to business and became quite wealthy.
It was into this family that Samuel Bohm arrived and caught the eye of Mr Popky. In the old times it was customary for a father to think in terms of a shiddach (an arranged marriage) for his daughter. In this case, a financial settlement was arranged to the mutual benefit of both sides, for Harry's daughter, Frieda, was not a particularly eligible young woman, for she was troubled by mental problems. (Mildred Popky was told that Frieda had been dropped on her head as a child but did not believe the story to be true.)
As a small child in Europe, Frieda appeared to have exhibited a lively intelligence but, on arriving in America as a young girl, she was unable to speak the language and felt like a fish out of water. She was extremely quiet and withdrawn and eventually began to exhibit mental abnormalities which were later to blossom into a full-blown psychosis. (David Bohm told the psychiatrist Paul Grof that his mother suffered from auditory hallucinations and was quite delusional at times.) It appears, from what David and other family members recalled, that Frieda Bohm's illness was considered to be psychotic and she was labeled as schizophrenic. In those days, however, differential psychiatric diagnosis was not always carefully performed.
It was therefore essential that such a daughter be married off and, according to Irving Bohm, a settlement involving $5,000 enabled Samuel to set up a furniture store of his own in Wilkes-Barre. Like the Popky business, Samuel's store catered to miners' families and was located 410 Hazel St, a mile or so from the main Jewish community. Although Samuel may not have had quite the business flair of his father-in-law, his store prospered and soon he was able to help his brothers emigrate to the United States.
Samuel Bohm once told his son, David, that as a young man he had become interested in socialism and had attempted to talk to the Wilkes-Barre miners about social principles. Their reaction was to laugh at his adoption of a radical position and to inform him that Jews had no right to talk to them about socialism for, in their opinion, the Jews were only there to make money. David felt that from that point on his father took on the persona of a lively, sociable and entertaining businessman: one who, like his father-in-law, talked to his clients in their own language and bargained with them in the old European fashion. Indeed, it appeared that Samuel often set up this situation by slightly overpricing the furniture and then allowing a customer to heat him down. Samuel joked that this made his customers feel good because they believed they had beaten a Jew at bargaining.
The furniture business prospered and on December 20, 1917, his first child, David Joseph, was born. Four years later David's brother, Robert (Bobby) was born and the family completed. Frieda, however, was unable to look after the smooth running of the house and it was left to her mother, Hanna Popky, who lived nearby, to take responsibility for the household chores.
David's grandmother, Hanna, a religious woman who could speak little English, was the calm and reliable center of both the Popky household and Samuel Bohm's home. David remembered visiting his grandparents where Harry Popky would pay him five cents to say prayers in Hebrew. Yiddish was spoken in the home but David did not care to speak to his grandparents in this way for he felt he was not being truly American.
After Mrs Popky's death things began to fall apart in the Bohm household and David was to grow up in an atmosphere that was dysfunctional, unpredictable and oppressive. Towards the end of his, life David taped a series of reminiscences with his friend Maurice Wilkins. These, and the discussions he had with his wife, his friends and his psychiatrists, paint a negative picture of his homelife and indicate a particularly strong reaction to his father. Beyond David Bohm's own memories, however, there is little independent evidence concerning what went on during the earliest, formative years of his life, for his cousins who visited the home remembered very little, as they were several years younger than David, and his closest friend, Mort Weiss, did not come into contact with the Bohms until he began to receive instruction for his Bar Mitzvah.
According to David's perception, his father was the sort of man who was affable to his friends, playing cards and talking with a circle of Jewish businessmen, but who was angry in the home, particularly towards his wife, and critical of his elder son. (Outside the house, however, Samuel appears to have spoken about his son with pride, particularly after David had begun to distinguish himself in science.)
For David, his father was a man concerned only with such practical matters as making money and establishing a position in society. By contrast, he believed that his mother possessed spiritual qualities. He recalled being shown, by an aunt, a photograph of his mother as a young woman which conveyed a spiritual inwardlookingness. (Source: Bohm's taped conversation with Maurice Wilkins) David believed that while she had the capacity to enter into the inner meaning of things, her psychic make-up had left her too confused to go any further. Although she was indifferent to intellectual matters, David Bohm believed that in some very early and non-verbal way he had picked up from his mother his own way of looking at the material world. David trusted his mother's feelings, yet realized the he could not rely upon her in practical matters. By contrast, his father was reliable yet, so it seemed to the boy, he never did things with the right feeling.
(Footnote: David Bohm had many discussions with a friend and neighbor, Joan Evans, who was an important figure in the English branch of the psychosynthesis movement. This psychiatric approach holds that while the father symbolizes spiritual qualities, the mother represents the material world - Bohm was himself struck by the relationship of the word "mother" and "matter". Joan Evans believed that in David's case his spirit had entered a material world that was essentially chaotic and irrational and apparently discussed this interpretation with Bohm. Thus, it is not clear to what extent Bohm's reminisces about his mother and father, tape recorded towards the end of his life, were colored by the approach and symbolism of psychosynthesis.)
Feeling a strong emotional bond towards his mother, the boy resented his father's outbursts of anger towards her. It seemed that his father was constantly insulting and belittling his wife who, for her part reacted by shouting, becoming hysterical and threatening to kill her husband. It was only later, as he grew up, that David began to realize that there may have been some justification for his father's outbursts. Like other Jewish men of the time, Samuel felt that a good wife should provide a smoothly-run home and assist her husband in social matters. Frieda, however, had few friends and appears to have spent most of her married life either in a state of depression, in which she was unable to concentrate, or in severe mood swings leading to psychosis - on one occasion she attacked a neighbor with a bottle and broke the woman's nose.
Thus, as David was growing up, Samuel probably did have some reason to feel angry; angry that the house was not tidy, that the meals not properly prepared, that no mending was done and that the housekeeping money had been squandered while his wife appeared to do nothing more than read true confession magazines. All this, of course, took place in an age before men and women had come to examine the limitations and elements of subjugation inherent in their traditional roles.
When the boy was seven or eight years old things had became so bad that his parents talked of separating. This caused David considerable worry because, although he loved his mother, he knew that she would be incapable of taking care of him in a practical manner. He saw that his mother's irrationally was destructive in the way it would sweep over her, causing her to scream, loose control and be overwhelmed by panic or rage.
As an example, Frieda Bohm was excessively nervous, constantly enquiring if David felt alright and unduly concerned when he was out in the evenings. As a result, David grew up to believe that he was neither mentally nor physically healthy; he did not consider that he was as strong as other boys and felt neurotic, nervous, easily upset and bad tempered. Throughout his life, David Bohm continued to suffer from periods of hypochondria, occasional feelings of panic, and long periods of discouragement that tended dangerously towards depression and even despair. Clearly these neuroses were the product of a dysfunctional home life. But David Bohm also wondered to what extent he may have inherited a genetic component from his mother and, at the time of his marriage, decided that he should not father a child for fear of passing on the seeds of mental unbalance.
(Footnote: The psychiatrists and doctors who were later to treat David Bohm for his own depressions did not all agree with that early diagnosis of his mother. Professor Levy of the Maudsley Hospital, where David was a patient towards the end of his life, believed that Frieda Bohm had suffered from bipolar depression, i.e. periods of severe depression alternating with manic episodes. Despite so much research over the past decades these diseases are still not fully understood, however, there does appear to be evidence of a genetic component in such illnesses. Thus, David Bohm was perhaps justified in fearing that he may have inherited a mental instability from his mother. Of course, growing up as a child with a mother who is psychotic will in itself produce severe stresses upon an individual so it becomes very difficult to differentiate between genetic and environmental factors.)
