Introduction

The point is that this notion of dialogue and common consciousness suggests that there is some way out of our collective difficulties. David Bohm
There is a possibility of creativity in the socio-cultural domain which has not been explored by any known society adequately. David Bohm
Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven't really paid much attention to thought as a process. We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. David Bohm
It is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today. Moreover, it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated. David Bohm

Dialogue, as David Bohm envisioned it, is a radically new approach to group interaction, with an emphasis on listening and observation, while suspending the culturally conditioned judgments and impulses that we all have. This unique and creative form of dialogue is necessary and urgent if humanity is to generate a coherent culture that will allow for its continued survival.

For a directory of all Bohm dialogue groups in the world visit our site Dialogue Directory.

For more information about David Bohm or to contact the creators of this page visit the David Bohm Society. Please consider supporting us.

All quotes below are by David Bohm unless attributed otherwise.

Audio

A 6 minute brief overview of dialogue by Bohm from a 1987 seminar:

David Bohm providing an 11 minute overview of dialogue at a conference presentation in 1992:

Bohm outlines a partial vision of dialogue at a 1992 seminar as part of a long, group conversation:

Prerequisite Concepts

Knowledge Is Active

As I said, knowledge is not just an accumulation of information waiting passively. It is an active and often dominant process that controls the general operation of the mind, without our being conscious of it. And it takes a high level of mental energy to be aware of this activity. Otherwise, it takes over, which is what it has done.

Knowledge Must Yield Yet It Does Not

It's clear that any form of knowledge has to be able to yield to fresh perception or, rational behavior is impossible. Knowledge with absolute necessity cannot yield so it distorts, rationalizes, and pushes aside undesired facts so that nothing disturbs the general framework. This means that we are caught in self-deception.

Thought Runs You

Thought has produced tremendous effects outwardly. And, as we'll discuss further on, it produces tremendous effects inwardly in each person. Yet the general tacit assumption in thought is that it's just telling you the way things are and that is not doing anything—that 'you' are inside there, deciding what to do with the information. But I want to say that you don't decide what to do with the information. The information takes over. It runs you. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives the false information that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought, whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us. Until thought is understood—better yet, more than understood, perceived—it will actually control us; but it will create the impression that it is our servant, that it is just doing what we want it to do. That's the difficulty. Thought is participating and then saying it's not participating. But it is taking part in everything. Fragmentation is a particular case of that. Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.

We have the picture that there is 'somebody' inside us who is given all this information and then decides to have the intetnion to do something based on that. I'm suggesting, however, that that is not so.

But in fact you can get evidence that thoughts and feelings move as a processes on their own; they are not being run by “me.” They are not being produced by the "me", and they are not being experienced by the "me".

Thought Produces Chaos

We started out saying that the trouble is that the world is in chaos, but I think we und up by saying that thought is in chaos. That's each one of us. And that is the cause of the world being in chaos. The chaos of the world comes back and adds to the chaos of thought.

Thought Creates the Thinker

Thought creates the thinker; it is the thinking process that brings the thinker into being. Thought comes first, and later the thinker; it is not the other way round. If we do not see this to be a fact, we shall be led into all kinds of confusion.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

We Don't See the Fact Because of Thought's Movements of Which We Are Mostly Unaware of

That is the fact: that we don't see the fact. There is a higher order of fact – which is that we are not seeing the direct fact. As I said, that is the fact from which we must start.

There is No Necessity to Belief

No belief. No, don't control anything. Observe that you have belief, you cling to the belief, belief gives you a sense of security and so on. And that belief is an illusion, it has no reality.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thought is A Set Reflexes That Move On Their Own

I'm proposing that this whole system works by a set of reflexes – that thought is a very subtle set of reflexes which is potentially unlimited; you can add more and more and you can modify your reflexes. A reflex just operates, as we've seen in the case of the knee-jerk. However, we don't usually think that thought is liek the knee-jerk reflex. We think we are controlling thought and producing thought. That way of thinking is part of our whole background. But I'm suggesting that it's not generally so – that a vast part of our thought just comes out from the reflex system. You can only find out what the thought is after it comes out.

