Dialogue

David Bohm

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From David Bohm on Dialogue:
"Dialogue" comes 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.
Contrast this 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.

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 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."
However, they 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.
--D.B.