Despite her instability, it was clear that David was his mother's favorite. This caused some jealousy on the part of his younger brother Bobby who became closer to his father, for he loved sports and was more Samuel's idea of what a boy should be. Samuel Bohm wished his sons to be good at sports and easy in social situations; his dream was for them to run the largest furniture store in Wilkes-Barre. Yet while his younger brother, Bobby, loved to play baseball and discuss football scores, David was withdrawn and uncoordinated. Thus Samuel Bohm became the father David could never satisfy, the figure from whom he could never obtain approval. If this sounds too much like the popular psychology so prevalent in contemporary biography the reader must consider that this was David Bohm's own assessment of his childhood and of the subsequent pattern of his life; for David believed that he had always been seeking approval from the ideal father in the strong male figures he encountered. Two of the most significant individuals in this respect were the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Indian teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti. In both cases, since no actual figure can measure up to the fantasies of such an ideal, the relationship was eventually to lead to a deep sense of betrayal.
David recognized that his father was an intelligent man, someone who enjoyed reading at night, particularly novels. However, later, when in his teens he talked about his own interest in science, he realized that his father did not understand that the planets were really other worlds that orbited the sun. When David tried to explain this, his father reacted in such a way as to suggest that none of this really mattered. Indeed, he was generally scornful of what he termed David's "scientism" and hostile to anything that he considered to be "up in the clouds", for it could not have a direct application in daily, social life and human relationships.
As we shall see, throughout his life David retained an ambivalent attitude towards his father. On the one hand he rejected what he perceived to be his father's overly practical nature and insistence on conformity. Yet there was also an element present within his nature that sought his father's approval. David Bohm realized how as an adult this inclined him to present science in a way that was particularly clear and accessible to ordinary people. Bohm was known for the clarity in his explanations, for seeking illuminating metaphors and attempting to explain the most abstruse points in a direct and simple way. Indeed, he always attempted to bring his scientific work back within the framework of human society and consciousness.
His school friend Mort Weiss recalled how, eager to prove to his father the utility of science, David designed a dripless pitcher. Indeed, he went to far as to make an affidavit of the invention and list various companies that manufactured or used bottles. In a magazine, he found an advertisement that, upon payment of one dollar, offered advice on how to market an invention. David mailed off his dollar and was told to sell his invention door to door! During his teens he was also engaged in other inventions such as improved radio circuits, engines and aeronautical designs. (See Appendix)
While David Bohm disliked his father's preoccupation with money and social conformity, he was never willing to confront Samuel on this issue. This was left to his younger brother, Bob who once had it out with his father telling him that it was wrong to make money in that way. David was at college at the time and only learned later about this from his father who appeared to have been very hurt by the confrontation.
There were, however, positive figures in David's early life, such as his uncle Charles Popky - or Uncle Charlie as he was more normally called-, who had been to college and took an interest in science. David also very much admired the cheerful and positive approach to life of another uncle, Nathan. Once, when he was around 10 years old, David ripped his fingernail, leaving part of it hanging loose. As with any form of sickness or accident, his mother panicked, which only added to David's own worry and discomfort. However, at that moment Nathan came into the room and calmly took charge of the situation, pointing out that it was not a particularly serious matter.
As a young boy David was shy and withdrawn, having an inner sadness that persisted throughout his life. He developed an interest in things of the mind, grand abstractions, fantasies about space travel, energy and the universe, and his consolation lay in long walks taken in the wooded areas around his house. Feeling unable, in the main, to engage in human relationships in a free and open way, he did not mix easily with other boys and shared his inner world only with those of a similar disposition. David read about the American West and speculated that he would have been healthier if he had grown up in Wyoming instead of Wilkes-Barre. In the West, the books told him, folks were friendly and life had meaning, for people were less concerned with competition.
( Footnote: Taping his reminiscence towards the end of his life, Bohm associated this memory with a particular house the family had occupied and was thereby able to fix these speculations as having happened before he was eight.)
David's perception of himself was that of a loner, an outsider, someone cut off from the social world. Yet throughout his life so many people felt great warmth and love for David Bohm, they admired him and went out of their way to remain in touch with him. Towards the end of his life, David would remark to his wife, Saral, that he had no friends whereupon she would reel off a long list of those who considered themselves to be close to him.
In "The Dynamics of Creation" (Penguin Books, Harmsworth, England 1976) the psychiatrist Anthony Storr discusses the schizoid character of certain creative people such as Isaac Newton, Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka. Storr explains how, as a result of a traumatic childhood and the subsequent pain associated with attempting to engage in human relationships, a sensitive person sometimes begins to inhabit an inner world, or perhaps to focus all their attention upon nature. As a result, their creative energies become directed away from human relationships and into a word of universal order like the laws of nature created by Newton, or in Kafka's case a fictional landscape. At the time I read the book I was impressed by Storr's analysis, which also discussed the creativity of the manic depressive and obsessional characters. When I discussed this with David Bohm he remarked, "Yes, that sums me up pretty well."
In David Bohm's case this inner world first became identified with distant planets and was gradually transformed into that of theoretical physics, but at the time there was little reason that a boy growing up in Wilkes-Barre should have chosen such a path for the world of science was remote from the concerns of the miners and there was little mention of science in his early years at G.A.R High School. (Grand Army of the Republic.)
As a child David had noticed how adults were intrigued by the new power of electricity which they regarded as a mysterious force. However, his first serious interest in science appears to have been sparked by a purely accidental event. Solomon Bohm employed boys to help him in the store and once, when David was around eight years old - or at least that is how he remembered it -, a boy brought in a science fiction magazine called "Amazing Stories". David looked through the magazine and came upon a story, "The Columbus of Space", which was about a voyage to Venus.
(David's later recollection of this incident was not entirely accurate. Amazing Stories was indeed the first of the new science fiction magazines; the first issue of Amazing Stories appeared in April 1926. Initially it was an annual but moved to quarterly publication in 1928. The earliest issues did not contain any original stories and consisted of reprints of the classical stories of Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe and H.G. Wells. While there was never such a story as "Columbus of Space", in 1928 the "Skylark of Space", the first of a series of new space travel adventures, appeared under the pen of "Doc" Smith. This was probably the story that inspired David Bohm and thus sets the incident a little later, when he was in fact ten years old.)
The story fired David's imagination and he continued to buy Amazing Stories and the other science fiction magazines that soon followed, such as Astounding Stories and Wonder Stories. With a Polish school friend, Henry Kunicki, they devoured science fiction magazines and made up their own stories. Indeed, the two of them began to plan a trip to one of the planets and speculated what they would do when they arrived at their destination. His friend cautioned David that the planet would be so dangerous that they should return to Earth immediately. David, however, planned to stay for some time and explore the planet, possibly contacting advanced civilizations. His friend became so concerned that he threatened to tell David's parents about his plans.