Thought is One Giant System That Organizes Society

All our systems of organizing society are an extension of thought. There’s hardly anything in the world that we see or experience that is not an organization of thought. So it’s all part of the system. There’s one system. It doesn’t stop inside a human being. It goes from one person to another, all through society, all through history, all over the world. The ecological problem is the result of the way we have been thinking about the world, that it's something we can exploit indefinitely and we’re still thinking that way.

We Must Give Sustained Attention to the Process of Thought

We’ve been discussing dialogue and thought, and the importance of giving attention to the whole process – not merely to the content of all the different opinions and views – and to how we hold it all together. Also we’re all watching the process of how it affects us, our feelings and states of the body, and how other people are affected. This is really something of crucial importance, to be listening and watching, observing, to give attention to the actual process of thought and the order in which it happens, and to watch for its incoherence, where it’s not working properly and so on. We are not trying to change anything, but just being aware of it.

Thought is Primarily Tacit

"Tacit" means that which is unspoken, which cannot be described—like the tacit knowledge required to ride a bicycle. It is the actual knowledge, and it may be coherent or not. Thinking is actually a subtle tacit process. We do almost everything by this sort of tacit knowledge. Thought is emerging from the tacit ground, and any fundamental change in thought will come from the tacit ground. So if we are communicating at the tacit level, then maybe thought is changing.

The tacit process is common. It is shared. The sharing is not merely the explicit communication and the body language. There is also a deeper tacit process which is common. The whole human race knew this for a million years, but now we have lost it, because our societies got too big. We have to get started again, because it has become urgent that we communicate, to share our consciousness. We must be able to think together, in order to do intelligently whatever is necessary.

We Need a Coherent World-View That Reflects Wholeness

Man's general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.

Insight Brings Order to Thought

I propose that the essence of insight is this mental energy which perceives these subtle and powerful forces of knowledge, the emotional, social, intellectual, and still others that are beyond description, which make us very reluctant to give up fixed beliefs. When this energy is present we could say that the mind is free of certain blocks that are inherent in knowledge. I want to emphasize that the general action of insight is in dissolving blocks and barriers, which allows the ordinary faculties of the mind, such as reason, to give rise to new ideas and approaches.

The Mind Must Be Freed from the Dominance of Thought

Now the question is: can the mind be free of this egocentric activity? Right? That is really the question, not whether it is so or not. Which means can the mind stand alone, uninfluenced? Alone, being alone does not mean isolation. Sir, look: when one rejects completely all the absurdities of nationality, the absurdities of propaganda, of religious propaganda, rejects conclusions of any kind, actually, not theoretically, completely put aside, has understood very deeply the question of pleasure and fear, and division – the `me' and `not me' – is there any form of the self at all?

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Science Will Not Save Us as Long as Thought Dominates

On the other hand, it has become evident that because of the general incoherence of society and the individual that I just described the further progress of science along its current lines cannot resolve these crises and may indeed tend to aggravate them. Thus for example it seems clear that science cannot make it possible for us to act together with the coherence and general good will needed to provide everyone with an adequate physical and social basis for life and at the same time to avoid destroying the planet through ecological disasters, climate changes, and so on. Nor can it help us deal with the forces of nationalism and religious divisions so these will no longer prevent us from getting together to meet all these problems which are evidently of a world-wide nature.

History

North American Indian Tribes

One of the first notions I ever had of Dialogue was many years ago when I read of about an anthropologist who visited a North American Indian tribe, probably hunter-gatherers, of about 20 to 40 people. He saw that they frequently gathered together in a circle, and they talked and talked. Nobody seemed to be in authority, and they didn’t have any particular agenda or any particular purpose. They made no decisions – they just talked. But at the end they separated and seemed to know what to do. They had established a relationship with each other so that they could then deal with their practical problems and really communicate, and not get into the state we are often in where we are fighting over the problems and not communicating.

