Wave Particle Duality

Wave Particle Duality is a concept within physics, and as such is not much referred to outside of science, nor indeed within many branches of science. Think: have I seen it in any of the climate emergency reports from IPCC or have I seen it in discussions of medicine or pharmacology, or anywhere, apart from its home within Quantum Theory?
Quantum Theory is the physical theory that explains the behaviour of Matter and Energy.

In quantum theory objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave-particle duality), and there are limits to the precision with which quantities can be measured (the uncertainty principle). [The link references are to Wikipedia]

Matter and Energy. Objects. That is us, the world, the universe and all its life and inhabitants. E= mc2. Energy and matter are related. The equation tells us that energy and mass are, effectively, the same thing, and it also tells us how much energy is contained in a given mass, or vice versa. In other words, mass can be thought of as very tightly packed energy. That energy and mass are equivalent is quite an extraordinary claim and seems to go against classical laws of conservation, and also in ordinary life is counter-intuitive. This is not the way we see the world, ourselves or the things around us.

Recently, in philosophy and psychology, the word “Duality” has been used in in a way that means separated, or split, , as in Cartesian separation of body and mind, rather than Both And Together, which is ho wit is used in “Wave Particle Duality”. “Duality” is one of those interesting contronym words, like ‘cleave’, that have two meanings directly opposed to each other.

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 15.28.52In the Cartesian Split between Body and Mind the duality  referred to is of two entities that are distinct and separated, no matter how much or how little they have effects on each other. Their oneness of body-and-mind, or the interrelatedness, is now being well made, see for example, Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.

Or, Charles Eisenstein, Climate, A New Story, or Sacred Economics. Or, many other philosophies especially those written from ecological perspectives and eastern rather than western ways of being. Sometimes it is not made clear whether we are talking about two things that relate to each other, or about one thing that has two qualities, or even, one thing that has two qualities contrary to each other at one and the same time.

It seems to me that “duality” is a question of world view, or mindset, and so it is a question not of “thinking” but about how we think about thinking.

David Bohm, quantum physicist, brought an interpretation of the meaning of duality, and the meaning of field, to his scientific work, and then he extended it to what he called “the whole”. He brought his scientific thought to the concept of a “Living Earth”, and to us, beings who have consciousness and thinking. His interpretation rests on grasping the together meaning of “duality”, that any entity can be simultaneously both particle and field.

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 16.41.53This wave-particle-duality is not the same as the both /and of much psycho-social discussion, nor is it what is meant in the many studies referred to above, that express desire and necessity for humanity to learn to live in harmony with nature and the earth. These ideas, many of enormous value, are about relationship: the relation of one entity, a human or all the humans, with another entity [the earth, or others of its beings]. From classical physics, other sciences, to dream, to fantasy, to fiction or documentary, most often relationship is of particles. Each part of the relationship is a little or larger piece finding ways to connect with the another part, in harmony or conflict, reaching by some means across distance, or colliding, interacting, merging or crossing boundaries which have a variety of permeability. In ‘particle’ understanding, a particle acts and is acted upon by that which is contiguous, next, whatever the distance in the space of the next, taking time to do so. We are interested in the relationships that describe these actions. This is particulate thinking.

Wave-particle duality is undivided, the whole is everywhere, a wave, space is not empty. The wave is energy. We are energy. At this point my physics is totally inadequate, so I skip to the consequences for our mindsets, our attitudes to self and others, self with others, our understanding of creativity, wellbeing, flourishing, as far as I can understand the thoughts. I owe David Bohm and other thinkers, psychoanalysts like Wilfred Bion, philosophers etc. and my history of science work that looked at the way Michael Faraday thought, the inner process of doubt imagination and attention to experimental phenomena that led him to the electromagnetic theory of light, and the beginning of wave-particle duality in physics. This thinking starts from a ‘whole’ that is undivided duality. The structure of the whole is dual, as is every part that is enfolded within this structured order. Bohm gave this structure a name: the Implicate Order. Our knowledge of parts which we abstract from the whole, enabling partial unfolding, has a different structure, called Explicate Order. [ David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order. downloads available here]

Thought that begins from “parts”.

These ideas are very difficult to envisage. thinking first about “explicate”, as follows: Often we consider something, objects, or concepts, even people, as made up of parts, and begin by considering one part, and then how it relates to another part, like the bricks, posts and beams of a building. Particulate duality is constructed.

Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 10.57.36In particulate thought, lots of things can be, and often are, analysed by construction from parts, the words that make a sentence, the organs that are in each human (or animal) body, the parts of a plant, everything from the electrons in an atom to the stars and planets in the universe has been conceived of, and theorised, as parts of a whole. Then we say “the whole is greater than the parts” and construct another level, or category, or concept, whatever we call it. This process is much favoured in science, and also in studies of mind, both psychoanalytic and neuroscientific, and in various philosophies. It is both constructed and constructive, valuable, though it is probably not the kind of thought that shifts paradigms, and discovers new. For example, Wilfred Bion a psychoanalyst who explored thought process quotes the mathematician Poincaré:

“If a new result is to have any value, it must unite elements long since known, but until then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduce order where the appearance of disorder reigned.  Then it enables us to see at a glance each of these elements in the place it occupies in the whole.  Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites.  Our mind is as frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the shortsighted, it would only see the details, and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole.  The only facts worthy of our attention are those which introduce order unto this complexity and so make it accessible to us.” [Bion, Learning from Experience, p.72, and many references to this and the ‘selected fact’ in his other writings.]