(Footnote: At the time I wondered how it could have been that David's friend took this story seriously enough to threaten to report his friend for planning to spend time on another planet. However, the Jungian psychiatrist, Mara Sidoli, who specializes in treating children told me of a particular case in which a highly intelligent, but profoundly, disturbed child was fantasizing trips in space with such an intensity that he could barely be reached. It was only by attempting to participate with him that Dr Sidoli was eventually able to establish communication. She remarked upon the intensity with which the child engaged in his fantasy and the nature of the psychic inflation involved when one can journey to distant planets and combat aliens. When we discussed the nature of David Bohm's childhood and his subsequent life she was struck by the resemblance to this case.)
It is curious that one of the most distinguished physicists of his time should have gained his early intellectual stimulation not from science itself but from the world of science fiction. Indeed, he certainly took this literary form of imaginative speculation seriously, as can be seen from the following draft of a letter found amongst a collection of his schoolboy writings that he left with his fiance, Hanna Lowey, when he departed for Brazil. Writing to the editor, when Bohm was in his mid-teens, he comments that "once again 'Wonder Stories' is showing steady improvement throughout several consecutive issues, but it still has far to go before it even approaches the standards set by the.. (crossings out).. 1931 and 32. The number of good stories is steadily increasing while the mediocre ones seem to be disappearing, although not as rapidly as they ought/might to." David selected "The Martian Odyssey" as one of the best, while "Enslaved Brains" was excellent, "I for one hope we get the promised sequel pronto."
However, "when I think of the real science-fiction we were getting two and three years ago (that is how long I have been reading "the magazine"), it seems that "Wonder Stories" has been for a long time degenerating into one of the mediocre pulp magazines with which the newstands now abound." He wonders if the authors are getting old or need a vacation. "But whatever the cause, science-fiction is doomed unless new super-plots are developed with the same technique as the older stories had." The problem, he decided, with the present plots was that they were "adventure or love stories with a sprinkling of scientific background" aimed at increasing circulation. He thus proposes that the editor offer a premium for well-written stories.
On another occasion he wrote objecting to the scientific principles on which a story is based. It concerned the Drusonians whose eyes could see no blue. In order to appear invisible to them, humans painted themselves blue but, as David Bohm pointed out, the effect would be exactly the same to us as if people were to cover themselves with ultraviolet paint - they would not be invisible but would appear black and, as he pointed out, "black is not the least bit invisible". While this may look like hair splitting, Bohm argues, it is not, for the entire story was based upon an erroneous assumption.
David also shared his love of science fiction with another boy, Mort Weiss, who was to become one of his best friends. Weiss recalled how David had explained to him that astronauts would have to carry their own oxygen supply. They would first journey to the moon, he suggested, which could be used as a base before going on the other planets.
His friendship with Mort Weiss began when Mort went to Samuel Bohm to receive religious instruction before making his Bar Mitzvah. Mort was the son of a local salesman who lived in the Jewish part of town a mile or so away. Although David did not see Mort for several decades following his exile in Brazil, their friendship lasted throughout his life, indeed it was while walking with Mort in the early 1980s that David had his first heart attack. Mort also flew to England to be present at the stone setting ceremony for David Bohm's grave in 1993.
Samuel Bohm was a friend of Mort's father and the two men would often begin a discussion on religious matters in the Synagog that spilled over into one of their homes. As he began to study religious law and customs, Mort came to view Samuel as a particularly learned man. The two boys took their Bar Mitzvah together and, attending the same school, struck up a friendship. At David's house, Frieda Bohm would serve them hot cocoa and cupcakes while they did their homework at the kitchen table. Mort found David's mother reticent, quiet and subdued. She seemed unable or unwilling to join in social conversation even when Mort's parents visited. Indeed, Mort felt her to be a dampening influence, for he was aware of her walking in silence around the house. David, for his part, appeared to ignore her. Although Mort never witnessed any arguments between David's parents he did note a change of atmosphere when Samuel Bohm came in at night. Around that time Mort would generally leave for home.
When they weren't doing homework, the boys discussed science or built crystal sets. Radios in those days were particularly simple, requiring no power source such as a battery, and consisting of a wire antenna, crystal detector, coil and headphones. The galena crystal acted as a rectifier and the boys would juggle a thin wire called a "cats whisker" across one of the crystal faces until a strong signal could be heard.
They enjoyed designing crystal circuits and David believed that other crystals should produce even better signals. Thus the boys sorted through the dumps of coal tailings located behind David's house for bright looking crystals - David had a theory that they should have an hexagonal pattern. Since the local radio station was also experimenting with broadcasting, the boys felt that they were at the forefront of a new age. Indeed, David was always telling Mort about the future. He explained to his friend that aircraft would one day be able to fly without propellers and discussed new forms of telegraphy and speculated on the future of television.
Living a mile or so from the Jewish community David was the only Jewish boy in his neighborhood and even when he attended High School there were few Jewish boys at G.A.R public school. However, despite some occasional bullying, David felt that he got on well with the local boys. At times a boy would taunt him which made David very angry, but the other Polish boys, and their parents, advised him not to answer or to show that he had been irritated.
David believed that the ethos of the local miners involved an admiration of physical strength and a willingness to fight, which was reflected in the local gangs such as "The Mayflower Gang" and "the Blackman Street Gang", who spent most of their time hunting each other down or looking for boys to beat up. David, feeling physically uncoordinated, attempted to avoid such physical confrontation. When, in his seventies, and looking back at his childhood in conversation with his friend Maurice Wilkins, he mentioned his father's reaction to physical confrontation. Solomon Bohm, he recalled, appeared uneasy when an argument seemed about to move into something closer to physical aggression - (a not unreasonable reaction for a furniture salesman confronting an angry miner!). David was sufficiently disturbed by this trait in his father's character to recall it sixty years later. Possibly David felt a sense of betrayal in a father who was not strong enough to defend him, and who told his son that he (David) would not be physically able to stand up to other boys.
In particular, an Irish boy continued to taunt him to the point where David felt forced to talk to the boy's parents who pointed out that there was little they could do. In the end, things came to flash point. The Irish boy was sitting on a fence making fun of David who finally lost his temper and began to fight. In true Tom Sawyer tradition the two boys then became good friends. Bohm realized that the boy had not fought particularly hard and had simply wanted to befriend him. Custom demanded, however, that such a friendship should begin in a physical way. Possibly the boy had even been offended by David's initial refusal to tussle with him.
Despite their exterior roughness, David grew to prefer the Polish and Irish families to his own Jewish background. He felt a great warmth when he visited their houses, in contrast to the coldness and constraint of his own home. His friends may have been poor, and their fathers may have returned home drunk some nights, but David was embraced by a genuine feeling of friendliness and closeness. The father of one of his friends, for example, would spend all his money at the local tavern on pay days. One night he did not come home for several days and David and his friends went to look for him. In the end they found him lying drunk and had to get him home.
The Polish families were willing to include him in their activities, inviting him to come to church with them or to eat a meal together. David, however, had to refuse, for the food was not kosher and he was only supposed to attend the Synagog. Indeed, throughout his life, although he loved to explore the abstract planes of theoretical physics, David always felt at home with working people. Perhaps it was out of these initial feelings of warmth and companionships that David's dream of a better society was born.
(Footnote: When in hospital for his heart bypass operation and later, when in a psychiatric unit for depression, Bohm appears to have got on well with the ordinary working people in the ward who befriended him.)
