Quanto Magazine

Great Scientists: David J. Bohm

If you have already been browsing other articles in this magazine you may have come across a term as baffling as Bohmian. What is Bohmian? Well, so roughly speaking it is possible to say that Bohmian is anyone who sympathizes or is in any way related to the ideas of David Joseph Bohm, a scientist and philosopher. Probably most of you will not have heard of Bohm in life, although there is a certain professor of quantum physics who mentions him in his lectures in speaking of the experiment of the two slits. You can also find some mention about this character in some books of orthodox quantum physics or classic manuals to use. Even if you digress a little you can find in our library a quantum book written by him and containing an alleged dedication to his Spanish colleagues written in pencil on one of the first pages.

David Joseph Bohm was born in 1917 in Wilkes, Barre, Pennsylvania (United States). His first contacts with science came in his readings of science fiction, when he was still a child. No more information was available in that small mining town. David was fascinated by the forces of the universe and the great number of things that are beyond our understanding. He studied physics at the State College, continuing his training at CALTECH, where he did not last long, since he never fit into that atmosphere. The pace of constant problem solving and test-taking made him drop out of high school after the first semester to leave for the University of California at Berkeley. There he investigated during the Second World War the dispersion of nuclear particles under the supervision of J. Robert Oppenheimer. After finishing his doctorate in Berkeley (1943), he became an assistant professor at Princeton University in 1947.

For a physicist of the caliber of Richard Feynman, an area of ​​physics was only interesting if he could find a problem in it, and turned out to be a genius solving all sorts of problems. On the occasions when Bohm encountered a technical difficulty, he always distrusted the too abstract mathematical reasoning. As he pointed out, after all, in any mathematical development, there are things we assume without examining them too much, and the more complicated the mathematics employed, the easier it is for errors to remain. He preferred to proceed always intuitively, rather than logical or mechanical, and preferred to feel the answer and visualize it in his mind clearly before giving the pertinent mathematical steps. It is as if his method in solving problems is carried more by imagination and intuition than by pure logic.

For example, while still in the state of Pennsylvania, he had been trying to understand the functioning of the gyroscope, that puzzle that intrigues the children with their continuous swing. Usually, when we push an object so that its center of gravity falls out of equilibrium, it falls. A gyroscope, however, does not fall, its axis of rotation moves and undergoes precession. When most students of physics face the problem of the gyroscope, we will learn different formulas, such as the conservation of the moment, which lead to a rather incomplete explanation. But Bohm needed a direct perception of the intimate nature of this movement. One day, while walking in the field, he imagined his own person as a gyroscope, and through some kind of internal muscular movement he was able to understand the nature of the movement. In this way, and using his own body, he understood the functioning of the gyroscopes. The formulas and mathematics would come later, as a simple formal tool to explain their internalization.

This particular skill accompanies you throughout your professional life. One of his colleagues said, “Dave always comes to the right conclusions, but his math is terrible. I take his work home and find all kinds of mistakes and I have to spend all night looking for the right demonstration. , The result is the same as Dave directly visualized. ”

To give another example we will take the spin of an electron, a quantum concept far removed from the usual classic resemblance with a balloon circling over itself. This is a concept that begins to move away from common sense. Most physics students would be content to visualize the electron in terms of mathematical manipulations and equations, without explicit reference to anything physical. Bohm, however, found himself able to experience sensations with his body about the way the spin components are combined into something moving in a new direction.

When I was still studying in Berkeley, Bohm did quite new works with plasmas. He discovered that electrons ejected from atoms do not behave as individual particles in a high-temperature gas (known as plasma), but rather as part of an immense and organized whole (an idea that was deeply rooted). An enormous number of electrons would produce quite organized effects, as if an organic process were directing their collective behavior. Shortly after Bohm would say that these collective movements, now known as Bohm-diffusion, gave the impression that the sea of electrons was alive somehow. This was Bohm’s first major discovery in the field of physics, and he is directly engaged with the deep themes of the universe and the interconnections that would characterize his thinking and scientific work. Nevertheless, in his last years of life he elaborated a conception of the universe according to which it consists in the interconnection of all things, a notion to which he would give the name of “implicated order”.

