The System of Thought



I would say that thought makes what is often called in modern language a system. A system means a set of connected things or parts. But the way people commonly use the word nowadays it means something all of whose parts are mutually interdependent – not only for their mutual action, but for their meaning and for their existence.


A corporation is organized as a system – it has this department, that department, that department. They don’t have any meaning separately; they can only function together. And also the body is a system. Society is a system in some sense. And so on.


Similarly, thought is a system. That system not only includes thoughts, ‘felts’ and feelings, but it includes the state of the body; it includes the whole of society – as thought is passing back and forth between people in a process by which thought evolved from ancient times.


A system is constantly engaged in a process of development, change, evolution and structure changes, and so forth, although there are certain features of the system which become relatively fixed. We call this the structure. You can see that in an organization there’s a certain structure. Then sometimes that structure begins to break up because it doesn’t work, and people may have to change it.


We have some structure in thought as well – some relatively fixed features. Thought has been constantly evolving and we can’t say when that structure began. But with the growth of civilization it has developed a great deal. It was probably very simple thought before civilization, and now it has become very complex and ramified and has much more incoherence than before.


So we have this system of thought. Now I say that this system has a fault in it – a systematic fault. It’s not a fault here, there or there, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? Its everywhere and nowhere. You may say ‘I see a problem here, so I will my thought to bear on this problem’. But ‘my’ thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I’m trying to look at, or a similar fault.


– David Bohm (1994 p 18-19)





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