In general, this describes the “thinking method” that we often use to help us grasp complexity. We forget, or were never aware, that to conceive of a single part requires a process of abstraction, whether or not we realize that is what we are doing. Our perceptions are, first, of the whole thing, however muddled, chaotic and un-thought. We learn to distinguish, classify, abstract, and then surprise ourselves when we find the whole, greater than the parts.

Thinking from Whole to parts.

Suppose, imagine, a thinking process, or perception, that starts with Whole, whatever that is, as George Eliot intimated when she wrote:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. [Quoted in Margot Waddell’s Inside Lives, p.41, in the context of “Defences Against Pain”, as Eliot also says ” perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it”.

We also think of “wholes”, intuitively aware of an idea of the all. For things that are not too complicated, at a given instant the “all” is as clear an idea as that of any of its parts, we can in fact switch from one to the other. In other words, we also have “a thinking method” that goes from whole to parts instead of building from parts to whole, and we do not die of the experience. The simplest example is “me” a person, who is not “you” a different person, and the whole that is in every part of me is my DNA, as your DNA is in you. My liver contains my DNA and therefore contains knowledge of my kidney, etc. In  particulate thinking about myself, it is much more usual to find the thought is about exceptionalism, or separateness, I am unique, I am constructing my identity. This is a way of thought as psychological experience, rather than a biological science. We are in fact very accomplished at switching automatically between forms of particulate thought. these are example of what Bohm called the “explicate orders” unfloded from th implcate whole.

It seems more difficult to articulate the method of wholes, or find examples. One I have found is the architect Christopher Alexander who looked at the wholes of architectural endeavours, from them derived what he calls ‘patterns’. He starts from a “whole’, the function of a building, say, and finds something local, particular, over and over again, but this something is also individual, not an endless repeat. It contains both a “pattern” and its manifestation in a present context.  Alexander’s patterning has the quality of undivided duality.

Returning briefly to physics, and the universe of energy waves, brings another realization: the implicate order whole is dynamic. There is no sense here of Platonic Ideals, fixed out of our reach, that our minds try approximate more nearly. There is no final “theory of everything” to be found, as the implicate ordered whole is not fixed, it is in a dynamic state with continual interacting flows of enfolding, unfolding, of explicates, that Bohm calls holomovement. This name links with the concept of the hologram, a physically produced artifact that exists. Every point within a hologram contains the information of the whole of the object from which it was encoded. In other words, each point is both the whole and the part, an undivided duality, that in practice exists although it loses some of the definition of the original object.

To bring this down to practice, experience and thinking, each of us has this hologram quality. I have an awareness of myself, and also at the same time I contain unthought experience of the universe that I am in. As I am in it, it is in me. I know this already, though seldom access it let alone express it as most language especially academic and analytic default automatically to particulate thought [scientific knowledge, working through emotional understandings and insights, looking for independent evidence, etc.]

Where do I experience, or have experienced,  undivided duality, experiencing from whole?

  • poetry
  • use of counter-transference, especially in work consultancy
  • pregnancy – other in me, me in other, one
  • one flesh – not often – when a marriage holds the tension between being two people and also one
  • music – Bohm said The nature of this [holo] movement can be discerned in a number of common experiences, such as listening to music. A sequence of harmonious notes, says Bohm, does not sufficiently account for the experience of coherence we may feel when listening to music. If the sequence of notes was stretched out so that long lapses occurred between the notes, the sense of musical integrity would collapse. It is the co-present reverberations of multiple notes, in varying degrees of interpenetration and unfoldment, that give music a sense of meaning and wholeness.
  • collective unconscious
  • dreaming, and social dreaming
  • history of scientific discovery – understanding the heuristic thought of Michael Faraday from his Diaries when he demonstrated that light was an electromagnetic wave phenomenon, said “forced on my mind” and also later described the new thought as “revelation“. [pdf of James Clerk Maxwell’s comment here]
  • witness, inadvertent, unsought, transcendent experience, WTF …
  • much art and culture, the expression of implicate captured in image and performance
  • a transitional object [like the child’s teddy bear] imaginary and real

Concluding but not ended thoughts.

The conclusion Bohm was drawn to from quantum physics was that the “whole” was not an ineffable hotch-potch mixture, but instead a deeper undivided duality of energy, to which he gave the name “The Implicate Order”. I find I have to think of it as “Life”. I recently heard it named as “collective psyche” a soul quality in which all exists. It is in me and I am in it. It is in constant change as Explicate orders of every quality are enfolded, and in holomovement, as they unfold, refold.



There are many kinds of explicate thought that do not show awareness of the implicate, Escher’s ants capture this. From the simplistic to the complicated the characteristic shared is that eventually they will prove unfruitful. All hold shards of truth, some may be helpful for a time, others such as ideologies do damage.

Bohm said thought itself was real, because it had concrete effect. Bion distinguished two kinds of thought, that he called “truth” and “lie”, the first was thought without need of a thinker [like Bohm’s real?], the second, created by the thinker according to his internal need, not opposite to truth, just indifferent to it, in intent. Bohm’s work on the “creative” distinguished imagination that began in whole and wondered, directed beyond self, from imagination that was “fancy” or “fantasy” created for the self. He also said “nature is a creative process, in which not merely new structures, but also new orders of structure are always emerging“. Again, there is humility, and its opposite, the exceptional separatist me, that wants and is wanting. [another double meaning word!]

And so all this writing returns to a simple, maybe not easy, suggestion. Become aware. Know that the implicate whole, Life, is. In me as I am in it. My thinking, experiencing, being, can  turn upside down. See what happens.







2 thoughts on “Wave Particle Duality

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