So, that is really the sort of thing I have in mind for Dialogue. It may prove very hard for us to do this, because for thousands of years our tradition has been otherwise. So when we get together we have a purpose; we have authority and hierarchy with some people having more value than others and their word counting more; and also we want to achieve something and we don’t want to waste our time. So I am suggesting something that seems quite different. You may ask, if we have such pressing problems, why should we waste our time just talking. But I say that our problems originate because we can’t engage in this activity of just talking, and therefore when we try to deal with our serious problems we find that we are not meeting.

Patrick de Maré

His [de Maré's] view is that the primary cause of the deep and pervasive sickness in our society can be found at the socio-cultural level and that such groups can serve as micro-cultures from which the source of the infirmity of our large civilization can be exposed. Our experience has led us to extend this notion of Dialogue by emphasizing and giving special attention to the fundamental role of the activity of thought in the origination and maintenance of this condition.

As a microcosm of the large culture, dialogue allows a wide spectrum of possible relationships to be revealed. It can disclose the impact of society on the individual and the individual's impact on society. It can display how power is assumed or given away and how pervasive are the generally unnoticed rules of the system that constitutes our culture. But it is most deeply concerned with understanding the dynamics of how thought conceives such connections.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

You may outwardly build a peaceful structure but the men who run it will alter it according to their intention. That is why it is very important for those who wish to create a new culture, a new society, a new state, first to understand themselves. In becoming aware of oneself, of the various inward movements and fluctuations, one will understand the motives, the intentions, the perils that are hidden; and only in that awareness is there transformation.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

What is a group? Surely, it is you and I, isn't it? To form such a group, you and I must free ourselves from the desire to be secure, to be identified with any particular idea, belief, conclusion, system, or country. That is, you and I must begin to free ourselves from seeking shelter in an idea, in a belief, in knowledge; then, obviously, you and I are the group who are free from the exclusiveness of belonging to something. But are we such a group? Are you and I such entities? If we are not free from belief, from conclusion, from system, from idea, we may form a group, but we will create again the same confusion, the same misery, the same leadership, the same liquidation of those who disagree, and so on and on. So, before we form a group at all, we must first be free of the desire to be secure, to take shelter in any belief, in any idea, in any system. Are you and I free of that desire? If we are not, then let us not think in terms of groups and future action; but what is important, surely, is to find out, not merely verbally, but inwardly and deeply, both in the conscious as well as in the hidden parts of our own minds and hearts, whether we are really free from any sense of identification with a particular group, with a particular nation, with a particular belief or dogma. If we are not, then in starting a group we are bound to create the same mess, the same misery.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Bohm described Krishnamurti as his greatest influence. Bohm wrote a concise introduction about Jiddu Krishnamurti that touches on some of his teachings. Understanding Krishnamurti's basic proposals along with familiarizing yourself with the dialogues between Bohm and Krishnamurti will be helpful in understanding Bohm's vision of dialogue.

Bohm's Vision of Dialogue

Definition


Dialogue = dia + logos = through + the word = meaning through the word

Dialogue can be considered as a free flow of meaning between people in communication, in the sense of a stream that flows between banks.

Dialogue is a way of observing, collectively, how hidden values and intentions can control our behavior, and how unnoticed cultural differences can clash without our realizing what is occurring. It can therefore be seen as an arena in which collective learning takes place and out of which a sense of increased harmony, fellowship and creativity can arise.

The Spirit of Dialogue


The spirit of dialogue is, in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of a common meaning.

Dialogue is Not Discussion or Debate


A key difference between a dialogue and an ordinary discussion is that, within the latter, people usually hold relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their views as they try to convince others to change. At best this may produce agreement or compromise, but it does not give rise to anything creative. Moreover, whenever anything of fundamental significance is involved, then positions tend to be rigidly nonnegotiable and talk degenerates either into a confrontation in which there is no solution, or into a polite avoidance of the issues. Both these outcomes are extremely harmful, for they prevent the free play of thought in communication and therefore impede creativity.

