The David Bohm Ojai Seminars Revisited

A Proposal for Their Revitalization as a Means of Sustaining the Bohm Archives

By Bill Angelos

The Premise

In a recently published article, the Editor of two David Bohm compilations (The Essential David Bohm and On Dialogue) Lee Nichol, clearly articulated what he believes has happened to Dr. David Bohm’s form of dialogue since his passing: “Beginning in 1985, David Bohm put forward a series of propositions regarding a new vision for contemporary dialogue. This vision received considerable attention throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. But despite such widespread interest in Bohm’s vision, the sustainability of dialogue seems to have been erratic, even meager.”

However, a Google search of the terms “Bohm Dialogue” or “Bohmian Dialogue” will produce, among other things, a Wikipedia entry that seems to contradict Nichol’s statement. It cites a variety of private, commercial, and academic enterprises, as well as links to various scholarly (and not so scholarly) papers and websites—all of which incorporate the use of these terms in one way or another. And the statement made in the final paragraph of the Wikipedia’s overview really gives one reason for serious pause:

All of the above authors and consultants are considered to be experts in “Bohm Dialogue” (amongst others.) This makes Bohm himself only one of many authorities on this subject. Some of these practitioners have made contributions and adaptations completely unforeseen by Bohm himself, making the subject of “Bohm Dialogue” much greater than the dialogue theory Bohm himself originally established, which, Don Factor believes, would have delighted him if he were still alive.

Some of us who knew Dr. Bohm well and actually attended all of the Seminars he held annually in Ojai California from 1986 to 1992—during which the subject of dialogue was thoroughly discussed—have serious concerns about our friend Mister Factor’s strange conclusion. For example, in contrast to the belief that Bohm would have been “delighted” by all who have appropriated those terms—and perhaps given themselves and their endeavors further validation by attaching Bohm’s surname to them, we have Nichols’ sobering appraisal which begins with the initial statement quoted above.

Why the contradiction? Especially when one considers that Don Factor was not only present during Dr. Bohm’s initial group exploration into dialogue, but actually published a book in 1985, with Bohm’s approval, that is essentially a transcript of that event which took place in England over a few days.

The first possible clue to the fragmentation that has since occurred is an insight provided by Nichol a few paragraphs down when he informs us of a “curious” statement that Bohm made regarding the Dialogue process: “I think people are not doing enough work on their own, apart from the dialogue groups.”

This statement may appear to be paradoxical when perceived from the perspective of the group experience with Dr. Bohm that Factor documents in his book, Unfolding Meaning. Factor also circulated what he called “an influential paper” via the Web entitled “Dialogue: A Proposal;” written by himself, another participant and Dr. Bohm, regarding how a group of people with serious intent might experience the same kind of unexpected “Unfolding Meaning”—the operative term being “a group of people.”

But it is by no means paradoxical when one compares its content, to the content of another book entitled Thought as a System—which is also a transcript of a group experience with Dr. Bohm that was part of the series that took place annually in Ojai, California beginning in 1986.

However, it should be noted that a profound event in Bohm’s life occurred during that one year period between the publishing of the Unfolding Meaning book in 1985 and his initiating of the Ojai Seminars in 1986—the passing of Bohm’s friend of almost 25 years and a fellow enquirer into the nature of Consciousness, Mr. J. Krishnamurti (JK).

In retrospect, one can see that although the Ojai Seminars which began a few months after JK’s passing can also be defined on one level as a “group experience,” there can be no doubt that a deeper insight had taken place—one that would further clarify the fundamental element of the process of dialogue in Bohm’s mind.

When one examines all of these written documents and the series of Seminars (1986–1992) as a coherent whole, it becomes apparent that no group experience inspired Bohm to develop his form of dialogue. It was rather an organic outgrowth of a certain kind of dialogue in which these two friends had engaged since they first met in 1962.

Moreover, it was during the Seminars that Bohm would find metaphors to communicate that form, not from the usual Cartesian perspective that perceives the mind and the body as two separate entities, but in terms of a quantum mechanical view of the world in which the observer and observed can no longer be perceived as fundamentally separate entities. For, in fact, what drew the spiritual figure JK to the attention of theoretical physicist Bohm was a book entitled The First and Last Freedom he happened upon which had nothing to do with physics—yet it had that very term “the observer and the observed” in its text. And it is from that point of view that Bohm would develop a dialogue process whose intention it was—as Nichol puts it:

… to explore the nature of consciousness per se… … and the ramifications of the ego process.

