from the Greek dialogos: Logos means "the word", or in our case
we would think of "the meaning of the word", and dia means "through"
(not two-a dialogue can be among any number of people; even one
person can have a sense of dialogue within him- or herself if the
spirit of the dialogue is present).
The image this
derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among us and
through us and between us-a flow of meaning in the whole group,
out of which will emerge some new understanding, something creative.
When everybody is sensitive to all the nuances going around, and
not merely to what is happening in one's own mind, there forms a
meaning which is shared. And in that way we can talk together coherently
and think together. It is this shared meaning that is the "glue"
or "cement" that holds people and societies together.
with the word "discussion", which has the same root as "percussion"
and "concussion". Discussion really means to break things up. It
emphasizes the idea of analysis, where there may be many points
of view. A great deal of what we call "discussion" is not deeply
serious, in the sense that there are all sorts of things held to
be non-negotiable, untouchable, things that people don't even want
to talk about. Discussion is like a ping-pong game, with people
batting the ideas back and forth in order to win the game.
In a dialogue
there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view
prevail. It is more a common participation, in which people are
not playing a game against each other but with each other. In a
dialogue, everybody wins.
of the Group
The power of
the group could be compared to a laser. Ordinary light is called
"incoherent", which means that it is going in all sorts of directions;
the light waves are not in phase with each other so they don't build
up. But a laser produces a very intense beam which is coherent.
The light waves build up strength because they are all going in
the same direction, and the beam can do all sorts of things that
ordinary light cannot.
Now, you could
say that our ordinary thought in society is incoherent - it is going
in all sorts of directions, with thoughts conflicting and canceling
each other out. But if people were to think together in a coherent
way, as in a dialogue situation, it would have tremendous power.
Then we might have such a coherent movement of communication, coherent
not only at the level we recognize, but at the tacit level for which
we have only a vague feeling. That would be even more important.
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. I am proposing that thought -thinking
is actually a subtle tacit process. I think we all realize that
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. I think the whole human race knew this
for a million years; and then in five thousand years of civilization
we have lost it, because our societies got too big. But now 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.
The point is
that this notion of dialogue and common consciousness suggests that
there is some way out of our collective difficulties. If we can
all suspend carrying out our impulses, suspend our assumptions and
look at them, then we are all in the same state of consciousness.
In dialogue the whole structure of defensiveness and opinions and
division can collapse; and suddenly the feeling can change to one
of fellowship and friendship, participation and sharing. We are
then partaking of the common consciousness.
Science is predicated
on the concept that science is arriving at truth, - at a unique
truth. The idea of dialogue is thereby in some way foreign to the
current structure of science, as it is with religion. In a way,
science has become the religion of the modern age. It plays the
role which religion used to play of giving us truth; hence different
scientists cannot come together any more than different religions
can, once they have different notions of truth. As one scientist,
Max Planck, said, "New ideas don't win really. What happens is that
the old scientists die and new ones come along with new ideas."
But clearly that's not the right way to do it.
This is not
to say that science couldn't work another way. If scientists could
engage in a dialogue, that would be a radical revolution in science,
- in the very nature of science. Actually, scientists are in principle
committed to the concepts involved in dialogue. They say, "We must
listen. We shouldn't exclude anything."
find that they can't do that. This is not only because scientists
share what everybody else shares, - assumptions and opinions - but
also because the very notion which has been defining science today
is that we are going to get truth. Few scientists question the assumption
that thought is capable of coming to know "everything". But that
may not be a valid assumption, because thought is abstraction, which
inherently implies limitation. The whole is too much. There is no
way by which thought can get hold of the whole, because thought
only abstracts; it limits and defines. And the past from which thought
draws contains only a certain limited amount. The present is not
contained in thought; thus, an analysis cannot actually cover the
moment of analysis.
however, come to a group with different interests and assumptions.
They are basic assumptions, not merely superficial assumptions-such
as assumptions about the meaning of life; about your own self-interest,
your country's interest, or your religious interest; about what
you really think is important.