In dialogue, however, a person may prefer a certain position but does not hold to it non-negotiably. He or she is ready to listen to others with sufficient sympathy and interest to understand the meaning of the other's position properly and is also ready to change his or her own point of view if there is good reason to do so. Clearly a spirit of goodwill or friendship is necessary for this to take place. It is not compatible with a spirit that is competitive, contentious, or aggressive.

Participation is Fundamental


The general view I have is that participation is fundamental. We must have dialogues, we must share our thoughts. We must be able to think together. If we can’t think together and talk together, then we can do nothing together. Culture implies shared meaning in which everybody participates.

I'm saying that it is necessary to share meaning. A society is a link of relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture – that implies that we share meaning; i.e., significance, purpose, and value. Otherwise it falls apart. Our society is incoherent, and it doesn't do that very well; it hasn't for along time, if it ever did. The different assumptions that people have are tacitly affecting the whole meaning of what we are doing.

People Who Are Free to Inquire


We have to begin with people who are open enough to start the dialogue. We cannot begin with those who don’t want to.

To add some context here we will also quote Jiddu Krishnamurti:

So, what we are going to attempt to do is to explore; and to explore there must be freedom. That's the first thing: freedom to inquire, which obviously means freedom from any commitment, intellectual or otherwise, from any philosophy, from any dogma, so that the mind can look. And a mind can only look, explore when it is not caught, for the time being at least, in its own problems, or in its own hopes. It is not committed to any philosophy, to any dogma, to any church. And this, it seems to me, is one of the most difficult things to do. To look attentively at our own problems as human beings demands not only freedom, but attention. To attend implies, surely, doesn't it?, to give your mind and heart to it, totally, with your nerves, with your ears, with your eyes, with your heart, with your mind - to give totally to understand something. And to give so attentively, totally, there needs to be no motive, no persuasion. You do it naturally, because the urgency of the problem is so great that it must be solved. But if we have a motive – and all our urgency generally is based on some limited motive – our problems continue.

No Fixed Method or Practice


There is no set form or practice to establish communication except to engage in communicating itself and then encounter the problems in trying to do that.

The Purpose is Not to Solve a Problem but to Participate Together

Also, if we say we want to communicate but we give first priority to solving a certain practical problem this will limit us. Behind every practical problem there are assumptions that may stop us. Some of the things that we want to communicate may not be compatible with these assumptions. Therefore we say we want to communicate we are not going to first priority to solving any problem.

Giving Attention to What Prevents Communication

If each one of us can give full attention to what is actually blocking communication while he is also attending properly to the content of what is communicated, then we may be able to create something new between us, something of very great significance for bringing to an end the at present insoluble problems of the individual and of society.

No Leaders

We have to begin with people who are open enough to start the dialogue. We cannot begin with those who don’t want to.

Dialogue is Learning and Not a Practice

As I said, to do this is not really a practice but a constant situation of learning creatively and communication. As we begin to share meaning we will also share values and develop a common purpose. If everyone understands the same thing we can all work together. If we all see it differently and have different ends we cannot do it. The really trouble is, as I have already said, is that we do not have a coherent culture.

No Content is Excluded

We have to begin with people who are open enough to start the dialogue. We cannot begin with those who don’t want to.

The Basic Idea

The basic idea of dialogue is to be able to talk while suspending personal opinions as if you were holding them out in front of you and the group for all to see their coherence or incoherence while neither suppressing them nor insisting on them nor trying to convince or persuade others of their value. Instead we just want to understand.

