Basil Hiley: interests and inspirations.

Basil Hiley, a British quantum physicist and professor emeritus at University of London; spent three decades working with David Bohm developing their interpretations of quantum mechanics. The body of their interpretation is best captured in The Undivided Universe; and Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate order.  What makes their work so fascinating is that they sought to bring together a unity between physics, philosophy and psychology. One of the key interpretations (and problems) of quantum mechanics is the inability to separate the observer from the observed; this is a profound result and holds implications for all elements of human “reality”.This was something that Hiley and Bohm realised, and this contributed to their theories on “implicate orders”. I caught up with Basil over email to see where his interests lie:

“With quantum phenomena one quickly learns that the key new qualitative feature is the impossibility of separating the observed from the observer, or at least his instruments.  The key new aspect for both Bohr and Bohm was then ‘unbroken wholeness’.  How do we proceed to develop a descriptive form with this basic notion in place?  Do we just rely on the mathematics as do 99% of physicists, or do we explore the possibility of new conceptual structures?  Bohm and I chose the latter.  That meant looking more widely than the discipline of physics itself for our inspiration.  How do you separate thought from the thinker?  Same question, different field.  Continental philosophy seemed to be calling.  One of the inspirations for Bohm was the writings of Hegel.  I got far more out of Fichte and Schelling.  Schelling talks about the ‘primordial whole’ and then looking for concepts of mechanics and organic life emerging from one and the same universal principle, which led him to the question of representing nature as a whole. For me quantum processes provide a link between the mechanical and the organic, where opposites transform from one to the other.  Mathematics is a way to discuss order be it mechanical or organic. It is about order transition, about processes, not necessarily about separate pre-existing objects in interaction.” -Basil Hiley

Fragmenting and separating elements of reality serves some purpose if we wish to understand elements from a mechanistic / deterministic / reductionist viewpoint. This however, does not give us a complete picture of reality. Imagine you found a television set, and you had never seen one before (I know,crazy!) you have no understanding what it does. You could smash it into a thousand pieces and see what the chemical signatures are, its atomic structure, but this doesn’t tell you anything about what the television does or why it is. This is like seeking out “parts” of reality and expecting that by somehow knowing what the parts are, we will understand how to reassemble to make and understand the whole. This does not mean that we shouldn’t search for these parts; but we should keep in mind that we are all part of an ongoing process that cannot be explained by fragmenting and reducing the parts; the whole must be viewed. You are not just the job you do, or just a son or daughter; or just another member of the public; you are part of an ongoing process that has been going on for a very long time.

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