Growing up with schoolfriends who were predominantly Irish and Polish Catholics David felt little sense of his own Jewishness. Indeed, if Jewish lore and customs were identified with his father then this was something from which David wished to distance himself. By the time he was in his late teens David had become firmly atheistic and over the next years was to adopt an anti-religious stance. The local Jewish community, he noted, consisted mostly of people in commerce and manufacturing who tended to look down on the Poles as being poor and lacking in intelligence. For their part, the Polish families regarded the Jews as standoffish and having too high an opinion of themselves.
These racial prejudices were, of course, adopted by the miner's children. Dave's friend Mort Weiss remembered how on Sunday mornings the Polish boys would emerge from church, "all whipped up and angry" and looking for Jewish boys to beat up. Luckily his elder brother was a tough fighter and so Mort received some protection. David himself remembered being called a "dirty Jew" and accused of crucifying Christ. To this he replied that it was the Romans who had crucified Christ and anyway you couldn't hold people responsible for what had happened 2000 years ago!
Like most boys, David's friends were interested in sports and attempted to coach him at baseball. Although his father encouraged him to engage in sports David felt himself to be not as strong as the other boys; in addition, he was physically uncoordinated and awkward in his movements. Indeed, he felt that he could not even throw a ball properly despite the encouragement of his friends. Other boys seemed able to pick up sports with ease while David, for his part, would simply stand by and watch. Around the age of seven or eight, as he later recalled, he began to believe that he would be able to carry out similar maneuvers by watching others and then working out in his head the various bodily dispositions involved. By carefully thinking things out, and planning every move, he felt that he would be able to control his body and not appear so awkward to the other boys. Very early in his life, therefore, he developed the notion that he should be able to control the world around him through his intellect.
It was in touching the limits of this desire for control that David had an experience that was to transform his thinking for the rest of his life. Around the age of ten or twelve, he was walking in the woods with a group of boys who came to a stream traversed by a series of rocks. In order to cross the stream it was necessary to step from rock to rock. This was the sort of situation that so troubled the young David, for it meant that he would have to plan ahead very carefully, observing the position of the rocks and deciding which foot to place where. Security, for David, lay in preplanned control in which he could cling onto a series of trusted positions; only moving on to the next when he had developed sufficient confidence. Yet, as he jumped onto the first stone and began to cross he realized that it was impossible for him to stop. Crossing the river from stone to stone could only be achieved in a continuous movement. If he were to attempt to arrest this movement, or think too carefully about what he was doing, he would certainly fall; his only hope was to keep moving so that as one foot touched a stone the other would already be moving to a new position.
David Bohm gave this incident such importance that he related the story on several occasions in later life. Crossing the river was both literal and metaphoric, for until that instant, Bohm had always made a careful assessment of a situation before taking any action, making action provisional and never fully committing himself, always estimating the implications of the action to come and avoiding being pulled along by what he referred to as "irrational currents". But now the sudden transformation from security that lay in stillness and control into a single, free flowing movement had a profound effect on Bohm's later thinking.
Clearly David's insight as he crossed the river was not confined to the purely intellectual plane but took place within his whole being. Indeed, he could not, at that time, have perceived the full implications of his experience. As he was later to reason, up to that moment he had conceived of himself, and the universe around him, as consisting of fixed things such as objects and beings in interaction. Just as he had always moved by focusing upon a sequence of fixed positions, muscular dispositions and bodily orientations, so too he had experienced the essence of movement as arising out of a succession of fixed states. But now, as he crossed the stream, his mind and body were no longer fragmented, there was no fixed being, no static object that was being moved from place to place. Rather all that existed was a flowing movement - being had arisen out of movement.
Throughout his life, Bohm struggled to create a holistic physics of movement and transformation, such as the holomovement (or movement of the whole), the enfolding and unfolding of the implicate order, the electron as a manifestation of underlying dynamics of the whole universe, the plasma as an expression of collective movement of an astronomical number of electrons, and the ego as a flowing process rather than as a fixed psychic form. Thus, for Bohm, the traditional approach to nature, based upon forces and objects in interaction, was to be replaced by a world of transformation and flow.
Although this incident had a transformative effect upon David Bohm's thinking it did not particularly increase his love of sports. Nevertheless, Samuel Bohm insisted that his son should join a sports-oriented organization and enrolled him in the Young Men's Hebrew Association. Within the YMHA were a number of sports and social groups and David chose the Oriels but, as with the Communist party a decade later, he soon became bored when he discovered that all they did was hold business meetings and discuss their finances.
One day the man who ran the club encountered David engrossed in a science book. Hoping to encourage him in what he considered to be more normal pursuits, he gave him a sports magazine for boys. David opened it and discovered a story in which a boy threw a ball into the fourth dimension only to find that, on its return, it was inside out. This idea of a fourth dimension fascinated David, for it seemed to imply that the world around him could be the projection of a higher dimension. Later, as he began to learn solid geometry in school, he worked out the implications of the fourth dimension and began to create a cosmology of his own; a theory he continued to work on in his first years at university.
When Samuel Bohm had been set up in his furniture business, Wilkes-Barre was relatively prosperous with the local people looking forward to the future. But in David's twelfth year, around 1929, the effects of the Depression began to be felt. This was exacerbated by the influx of heating oil into New York City. The metropolis had traditionally taken hard coal for domestic heating from the Pennsylvania coal mines but now New Yorkers were converting to cheaper oil-fired furnaces and the demand for coal dropped rapidly.
Although some of the mines were able to stay open, the whole town was hit by a general sense of helplessness and David saw increasing evidence of poverty in his friends' houses. He also picked up the general sense of shock that such a thing could ever have happened in America. For many, the great dream had soured. These early experiences were to have a deep effect on David, and although he at first rejected socialist solutions, by his late teens he had begun to develop an interest in socialism, communism and the Russian experiment.
David, as we have seen, had already rejected the Jewish community as narrow and middle class and attempted to identify with the working class background of his friends. He was inspired by the American Dream that all people should be equal. Yet, it also seemed to him that the way a person thought and acted was very much determined by the community in which he or she grew up. If there was to be a fundamental change in the world this would require a transformation of both society and the individual together. His also believed that the neurotic elements of his character were the product of his home and that he would have been much healthier if he had been brought up in the American West.
Indeed, David often fantasized about growing up in the West, a promised land was symbolized for him by the symbol of the sun setting behind a mountain on the one cent piece As the sun's golden rays stretched out they seemed to promise a brilliant future. As a boy he loved to walk in the hills and later, at Penn State College, he climbed mountains with friends like Mort Weiss. From their peaks he looked West and saw the mountains going on and on; the West symbolized everything that was new, while Europe was decrepit and clinging to the past. It was this dream of the West that later influenced Bohm to choose California as the location for his graduate work.
As David went though his teen years the picture of the Bohm household can be supplemented by the recollections of his younger cousins. Although David spoke of his father as an angry and dismissive person, visits from Uncle Samuel were eagerly anticipated by his niece, Ruth, for he always brought her presents and would play games and sing to her. How modern Uncle Shalom seemed in his attitudes when compared to her own father whom she found somewhat formal. When I visited Ruth Berman (nee Bohm) she showed me a photograph of the three brothers - Shalom, Shlomo and Moshe; Shalom (who by now was calling himself Samuel), with his white hat and neat mustache looks more confident than the two others. Ruth had great affection for her uncle and mentioned how the Bohm families looked after him when he arrived for a visit, ensuring that he always had a clean shirt, for example, for it was said amongst the children that his wife was unable to look after him.