In a way this is comparable to allowing the scientific spirit to infuse our communication. We need to have a kind of scientific attitude when we talk. That does mean that we are doing laboratory experiments but for the most part we are listening to the opinions of all whether they are pleasing or outrageous. That is the essence of the scientific spirit. We are just listening. We can do it. In this art of dialogue the first priority is to see the whole meaning of everyone without having to making any decision as to who is right and who is wrong. It is more important to see the whole meaning than that any particular opinion should prevail because seeing this will create a new frame of mind in which the consciousness of all has common content. The content being all these opinions at which we are all looking. The other person’s opinion is looked at the same as mine is. It means a common consciousness that is coherent. It is a kind of implicate order where each unfolds into the whole consciousness and the whole into each. With this common coherent consciousness we have a new kind of intelligence capable of thinking together. We have to begin with people who are open enough to start the dialogue. We cannot begin with those who don’t want to.

Suspension is the Heart of Dialogue

Suspension of thoughts, impulses, judgments, etc., lies at the very heart of dialogue. It is one of its most important new aspects. It is not easily grasped because the activity is both unfamiliar and subtle. Suspension involves attention, listening and looking and is essential to exploration. Speaking is necessary, of course, for without it there would be little in the dialogue to explore, But the actual process of exploration takes place during listening – not only to others but to oneself.

We Must Understand the Difference Between Observation and Analysis

The object of a dialogue is not to analyze things, or to win an argument, or to exchange opinions. Rather, it is to suspend your opinions and to look at the opinions – to listen to everybody’s opinions, to suspend them, and to see what all that means. If we can see what all of our opinions mean, then we are sharing a common content, even if we don’t agree entirely. It may turn out that the opinions are not really very important – they are all assumptions. And if we can see them all, we may then move more creatively in a different direction. We can just simply share the appreciation of the meanings; and out of this whole thing, truth emerges unannounced – not that we have chosen it.

As we said, analysis has no place in observation. Analysis is the discovery of the cause and the effect. Right? Please understand this, and go into it carefully because observation is entirely different from analysis. Observation is immediate: you see the tree; but if you begin to analyze you never see the tree. Right? Understand this. That is, to observe means seeing, being sensitive, aware, and without any movement of thought. Just to observe. So observation is not analysis. Analysis implies the analyzer who is analyzing something outside of himself. The analyzer thinks he understands, has superior knowledge and he is analyzing something outside of himself. But if you observe very carefully, the analyzer is the analyzed.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Dialogue Generates Meaning

The power of meaning is that it completely organizes being. Very subtle cultural meanings have tremendous power over being. Therefore, it requires extreme clarity at these subtle levels and that is where civilizations seem to have primarily gone wrong, in not having that clarity. Maybe a few people had it in the beginning but those who followed began to lose it.

Dialogue and Science Share a Commonality

This brings us to an important root feature of science, which is also present in dialogue: to be ready to acknowledge any fact and any point of view as it actually is, whether one likes it or not. In many areas of life, people are, on the contrary, disposed to collude in order to avoid acknowledging facts and points of view that they find unpleasant or unduly disturbing. Science is, however, at least in principle, dedicated to seeing any fact as it is, and to being open to free communication with regard not only to the fact itself, but also to the point of view from which it is interpreted. Nevertheless, in practice, this is not often achieved. What happens in many cases is that there is a blockage of communication.

Dialogue Does Not Aim For Consensus (We want different views)

It isn't necessary that everybody be convinced to have the same view. This sharing of mind, of consciousness, is more important than the content of the opinions. You may find that the answer is not in the opinions at all, but somewhere else. Truth does not emerge from opinions; it must emerge from something else—perhaps from a more free movement of this tacit mind.

You see, the general culture contains the assumption that there's got to be one meaning that is right and the others are supposed to be wrong. The 'right' meaning is absolutely necessary and then it doesn't yield to the others. It is just this kind of rigid 'right' meaning that often becomes a wrong meaning, as circumstances change. Culture is meaning, and when we have wrong meaning within culture, it is like misinformation.