Certainly this was the underlying intent that was central to JK’s and Bohm’s meticulously documented mutual participatory inquiry which was ongoing for almost a quarter of a century.

And from that rock steady foundation, Bohm could suggest quite emphatically that:

A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present.

NOTE: Years before, JK called this process of dialogue by the individual: “A Dialogue with Oneself.”

Furthermore, in the Thought as a System book and the Bohm compilation entitled On Dialogue, which Nichol also edited and had published under Bohm’s authorship, two phrases appear and are explored in depth, that were nowhere in sight in the Unfolding Meaning documentation, but were foundational to the approach Bohm would carefully develop throughout the Ojai Seminars:

“Participatory Thought” and “Proprioception of Thought.”

Although (as of this point in my research) I believe that neither of these phrases were mentioned using those exact terms in the JK/Bohm Dialogues—they are both aspects of another activity that was itself central to their inquiry and was indeed articulated by both of them as such: “Perception”—both inward and outward. (More about this in the Afterword.)

What follows is a brief proposal that has emerged from a simple concept, the thrust of which is to have actual recordings of Dr. Bohm’s Ojai Seminars as its focus. Thanks to the efforts of people like Saral Bohm, Dr. Basil Hiley, Lee Nichol, Birkbeck archivist Sue Godsell and funding from different sources an ad hoc Bohm Archives team has been attending to the tasks of collecting, indexing, duplicating and digitizing the immense and extraordinarily valuable body of work that Dr. Bohm left behind for the world. Their efforts are making possible the preservation of that work, for what appears to be a continuously growing number of people and institutions, both scientific and academic, who are discovering and becoming even more interested in Dr. Bohm’s work.

Among the materials that Nichol was personally able to deliver to the Bohm Archives, were digitized CD’s of a complete set of recordings of the annual Seminars that Dr. Bohm conducted in Ojai California. It is from these materials that this proposal takes root.

The Proposal

This is a proposal for the establishment of a series of events entitled “The David Bohm Ojai Seminars Revisited”—with appropriate individual subtitles—that will use the actual recording of the Seminars that were held on the campus of Oak Grove School in Ojai, California as their foundation and focus.

It is further proposed that:

  1. A fee be will be charged for participation—with all proceeds going to the Bohm Archive Foundation presently being set up by Dr. Basil Hiley.
  2. The gatherings will be ongoing in nature, perhaps once every few months, as is practical.
  3. The “pilot” event will use as its focus the last Seminar conducted by Dr. Bohm, which was held in Ojai in March of 1992. (Further explanation in Afterword.)
  4. Each of the ensuing sessions over the next few days will have as their core, the corresponding recording from the March gathering.
  5. Whereas most of the original Seminars took place during a three day period (Friday Night, Saturday and Sunday) we believe that a fourth day may be necessary since it is assumed that the live participants will also be asking questions and making comments—and the total time will be naturally extended. In fact, attendees will be encouraged to participate. However, with judicious editing of each of the recorded sessions—just as Nichol did with the Thought as a System transcripts—the need for a fourth day might be circumvented.
  6. Each of the gatherings will be facilitated by at least one person who attended all of the annual Seminars—some of whom still reside in Ojai. With their guidance, the dialogues that develop during the live gatherings will become an organic extension of the recorded dialogues.
  7. Future events will have as their basis at least one of the other annual Seminars that were conducted during that seven year period. However, since many of the subjects covered by Dr. Bohm were themselves often revisited, but from different perspectives over the years, additional future gatherings will consist of an amalgam of excerpts from a number of Dr. Bohm’s different Seminars—for the express purpose of focusing on a particular foundational aspect of all them.
  8. A brief documentary (no longer than 10 minutes) will be produced about the Bohm Archives, their importance to the world, and the need for funding to keep them alive. It will be available to be viewed online, and DVD copies will also be made available for purchase.
  9. Each event will be recorded and CD’s will be available for purchase at the end of the proceedings.

Perhaps the best way to encapsulate the spirit in which this series of events will dynamically evolve, is to keep in mind something David Bohm said, when discussing the process of Dialogue with a group of students at the Oak Grove School:

… there is no final map. We are constantly changing it. But there is one feature of the map which means that the whole mapmaking process has gone wrong. That feature is that the map is producing results in the territory which are mistaken for independent actions in the territory. That means that the whole mapmaking process has gone wrong.