The Bohm families considered Samuel a charming man and recognized that he had "an eye for the ladies". Indeed, Samuel was later to take a mistress and, although this was common knowledge amongst the Bohms, he never referred to her openly. Only when he was dying of brain cancer did he mention that he knew of a good nurse in Florida who could look after him - Samuel and Frieda had been living apart for many years by this time, Mrs Bohm spending much time in psychiatric hospitals. The nurse-mistress duly arrived and one day when Samuel was feeling well enough he asked his nephew, Irving Bohm to take him to the bank. There he withdrew money which he gave to his mistress. In his will he left the remains of his money to his sons, David and Robert.
If Samuel was a man who loved to talk, socialize and entertain his young nieces, David they found to be shy, withdrawn and thoughtful. David's young cousins were amused at his visits because he always seemed to be napping, and sometimes they would peek in at him of an afternoon and notice how he slept with a pillow over his head. This habit of taking an afternoon nap persisted throughout his life, indeed, I recall the occasion when the entire timetable of a conference, held at Temple University, was rearranged so that Bohm could have a doze after lunch. That this was agreed to, speaks as much for the high esteem in which his presence was held at the meeting as it does for his sleeping habits.
Ruth had great affection for her cousin and felt that, although he was never demonstrative, David felt the same affection for her. Later in life when they were adults, Ruth would try to give her cousin a kiss on greeting him and on parting. She noticed how his body would stiffen and he would tend to pull away. Indeed she had the impression that he felt awkward in his body, saying it was if he were a spirit come to earth and found itself forced to inhabit a form in which it did not feel at home.
On some occasions, Ruth and the other cousins visited Samuel's home in Wilkes-Barre. The children found David's mother quite bizarre in her behavior and believed that she was crazy. Ruth remembered how Frieda would speak in a very loud and unnatural voice. The family joked about how she had once made roast chicken by putting the bird, complete with its feathers, into the oven!
When Samuel took his boys to visit his other brother, Shlomo, in Philadelphia, the son Edward was given the task of entertaining his two cousins. When it came to Bob things were simple, as he was more of an age with Ed and liked to play baseball, but David, who was nine years older, showed no interest in sports or boy's games. In the end, Ed would take him to the nearby Franklin Institute and leave him there for the day. David, however, did enjoy talking to Ed's sister Fanny who was more intellectual, shared his agnosticism and was interested in the things David talked about. David also seemed to take to Ed's mother, who only spoke Yiddish but understood a little English. The two would converse in both languages, David speaking English and his aunt replying in Yiddish.
Later in life, Ed Bohm was to meet up with David's father in Florida and Atlantic City, when Samuel was overseeing the food preparation for Kosher restaurants. Ed confirmed something of what David had felt as a boy, for although Samuel was outgoing and good to his sons - after his wife became incapacitated he looked after them on his own - he seemed to Ed Bohm, strict and not the sort of man he could get close to.
Following his early encounter with science fiction, David went on to develop a deep interest in science itself. Initially there had been little mention of science during his early years at school. In the fourth grade, however, a series of readers were distributed. By good fortune David's class was given a reader containing information on astronomy and David's imagination was fired by the notion of stars and planets, the great distances involved, and the harmonious order with which the planets rotated around the sun.
While the rest of the class read together, David raced rapidly though the book. He began to contrast the order of the heavens with the chaotic world of his immediate environment, the arguments in his home, the poverty of the miners and the oppression that he sensed at school. Even the teachers in school, it seemed to him, were intent on exerting their arbitrary authority. Outside, in the everyday world he could talk freely to people, but at school he ran the risk of punishment and could only speak out when permitted. Moreover, the pace of lessons was slow and he found himself watching the clock until it was time for the end of school.
He was, however, able to get his own back by telling stories to his younger brother Bob. These concerned bogey-men who were organized into an army with a variety of ranks such as captains, major and generals. The worst of all the bogeymen, and the most arbitrary in the exercise of their authority, were the teacher-bogeymen!
But school could have not been totally bad for, reflecting in the last years of his life, David Bohm admitted that there was a general respect for learning at G.A.R. He even remembered the names of some of the teachers he liked to talk to - Dick Bayes, the English teacher; Miss Boyd who taught biology; the physics teacher, Mr Highrider and above all Myer Tope, his mathematics teacher, who brought the whole topic alive for him.
At the age of ninety, and after having taught in high schools and private schools for over sixty years, Myer Tope immediately remembered David Bohm. "Of the thousands of students I have seen in my life, David Bohm was outstanding. He made a tremendous impression on me. He was a very brilliant kind of fellow". Myer Tope remembered a particularly difficult geometry problem he had set the class without much hope that anyone would be able to solve it. To his surprise, not only did David come up with the solution but he did so in a highly original way.
Sam Savitt, a fellow student, remembered this incident and how, before setting the problem, Myer Tope had told the class that in the previous year only one boy had managed the solution, and that after many days' work. By the end of the day, Savitt recalled, David had solved the problem in three different ways, one of which he had to explain to Mr Tope after school.
As Tope, himself, put it, "you can teach something in mathematics for many years, toiling away at it until you believe that there is no other way of doing it." But then David Bohm came along and showed that it was possible to arrive at a solution by another route. "That was the sort of thing he did. Doing the impossible attracted him." Although David was an outstanding student, Tope found him modest, not at all pushy, in short a very good student to have in the class. Mildred Popky recalled how Myer Tope, who happened to be a friend of her husband would talk about the young Bohm, not realizing he was related to the Popky family - in her words "he couldn't get over him."
Mort Weiss was in the same class and recalled how Myer Tope used to wave his Phi Beta Kappa key around during the math lessons. This became something of a joke amongst the students and later David Bohm himself adopted the habit of swinging a key on the end of a chain. Sarah Bohm, his wife, told me that when they first met she had to remember to walk on the opposite side to avoid being hit by the key. David also juggled coins from one hand to another while he was thinking, a practice Mort Weiss believed began with a pair of dice David carried as a boy.
Mort Weiss recalled the occasions on which Myer Tope would turn over his class to David. It was the sort of classroom in which blackboards stretched across the walls, David would begin writing on one board and, as the lesson progressed would work his way around the room. Mort noted that while David covered them all, he seemed to end up near the door just when the bell was about to ring.
As David's interest in science developed, he became involved in deep discussions with Rabbi Davidson. The Rabbi was an educated and cultured man in which a humanistic spirit complemented his religious nature. When David confessed that he no longer felt a link to the Jewish religion, for his overwhelming interest was in science, Rabbi Davidson then asked him what he would have done had he been born in the middle ages. David replied that he would probably have been a very religious Jew, for he could see how one's values were set by the times and the society in which one lived.
In addition to science, David was interested in learning at school about the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. Inspired by these lessons, he invented histories of his own, projecting interplanetary civilizations hundreds and even thousands of years into the future and imagined the transformations of societies and financial institutions. David began to wonder about the limitations of Western civilization which he felt would fall after the year 2000. This pessimistic view remained with him all his life and in his public talks he would sometimes reflect on the imminent probability of global nuclear war or the general breakdown of society.