We could also
call assumptions "opinions". The word "opinion" is used in several
senses. When a doctor has an opinion, that's the best assumption
s/he can make based on the evidence. The doctor may then say, "Okay,
I'm not quite sure, so let's get a second opinion." A good doctor
does not react to defend the assumption-if the second opinion turns
out to be different, s/he doesn't jump up and say, "How can you
say such things?" That doctor's opinion would be an example of a
rational sort of opinion, one not defended with a strong reaction.
tend to be experienced as "truths", assumptions that we are identified
with, and which we defend. But as long as we have a defensive attitude-blocking
and holding assumptions, sticking to them and saying, "I've got
to be right-"then intelligence is very limited, because intelligence
requires that you don't defend an assumption. The proper structure
of an assumption or of an opinion is that it is open to evidence
that it may not be right.
are very powerful and you are not usually aware of them, just as
you are not normally aware of an accent in the way you talk. Other
people can tell you that you've got one, or if you listen carefully
you might find it. But the accent is part of your culture. A great
deal of your assumptions are part of your culture, too, and this
comes out in relationship.
said that "to be" is to be related. But relationship can be very
painful. He said that you have to think/feel out all your mental
processes and work them through, and then that will open the way
to something else. And I think that is what can happen in the dialogue
group. Certain painful things can happen for some people; you have
to work it all out.
This is part
of what I consider dialogue-for people to realize what is on each
other's minds without coming to any conclusions or judgments. In
a dialogue we have to sort of weigh the question a little, ponder
it a little, feel it out. You become more familiar with how thought
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.
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. You may think, "My meaning is coherent and
somebody else's isn't," but then we'll never have meaning shared.
And if some of us come to the "truth", while a lot of people are
left out, it's not going to solve the problem. You will have the
"truth" for yourself and for your own group, whatever consolation
that is. But we will continue to have conflict. Therefore it is
necessary to share meaning. Our society is incoherent, and hasn't
done that very well for a long time, if it ever has.
There is no
"road" to truth. In dialogue we share all the roads and we finally
see that none of them matters. We see the meaning of all the roads,
and therefore we come to the "no road". Underneath, all the roads
are the same because of the very fact that they are "roads" - they
There may be
no pat political "answer" to the world's problems. However, the
important point is not the answer, - just as in a dialogue, the
important point is not the particular opinions - but rather the
softening up, the opening up, of the mind, and looking at all the
dimension of the human being, where we have a considerable number
of people, has a qualitatively new feature: It has great power-potentially,
or even actually. And in dialogue we discuss how to bring that to
some sort of coherence and order. The question is really: Do you
see the necessity of this process? That's the key question. If you
see that it is absolutely necessary, then you have to do something.
We should keep
in mind, nonetheless, that the dialogue is not only directed at
solving the ills of society, although we do have to solve those
ills. But that's only the beginning. When we have a very high energy
of coherence, we might get beyond just being a group that could
solve social problems.
could make a new change in the individual and a change in the relation
to the cosmos. Such an energy has been called "communion". It is
a kind of participation. The early Christians had a Greek word koinonia,
the root of which means "to participate" - the idea of partaking
of the whole and taking part in it; not merely the whole group,
but the whole. This, then, is what I mean by "dialogue". I suggest
that through dialogue there is the possibility for a transformation
of the nature of consciousness, both individually and collectively.
That's what we're exploring.
We usually start
a dialogue group by talking about dialogue-talking it over, discussing
why we are doing it, what it means.
I propose that in a dialogue we are not going to have any agenda.
As soon as we try to accomplish a useful purpose or goal, we will
have an assumption behind it as to what is useful, and that assumption
is going to limit us. We are not going to decide what to do about
anything. This is crucial: Otherwise we are not free. We must
have an empty space where we are not obliged to do anything, nor
to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything.
It's open and free. As Krishnamurti used to say, "The cup has
to be empty to hold something."
Nor are we going to have a leader. That's a harder problem as
the whole society has been organized to believe that we can't
function without leaders. (It may be useful to have a facilitator,
whose function is to work him- or herself out of a job.)
A group that is too small doesn't work very well. If five or six
people get together, they can usually "adjust" to each other so
they don't say the things that upset each other. When you raise
the number to about twenty, or up to forty, something different
begins to happen,- you begin to get what may be called a "microculture".
You have enough people coming in from different subcultures so
that they are a sort of microcosm of the whole culture.
The point is not to establish a fixed dialogue group forever,
but rather one that lasts long enough to make a change. It may
be valuable to keep the dialogue going for a year or two, and
it is important to sustain it regularly. If you sustain it, it
cannot avoid bringing out the participants' deep assumptions which
the group is not going to judge or condemn. It is simply going
to look at all the opinions and assumptions as they surface.
When you sustain
a dialogue you find that there will be a change in the people who
take part. They themselves behave differently, even outside the
dialogue. Eventually the change spreads. It's like the Biblical
analogy of the seed-some are dropped in stony ground and some of
them fall in the right place and they produce tremendous fruit.
article was excerpted from David Bohm On Dialogue (transcribed and
edited by Phildea Fleming and James Brodsky from a meeting with
David Bohm. To order, write: David Bohm Seminars, Box 1452, Ojai,
CA 93023). © 1990 by David Bohm.