One can readily see that the implications of this incorrect “mapmaking process” may well be pointing to the fundamental cause of the fragmentation of thought and its inevitable consequences in the world we live in. Perhaps this endeavor may, in some small way, provide an active source for bringing this faulty process to greater public attention, while simultaneously providing an active source for funding for the Bohm Archives.


What made the 86–92 series of Seminars particularly unique was that Bohm introduced a new insight into a process he called “Proprioception of Thought.” To my knowledge this was the first time he had ever done so—or, for that matter anyone else had done so, either.

The published version of the Unfolding Meaning gathering had as its focus exactly that—the unfolding of meaning. And its structure was initially built around two prepared talks by Bohm: One about “Implicate Order” theory and the second about “Somasignificance” (Note: The event took place just a few years after his Wholeness and the Implicate Order was published, so it was a natural progression to have these as the focus of the gathering). However, after a couple of days that were highlighted by the prepared talks, something else happened—a realization that somehow the group had participated with David in developing a form of “impersonal fellowship” which allowed for the free form kind of dialogue now associated with Bohm’s name to occur.

Not long before this, Bohm had also been involved with psychiatrist Patrick De Mare’s group encounters, from which he had gleaned certain insights about what De Mare had identified as dialogue on a “socio-cultural” level. But it was during the Ojai Seminars that he would identify two other levels of this form of dialogue… The “individual” and the “cosmic.” And it was the latter in which his dialogues with Krishnamurti had taken place.

It was their exploration into the very act of both outward and inward Perception that would become the principle mechanism that led to the deep insights “experienced” by both gentlemen; although the term “experienced” might be better termed “observed.” Bohm had managed to sustain that “impersonal fellowship” aspect of mutual inquiry with JK to such a degree, that JK was guided into articulating the unusual way of perceiving that he was born with, during the sessions with Bohm—and over a period of more than two decades—as few others had been able to do. And this is what made for a truly revolutionary ongoing exploration into the nature of Consciousness, for both men.

And, during the Ojai Seminars Bohm combined the elements of both—the “bones” articulated during the Unfolding Meaning group experience, with the “meat” he introduced as a process of observation he called Proprioception of Thought.

One more point to keep in mind:

In an unusual Appendix in his classic Special Relativity book entitled “Perception,” Bohm references the work of two people more than others on the subject—Piaget and Gibson. Piaget’s references deal primarily with how Perception is affected by and simultaneously affects our cognitive processes—particularly with children up to the age of three. Gibson’s references however, deal with the physical act of Perception itself, irrespective of and in fact prior to when cognition takes place in a living organism.

Now, if you will, hold that thought, please…

For the last 10 years I’ve been living in Madison, Wisconsin where I was invited by a former classmate of mine who had become a world-famous brain scientist—Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita. We hadn’t seen each other since high school graduation more than half a century before. But when he learned I had just moved to a nearby town in Wisconsin, he wanted me to see an amazing invention of his which allows for certain non-invasive means of dealing not only with blindness, but with balance or equilibrium problems. I would later learn that Paul got the idea for his invention from one of the two men that David mentions in his Appendix on Perception—James J. Gibson.

I would also learn that what Gibson had succeeded in doing was revolutionizing not only our understanding of Perception, but of Proprioception as well. He had suggested that Perception and Proprioception were inextricably connected opposite ends of the act of Attention.

Proprioception of Thought is evidently possible when a group or an individual manages to effect what Gibson called “the re-education of attention.” Moreover, in one of the final sessions of that March 1992 Seminar, Bohm did what he never had done before. He knew he was being recorded when he stated that what was going on in that room at that moment, at least within himself, was “Proprioception of Thought.”

For the record, I have corroborated Gibson’s work and its relationship to Bohm’s work, with Professor William Mace of Trinity College here in the United States—with whom I’ve been communicating for the last five years. Bill was an associate of Gibson’s and is presently Chair of the Psychology Dept.

A final thought:

During that March ’92 Seminar, after Bohm had announced that he himself was presently in that Proprioception of Thought mode (humble man that he was, he still wanted to go on record that it was possible to enter into that mode) he related a story about one of the particularly intense dialogues he had with JK, at the end of which JK asked him what was going on within him at that moment. Professor Bohm’s one word answer was “Clarity!”