During the summer vacation most boys camped in the surrounding mountains and naturally Solomon Bohm, wishing his son to be more involved in outdoor activities, encouraged him to camp. However, the local Boy Scout camp did not supply Kosher food, which also proved to be a problem for the sons of Rabbi Davidson. As a result, Samuel bought the boys a 16 foot tent. For several summers a small group of boys would go camping for the duration of the vacation - David, Mort Weiss, Sam Savitt, the two Davidson boys and Dai (David) and Kid (Jimmy) Jones who were Welsh miner's sons. Their location was Harrison Park in the Pocono mountains and periodically one of their relations drove up with more food, Samuel or Rabbi Davidson ensuring that everyone ate Kosher - including the two non-Jewish Welsh boys.
David enjoyed life in the tent. While the other boys had bought pulp and sports magazines with them, Mort Weiss recalled that Dave arrived with his school text books. Mort had bought a large storage battery that could be attached to a light so that he could read at night. David, however, persuaded him to lug the heavy battery over to his bed so that he could continue to read while everyone else slept. Within a couple of days the battery was completely discharged and Mort had to wait until his uncle came up and recharged it from the automobile's generator. As Mort recalls, David always seemed to be studying and sat additional tests in the summer so that he could take more advanced courses than his contemporaries.
While the other boys talked about sports, or told smutty jokes, David would discuss science and the future. David also had a wry sense of humor and could tell a good joke, yet Mort Weiss never knew him to talk about sex like the other boys, or swear or tell dirty jokes. This lack of interest in sex - David never had a date in school or later at college - led Mort to believe that David was asexual, an opinion echoed by several other friends and relations. Indeed, he seemed to prefer to work out chemical formulae in his head, or explain the effects of Ohm's law, than to join in smutty conversations and sexual speculations.
It was while they were at camp that Mort saw David become really angry for the only time. David had always loved sweet things, pies, cakes - anything made with sugar. He also had the habit of absentmindedly spooning sugar into his coffee. One day Mort substituted salt for sugar and, after he had added several spoonsful, David took a drink. He looked so angry that Mort thought he was actually going to punch him. Sam Savitt recalled how they had to hide the sugar from "sugar freak" as David was called.
If David did not join in their sports and games then at least he could walk. Indeed, he walked the others off their feet, covering ten or twelve miles a day. On another occasion the group of boys had an old Ford car they would drive to Harvey's Lake, about twelve miles from Wilkes-Barre. The problem was that they had to push the car until the motor started, at which point they ran alongside to climb in through the windows and yell out of the window "let's go Davie". But, as Sam Savitt described it, David was like a lawn mower for he only had one speed. Generally he would not catch up with the car until the next time it stalled. In Savitt's opinion David must have run a good part of the way home.
Savitt also recalled being told by a friend, who had come across David walking along the highway about ten miles from home, that he had offered him a lift but David refused, he was deep in thought and said that he preferred walking. This anecdote reminds me very much of one of those, possibly apocryphal, stories told about Isaac Newton who as a boy used to ride a horse to Grantham school from his home at Woolsthorpe. There was a steep hill on his way home where it was necessary for him dismount and lead the horse. People reported seeing the young Newton several miles further on, deep in thought, and still leading the horse he had forgotten to remount.
During the school term, Mort and David would go to the library on Saturdays.. The library was some three miles away, on Franklin Street, but the journey was worth it for the library was well stocked. The building itself was particularly beautiful for it had been a Presbyterian Church before being sold to the city and opened as a library in 1889. Mort remembers that David always seemed to be surrounded by a pile of books, some of which he borrowed and took home. Later, writing in a state of despair from Brazil, David described how angry he had been at having to hide those books as he walked home for fear of being mocked. But Mort Weiss noted that the Rabbi's children openly carried books.
Mort Weiss remained a close friend throughout David's life, but there were other boys with whom Bohm appeared to have felt comfortable. With a Polish boy, Wasaki, David built model sailing ships that they launched in the local ponds, and aircraft that never quite seemed to fly. David noted the way in which the miners' children were able to pick up skills without being told what to do. While David had to learn from books and lessons at school, these children simply watched and figured things out for themselves. The boys would sometimes criticize David for wanting to be told, saying, "you have to be able to do it without being told how." (Source, Bohm to Maurice and Bohm to Maurice Wilkins and David Peat). David Bohm later put this lesson to use when he began to think about theories of education for he felt that schools relied too much on learning facts and explicit verbal instruction.
David did, however, have success with his radio experiments and graduated from his crystal sets to short wave. Thus, on January 22, 1934, he recorded his invention of "The All Wave Superhetrodyne":-
"The purpose of this invention is to make possible the construction of a radio receiver which can tune all waves from 9 meters to 1000 meters and over on one dial, without switches, plug in coils, and any such devices." He goes on to say how the circuit will eliminate "image frequency interference".
The invention of "The Vertical Wing Tip" was witnessed by Henry Kunicki and Robert Bohm. In this document David discusses how the lifting action of a wing works by creating a vacuum on its upper surface. However, air is always leaking over the wing's edges and thereby decreasing its lift. His solution was "that the ideal wing is one that is short, broad, and of rectangular shape, but which would yet possess a very small air leakage over its tip. A wing of this type has not yet been constructed; but on this day of Feb 23, 1933 A.D. I, David Bohm, have invented a device which will accomplish this purpose." The document is accompanied by a drawing, and on the same sheet, David experimented with his signature using the form David J Bohm but deciding on the simpler David Bohm for his official signature.
Yet another of his inventions was for "The Two Stroke Cycle Compression-Ignition Engine". "The purpose of this invention is to improve the Diesel engine in such a way that it might operate with one power stroke per revolution instead of the usual power stroke per two revolutions. A hollow piston is used with explosions taking place within and above the piston." It is interesting that, although David was to reject the materialistic aspirations of his father, he was happy to cast his earliest scientific aspirations in a commercial form. One wonders to what extent David was attempting to prove to his father the practicality of his passion.
David enjoyed studying science in the company of Henry Kunicki. Together they would discuss what they had learned at school. David had been impressed by the harmonious order of the planets that he had earlier discovered in his school reader. Now, with formal science lessons at school, supplemented by books from the public library, he began to sense that chemistry, astronomy and physics dealt with universal laws and was deeply impressed by this concept of the power of a universal law. It is perhaps gratuitous to point out to the reader, the significance to a boy who came from a chaotic and dysfunctional home of a universal order in which the myriad phenomena of the universe are subsumed under one universal law. Later, when he entered Penn State College, David believed that if only ordinary people could come to understand the rationality of the universe around them, they would begin to apply such reason within their own lives. This theme is echoed in many of the letters David Bohm wrote during one of the darkest periods of his life, his exile in Brazil during the 1950.
Science was also to provide the teenage David with a vision of enormous energies, and of light of a great intensity. These began to form part of his waking fantasies, for example, the idea of a light that could stretch across the universe and of enormous energies - in retrospect David Bohm observed that this must have been connected to his own sense of powerlessness. Indeed, he wondered if his fascination with light and energy preceded his interest in science, for at an early age he remembered observing the way light from a street lamp radiated into the darkness and how he wondered if it could reach to the stars. As we have seen, when he later began to read science fiction he thought about making trips to the stars themselves.
