The Reason for A New Biograpahy of Bohm

The following is a quote from the new biography that we have begun reading and can recommend:

As there already is a biography of Bohm, written by F. David Peat, the first question to be raised is what is the point of writing a second biography? A trivial answer would be that many great physicists have more than one biography written on them and Bohm was a great scientist. A more substantive answer requires considering the strong and weak aspects of this biography. While well written, and extensively based on letters and interviews in addition to personal acquaintance with Bohm, this biography is more a biography of Bohm’s life than of Bohm’s ideas. To be more precise, in key points in the development of Bohm’s quest to understand quantum theory and its philosophical implications, Peat’s book is too shallow and sometimes mistaken. Let me illustrate this with a conspicuous case. Bell’s theorem and its impact on physics received a mere 2-page text in the full book. Peat did not acknowledge the distinction among the two papers by Bell, which were published in the inverse order of their production, one dealing with von Neumann’s proof and Bohm’s causal interpretation, and the second suggesting what we call now Bell’s theorem. Therefore the conundrum involved in that proof and Bohm’s and Bell’s works is simply ignored. In addition, the book did not discuss how Bohm reacted to Bell’s theorem at all. Bohm evolved from an initial misunderstanding of Bell’s theorem to a full comprehension
of its implication. Furthermore, Bohm grasped these implications at a moment when there were still conflicting experimental results, those from Clauser and Freedman at Berkeley, confirming quantum mechanics and those from Holt and Pipkin at Harvard, confirming local theories. Only after Clauser’s replication of Holt’s experiment and mainly after Fry and Thompson experiment in 1976, did the balance incline towards quantum mechanics and its non-locality. Instead of analyzing this rich moment, Peat simply and briefly stated the following: “Soon after Bell’s theorem was published, a number of experimental tests, each one more refined and each one designed to overcome possible objections, confirmed the essential nonlocality of the quantum world”. Thus, Peat’s book ignored both the scientific content and the human drama of the ten years between the appearance of Bell’s theorem and the full vindication of quantum mechanics nonlocality, which later was dubbed entanglement. In fact, characters such as John Clauser, Abner Shimony, Ed Fry, Alain Aspect, and Bernard d’Espagnat are meaningfully absent in this biography. Thus a new biography of Bohm is in order, one integrating the history of his ideas and the history of his life, all articulated in their relevant contexts.

Similar comments on the strengths and weakness of Peat’s book were made by the contemporary reviewers of the book. Thus, the physicist Sheldon Goldstein praised how Peat presented the manner in which Bohm’s ideas were treated by fellow physicists but remarked that “Peat’s treatment of the relevant physics is not always entirely accurate,” and then illustrated his point. The historian Alexei Kojevnikov, after positively commenting on how Peat inserted Bohm in the contexts of the times, concluded stating “As for Bohm’s science, that awaits another, more thorough analysis”. Finally, the philosopher James Cushing went along the same lines, stating, “Peat does not always represent well Bohm’s scientific work itself (such as his 1952 papers on quantum theory) or its subsequent impact,” and “in summary, this book does make a prima facie case for Bohm as a ‘fascinating and important scientist’ and is certainly well worth reading. But it probably has not ‘given David Bohm his due.’” During the research for this book, I also realized that Peat’s biography underestimated certain aspects of Bohm’s personal life, for instance, the role of the high school in his coming of age and the roots of his early social consciousness.

A New Biography of David Bohm

Olival Freire Jr., a physics professor, has written a biography about Bohm. This biography focuses more on Bohm as a scientist and physicist. The following is a quote from the author last year:

“I am now working on an old project, a new biography of David Bohm. This project was first thought of almost twenty years ago when Basil Hiley, Bohm’s long-time assistant, dissatisfied with Bohm’s biography by F. David Peat suggested I write a second biography. Hiley was dissatisfied because the biography did not pay enough attention to Bohm’s scientific ideas, instead it had focused too much on the details of Bohm’s personal life. We met each other at the University of São Paulo at a workshop dedicated to David Bohm and with Michel Paty we were both lunching at the Physics Institute when the suggestion was made. At that time the idea did not grab me as I had other plans at the time. I love reading biographies but I also feared writing one due to the difficulties intrinsic to this kind of historical work. Then in 2015 when my quantum Dissidents was published I was approached by the publisher to write a biography of one of these dissidents. I decided the time was ripe for the challenge and Bohm was the natural candidate.”

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