As we were saying some paragraphs ago, Bohm got a parking assistant professor at Princeton University in 1947. While teaching of quantum mechanics in the following years he wrote a book called Quantum Theory (1951), which is still a classic in the Field (this is the book that I talked about in the first paragraph). When he completed this work, Bohm was beginning to befriend Albert Einstein, who was also at Princeton at that time. Einstein apparently told Bohm that he had never seen the quantum theory presented as clearly as it appeared in Bohm’s new book, and the two scientists began to converse more assiduously. As their relationship grew closer they discovered that they had much in common in their basic conceptions of quantum theory, and together they deepened in the interpretations and metaphysical meaning of quantum theory. He would gladly give a large sum of money for being in one of these talks, with Bohm and Einstein putting the quantum to calving.

These discussions led Bohm to seriously consider the validity of the classical interpretation of quantum mechanics (Vienna circle). Encouraged by the confidence that his association with Einstein gave him, Bohm embarked on a great undertaking: revising the foundations of quantum theory, which led to his peculiar formulation of the same and eventually lead to a crusade for life In search of the knowledge and understanding that allowed him to describe all reality (a theory of everything).

By the same time Bohm brought out another important example of his peculiar way of being. Had some problems with American justice, since he had to appear before the Committee on Un – American Activities (1949) under the accusation baseless, he and some other lab partners radiation Berkeley sympathized the with communism. During World War II Oppenheimer referred to the FBI the names of supposedly philomarxist friends and acquaintances. Apparently, Bohm was one of them. As he passionately believed in freedom he refused to declare, for reasons of principle, what earned him the accusation of contempt of congress. After a trial he was acquitted. His Princeton students asked that he be reinstated in his post, and Einstein was said to want Bohm to become his personal assistant, but his contract, after an unfortunate incident, was not renewed, and would never again be taught in the States United. Einstein himself, who spent many years futilely searching for his own alternative theory of quantum mechanics, referred to Bohm as his “intellectual successor” saying that “if anyone can do it, that will be Bohm.”

Bohm moved to Brazil (1951), to the University of Sao Paulo, where he would be professor until 1955. The embassy requisitioned him the passport, with which he lost his nationality. There he worked on his second book, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics (1957), which is still used in some universities. From Brazil he went to the Technion Institute in Haifa, Israel, and then to the University of Bristol in England. There, he and a student in 1959 made another original contribution to quantum theory. He discovered with Yakir Aharonov what is now known as the Aharonov-Bohm effect. They showed that quantum mechanics predicts that the movement of charged particles is conditioned by the presence of magnetic fields, even when they do not penetrate where they are confined. Several experiments have confirmed this effect.

He was later acquitted of the contempt charge by allowing him to return to the United States, but it was too late for him, he settled permanently at Birkbeck College in London.

In the next thirty years the work of David Bohm focused on the foundations of quantum theory and the theory of relativity and its implications in various fields. As is often the case with advanced physicists, in later life he became interested in philosophical matters, holding interminable talks with Indian spiritual director J. Krishnamurti.

In this new stage of his life he elaborated a conception of the universe according to which it consists in the interconnection of all things, a notion to which it would give the name of “implicated order”. He wrote more books of physics ( Theory of Relativity in 1966), philosophy ( Wholeness and the Implicate Order in 1980), and even the nature of consciousness ( Science, Order and Creativity in 1987 with David Peat).

He died of a heart attack in 1992 when, in collaboration with other scientists, he was preparing a new volume on quantum mechanics. His friends and colleagues remind him of a man who was not only brilliant and audacious but also extraordinarily frank, polite and generous.

From Bohm we have his alternative theory of quantum mechanics, which came to light more than forty years ago but has been ignored until recently. This theory, completely braided and absolutely different, also accounts for all known subatomic phenomena. In it chance plays no role and every material object always occupies a particular region of space. In addition, its laws form a unique set, applicable equally to all physical objects, even if we have to admit the nonlocality. In any case, the theory has not yet surpassed the relativistic test, which in these times would take it to the box of definitive oblivion. Meanwhile, a small group of Bohmians from around the world are facing the dominant majority, armed with hidden variables and pilot trajectories seeking to realize that dream that Einstein and Bohm wove in the afternoons of Princeton.

if you want to delve into the life and work of this scientist, take a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm Another valuable source of documents and links is the library of Birkbeck College, University of London, where Bohm was Professor of Theoretical Physics: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/about/hours/bohm

Scroll To Top