Armed with some scientific knowledge David now began to think about ways of making such intense lights himself, and planned to build an electric arc that he could set behind a car headlamp. In the library, he read about other forms of light than the visible, such as ultraviolet and infra red light. He thought about a flame that would produce light of such a tremendous energy that it would penetrate everything. Later in life he was even to have a dream, or fantasy, of light extending from and reaching back into his own brain like fingers.
Lightning also excited him, and he dreamed of being able to make it. He knew from science books that by charging up an induction coil it was possible to produce a small electrical spark. David then thought of charging a series of induction coils until a spark was produced as big as a lighting bolt. Energy in all forms interested him, and with Kunicki he dreamed of being able to liberate energies so great that they would destroy planets. Later in life, working at the University of California's Radiation Laboratory, he would play a small role in liberating such an energy - that of the atomic bohm.
In his chemistry books he studied the properties of the chemical elements. The notion of the very active elements aroused his interest, such as the metals sodium and potassium that ignite when placed in water, and the gas fluorine, the most active of the halogen gases, that will even etch its way into glass. He also became excited when he read of the chemical adrenaline and its stimulating effect on the brain.
As he progressed in school David became absorbed by the idea of atomic energy. On one occasion he read an article in the Scientific American about the discovery of a new atomic particle - the neutron. (The neutron was discovered in 1932 so this would put Bohm at around fifteen or so.) The article indicated that the neutron had no electrical charge and would therefore have great penetrating power, for it would not be repelled by the electrical charges of the atomic nucleus. As David read the article, he began to wonder if this neutron held the key to atomic power. Of course young Bohm was correct and it was by using neutrons that atomic fission was eventually made possible, both in Enrico Fermi's atomic pile in 1942 and in the Atomic Bombs built by the Manhattan Project.
In his last years of school, David Bohm began to receive a more formal education in science and mathematics. The geometry he learned from Myer Tope in grade 11 involved geometrical constructions and proofs involving the properties of triangles, circles and squares. Such courses in geometry have been taught for centuries and are based upon Euclid's famous collections of axioms and proofs. What fascinated Bohm, however, was the idea of proof itself. One could prove, for example, that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. This does not simply apply to any particular triangle but to all and every triangle, no matter how you draw it - large or small, right angled, obtuse or acute. It is a universal property of triangles that follows logically from the geometrical axioms Euclid had proposed at the time of the Ancient Greeks. What interested David was that such a proof exists as a purely abstract set of logical deductions within the human mind yet, at the same time, it refers to properties possessed by real objects within the world of matter, space and time.
This idea of being able to grasp the world from within the mind, of making abstract deductions, and of being able to differentiate between what is logically necessary about the universe and what is merely conditional or contingent, is the essence of all science. Science seeks to discover the laws, and forms and patterns that lie below individual, contingent events and to give order to the universe. Grade 11 geometry became David Bohm's first direct encounter with this abstract world of deduction and proof, and the power of human reason to encompass and order the universe. Up to that point, Bohm later recalled, everything in his life and been movable and replaceable but now he had discovered something that would stand fast.
Bohm also learned algebra, which he found less exciting than geometry, although he was stimulated by the way that mysterious "x" in an algebraic equation could stand for anything at all. For this meant that the human imagination could conceive of the unknown and, through the application of reason, could discover something about an unknown quality.
Later, the Euclidian geometry of triangles, circles and squares gave way to the solid geometry of three dimensions - that is, to the properties of cubes, spheres, pyramids, cones and cylinders. Inspired by these new mathematical tools, David began his first venture into scientific research and speculation. Although this was a schoolboy venture, something that would never be published, it did contain all the elements that were to characterize his later scientific work - boldness, intuition, imagination and the search for a theory that would integrate many different elements into a single whole and would demonstrate the interconnectedness of things.
Several years earlier David had come across that story about the fourth dimension in a boy's magazine and now he was going to work out the implications of a universe that existed in four dimensions. Based on what he was learning about solid, three dimensional geometry he began to write in a notebook, generalizing these results to four dimensions and working out their implications. His goal was an overall cosmology of the universe, a theory that would account for the interconnection of things. Maybe the objects we see around us, he speculated, are only the three dimensional cross-sections of something that lies within a four dimensional world. What look to be independent objects in our three dimensional world would, in a four dimensional cosmology, be aspects of a single whole.
Bohm continued to work on his theory during his first years at college, and at one time he even thought of sending a copy to Einstein. His approach is revealing, for it already shows the general lines of his later thinking, his concern about the interconnection of all things which arises of some deeper level, so that the world we see is in a sense an illusion for it is the manifestation of some underlying reality.
Amongst the papers that David Bohm left with Hanna Lowey when he flew to Brazil in 1952 are several pages entitled "General Theory of the Cosmos". Amongst them, and written on the same type of paper, is what appears to be a school essay on coal so one can assume that this document represents Bohm's thinking in his late teens - at the very latest some time during his first or second year at college. As he puts it: "The purpose of this theory is to mechanically explain all the phenomena of the universe with only three basic assumptions: absolute space, absolute time and absolute inertia." His goal is to show that "all the apparent laws of the universe" have the same source. "This correlation has long been sought, and if it is true, I believe it will and the future progress of science greatly"(sic).
The universe of space, time and matter we normally experience, David argues, is the manifestation of a deeper underlying level he calls "the cosmos". This "cosmos", which exists within a four-dimensional space, is comprised of a vast number of almost infinitely small particles that are in a state of agitation like molecules in a gas. This gas, which he also calls an ether, is of approximately spherical shape and constantly expanding. Just as the surface of a three-dimensional sphere is two-dimensional so too the three-dimensional space of our general experience is, in fact, the surface of David's four-dimensional cosmos.
(Footnote: There is, of course the technical problem of where to locate this three-dimensional surface since, like the atmosphere of our earth which progressively becomes less and less dense as it fades into outerspace, so too the ether particles become progressively less dense. David assumed that this surface of "space" is located in a region in which the mass of all the ether particles below that surface is equal to the mass above).
Time, the theory proposed, is the succession of events, these events consisting of changes in the configuration of space. If the cosmos expanded in a purely regular and symmetric way, David argued, it would lead to a static situation. Time, therefore, is the result of the irregular expansion of the cosmos which has the effect of inducing changes in our three-dimensional space and thereby producing "time". This means that the rate of time varies at different points in the universe, being related to the rate of expansion of the cosmos in these different regions. Thus, although David begins with the absolute space and time of his four-dimensional cosmos, his theory generates the space and time of our three-dimensional universe in a way, he claims, that is consistent with relativity.
For example, David explains the law of gravitation in terms of regions of low pressure in the cosmos caused by its irregular expansion. Matter is the result of irregularities in the underlying four-dimensional cosmos. In this way the presence of matter is directly related to the structure of three-dimensional space and to time - in essence a version of general relativity. David also discusses the bending of light and the nature of motion and inertia.
The whole theory is closely and carefully argued - generally verbally and without the use of equations. However, in a mathematical supplement he generalizes the theorems of three-dimensional geometry he had learned at school into four dimensions. The overall effect is remarkable for it shows the boldness and far-reaching nature of David Bohm's thought at the start of his career.