Suspension is Fundamental to Dialogue

What is essential is that each participant is, as it were, suspending his or her point of view, while also holding other points of view in a suspended form and giving full attention to what they mean. In doing this, each participant has also to suspend the corresponding activity, not only of his or her own tacit infrastructure of ideas, but also of those of the others who are participating in the dialogue. Such a thoroughgoing suspension of tacit individual and cultural infrastructures, in the context of full attention to their contents, frees the mind to move in quite new ways. The tendency toward false play that is characteristic of the rigid infrastructures begins to die away. The mind is then able to respond to creative new perceptions going beyond the particular points of view that have been suspended.

Dialogue is Creative Culture

It's this repetition through generations which reinforces the habit to go along with the old ways of thinking and all the old social relationships and the old culture. Especially now, this problem has to be solved if the civilizations are to survive. In the old days you could say 'well, a civilization could die and another one start up' but now with modern technology we may destroy the whole thing. The problem has become far more urgent.

Therefore the key question is: is it possible to have a constantly creative culture? As soon as you set up a culture its meanings become repetitive and they begin to get in the way. Nevertheless, we need a culture.

Yes. I am saying that, provided it is a true dialogue, it will release creativity. Take science, for example. It is already admitted that if scientists are constantly talking about their work, attending conferences, publishing, exchanging information, new ideas arise in a way that can hardly be noticed. It is still very limited, because people are defending their positions and worrying about the financial rewards they are going to get, and so on. But suppose all those pressures were to go; you would have free creativity in communication.

Yes, dialogue is necessary for creativity in the socio-cultural sphere; that is, this creativity cannot be sustained without dialogue. We may get a burst of creativity but it will not be sustained.

We Must Listen Seriously to the Positions of Other People

The point is whether it is possible for people really to talk. If you now look around and see how people talk in different situations, you'll see that they are holding non-negotiable positions. Occasionally they get into a confrontation and fight, but what usually happens is that they have simply learned skillfully to avoid touching such positions. Therefore the talk is superficial. People are not satisfied with not being able to get anywhere. But if the talk ceased to be superficial we would face the explosions which would come from these nonnegotiable positions. So is there any way out of that? I'm suggesting that if it were possible to listen to other positions, this would be a different state of mind. The usual state of mind is not capable of listening seriously to a position that is in contradiction to one's own.

Dialogue is Concerned More With Coherent Meaning Than With Truth

Dialogue may not be concerned directly with truth—it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning. If the meaning is incoherent you will never arrive at truth.

Dialouge Can Lead To Sustained Creativity

To pay serious attention to this need for sustained creativity is extremely relevant for bringing about a creative change in culture and in society. In most cases, however, creative new discoveries are generally followed by an attempt to reduce them to something that can be applied mechanically. While mechanical application is necessary in certain contexts, the basic impetus for each individual must come from the creative origin, and this is beyond any mechanical, explicate, or sequential order of succession.

Further Reading

Books

On Dialogue: This is the most frequently recommended book on Bohm dialogue and we recommend it also, but by itself it does provide a full coverage of Bohm's proposals that are relevant to understanding of dialogue.

Unfolding Meaning: This book was born out of a multi-day seminar Bohm held that became a dialogue session. In these seminars Bohm discusses many of his key proposals that are foundational to dialogue.

Thought as a System: Understanding and giving attention to thought is essential to dialogue and in this book Bohm elicudates many of the aspects of thought that we need to be aware of.

Science, Order, and Creativity: There is a section of this book dedicated to dialogue. The rest of the book is relevant too as it demonstrates Bohm's thinking on many subjects, especially in the domain of science.

Changing Consciousness: This book focuses on the root cause of humanity's difficulties (which Bohm proposes is thought). Despite this focus many excellent pointers are given on how to understand thought which is relevant to dialogue.

The Essential David Bohm: This book provides a wider breadth of Bohm's proposals, and as such is useful to any student of Bohm's ideas.

Online Articles

Dialogue: A Proposal

For Truth Try Dialogue

Science, Spirituality, and the Present World Crisis

Other Media

The Academy of Professional Dialogue has a page of transcribed videos of Bohm and others speaking about dialogue.