In his final year at school David had read about Neils Bohr's theory of the atom (Footnote: Neils Bohr's initial attempt at a theory of the atom became known as the Old Quantum theory and in 1925 was replaced by Heisenberg's Quantum Mechanics. However, for many years to come school text books and popular accounts of the atom relied upon Bohr's more pictorial theory.) In Bohr's theory, electrons orbit around the nucleus like planets around a sun. But not all possible orbits are permitted and, in a somewhat arbitrary fashion, Bohr proposed the existence of only discrete, quantized orbits. David's own solution was that electrons have tides on them and stable orbits are formed when the time between successive tides corresponded to the time taken for the electron to circle the nucleus.
These ideas became tied together in his mind with vortices. As a boy he had played in a field in which were scattered large blocks of stone. He had been told that these were the remains of a mill that had been destroyed by a tornado. Tornados fascinated him; once the town was warned that a tornado was approaching and his family stayed in the house for safety. Afterwards they discovered that the large plate glass window of the furniture store had been destroyed. A boy who had been working in the store at the time described how the entire window blew inwards until, just as it was about to hit him, it flew outwards into the street and smashed. David surveyed the damage and noticed that the cast iron roof of a water tank that had blown away and landed on someone's roof.
David continued to read about tornadoes in the newspaper. He learned that they are created when a layer of cold air forms above a layer of hot moist air. His next step was to attempt to make mini-tornados by holding a can of iced water above the gas flame of the kitchen stove. When taking a bath he noticed the way in which water spins as it goes down the plug hole, this was like a small tornado in the water. Even when he tried to disturb this vortex it formed again. It seemed to David that something stable was being created out of the movement of the water, yet if one were to take away the movement, the vortex would vanish. Again, as with that experience of crossing the river, his thoughts turned to the notion of forms and existences that could be created out of pure movement.
Although science remained his major love, in his final years at school David began to develop more serious political interests. While his sympathies had always lain with the families of the local miners, he had yet to embrace the ideals of socialism. Up to now he had tended to go along with the opinions he heard around him, that socialism was a nonsense and next to anarchy. On one occasion, a Black girl in school had argued in favour of socialism but David felt that the way she spoke was compulsive and unbalanced. But now he was becoming disturbed by the rise of fascism in Europe. His father used to talk to an Italian friend and began to admire Mussolini and the programs of the Italian Fascists. Indeed, a number of the local businessmen looked favorably on the new Italian order. For his part David thought Mussolini was a clown and that there was little substance behind the Fascist State.
If Mussolini was a contemptible buffoon, Hitler, with his emphasis on Blood and Race, was a more dangerous proposition. David was disturbed to see the way the new Germany was being accepted in America, even by his own father. Although the local Jewish community was aware of Hitler's attitude towards the Jews, they minimized this by saying "the soup is never drunk as hot as it's cooked". They seemed to believe that Hitler's anti-semitic speeches were mere political rhetoric. David for his part was genuinely worried about the future.
At high school David gave a mock political speech in support of a fascist dictator he had invented called Adolph Staliney. The dictator's motto was "Staliney never Stalls" and his salute involved throwing up your hands and emptying your pockets of all your valuables. Using a satirical approach David hoped to make the speech funny but he was so stiff and tense that the whole thing was something of a failure.
David attempted to learn more about the rise of fascism by reading right wing journals in the local library. In particular he read "Social Justice" put out by Rev. Charles E. Coughlin of Red Oak, Michigan. Coughlin, with his writings and Sunday broadcasts from "the Shrine of the Little Flower", was soon to become almost as popular in America as President Roosevelt. In favour of a silver-backed dollar he attacked the New Deal, "Jewish Bankers" and communists. When, in 1934, he launched his "National Union for Social Justice" more than 5 million radio listeners signed up in two months.
Father Coughlin symbolized the rise of the right in the United States and caused considerable concern not only to David Bohm but to many others.
(Footnote: In an article "Lindbergh and the Jews". by Francis E. McMahon - Assist professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame - wrote of his concern about the rising anti-semitism "As a Catholic, I am concerned about the spread of anti-Semitism amongst the Coughlinites of my own faith."... "I cannot fathom the mentality of a Coughlinite who assails the people from which the Founder of his religion came." "Liberty" Jan 3, 1942. Pub. Toronto, Canada.)
David was particularly struck by the reader's letters in "Social Justice", one of which suggested that it was not sufficient to walk behind Christ, rather it would be better to march ahead with a club!
As David also began to read left wing journals, such as Nation and New Republic, he realized that socialism had been poorly represented to him by the adults he had talked to. Thus, at the age of 17, David began to have political discussions with Mort Weiss's father, Samuel, which helped stimulate his interest in social and political questions. Mrs Weiss's family had connections with Russia and the origins of the Communist Party. Her uncle A. A. (Abe) Heller knew Lenin and had met with Stalin. Heller was a good friend of Armand Hammer the American industrialist who had established a pencil factory in Russia; the two men had written a book about the Soviet Union and were involved in a company called International Publishing and put out the monthly Soviet Russia Today.
(Footnote: As a young man Hammer had already made his first million in pharmaceuticals when, in 1921, he traveled to Russia intending to give medical aid to famine victims. There he became friendly with Lenin who explain to him the economic difficulties faced by the Soviets and suggested that the American's business talents would ultimately be of more use. One of his enterprises was the establishment of a factory to produce cheap pencils. Heller returned to the United States in 1930, subsequently making a fortune in petroleum. His interest in the Soviet Union continued and during the 1970s he encouraged closer business ties between the two countries.)
Abe Heller was not only an important figure in the American communist party but a particular favorite with his niece. This so infuriated her husband, Samuel, that he took the diametrically opposed position and began to study the stock market. Thus Samuel Weiss, who by profession was a blanket and curtain salesman, ended up making more money by playing the market and for young David Bohm, with an interest in socialism and the Soviet Union, Samuel Weiss thus provided the perfect foil.
Mr Weiss would argue with David, extoling the virtues of capitalism and claiming that people were motivated by greed, self interest and fear. In the West, this took the form of the fear of unemployment while it Russia it amounted to fear of the state. These discussions would continue into the evening until, by ten o'clock, Mrs Weiss insisted that Mort should go to bed. David and Samuel Weiss, oblivious to time, would often go on arguing until two in the morning when David would walk or cycle the mile or so home.
If Mr Weiss opposed socialism then David received support from the sons of Rabbi Davidson, in particular from the eldest boy, Alfred. Over the years to come David's socialist interests developed to the point where they were to involve him in grave difficulties which resulted in his arrest and later exile to Brazil. But all this was to lie in the future and David Bohm's next move was to leave Wilkes-Barre in order to further his scientific education.
"Duplicate of Affidavit sworn on Sept 12 1933. Sworn before Charles P ?Illegible. Witnessed by Frances Sheperd"
"I, David Bohm of 410 Hazel St, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, United States of America do hereby make an affidavit stating that I have invented an improvement on pitchers, bottles, and other similar containers of liquids, of which the following is a specification:-"
He explains that liquids tend to follow the outer surface of a container rather than falling directly. His invention was a collar which "can safely sustain an edge sharp enough to break the film of surface tension". The collar would project from the rim to give an greater angle of cant without increasing the flow of water. Further, he bent the collar outward "so as to allow the liquid to gain velocity before reaching the rim and also to cause gravity to pull against surface tension on the lower surface." .."In all cases I have tried it, no liquid has dripped when poured over this new type of rim."
On another sheet of paper Bohm lists "Addresses of Milk Bottle companies (obtained from Purvin Dairy Co.)
Return to Book Description
Contact F. David Peat