There is a passage that I could not possibly regard as anything other than intriguing in David Bohm's "Wholeness and the Implicate Order", and I would like to share it with the esteemed readers of this forum. The passage occurs in the chapter "Fragmentation and Wholeness" and goes

"Now, in the East the notion of measure has not played nearly so fundamental a role. Rather, in the prevailing philosophy in the Orient, the immeasurable (i.e. that which cannot be named, described, or understood through any form of reason) is regarded as the primary reality. Thus, in Sanskrit (which has an origin common to the Indo-European language group) there is a word 'matra' meaning 'measure', in the musical sense, which is evidently close to the Greek 'metron'. But then there is another word 'maya' obtained from the same root, which means 'illusion'. This is an extraordinarily significant point. Whereas to Western society, as it derives from the Greeks, measure, with all that this word implies, is the very essence of reality, or at least the key to this essence, in the East measure has now come to be regarded commonly as being in some way false and deceitful. In this view the entire structure and order of forms, proportions, and 'ratios' that present themselves to ordinary perception and reason are regarded as a sort of veil, covering the true reality, which cannot be perceived by the senses and of which nothing can be said or thought."

The word "matra" is मात्रा and the word "maya" is माया.

I just want to say for the record that I have great respect for both views espoused in the above quote. I found it particularly intriguing and hopefully the readers of this forum might have reason to think likewise, if only fractionally. There are many questions which could be made from the above quote, such as:

1) Its accurracy as a true description of Western/Eastern philosophy in the first place.

2) Whether the etymological statements in the quote are accurate.

3) How one might think of this whole idea of a philosophy seemingly opposed to quantisation.

4) And finally of course, how one might even begin to think of a primordial reality about which nothing could be said or thought!

What could one say about the above quote? Thank you very much.

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    Please note that this site is not a "forum", but rather a Q&A (question & answer) site. You can find more details in our FAQ and on the About page. As such, you need to make sure that you actually ask a question, rather than just opening an issue for discussion. You say that "there are many questions which could be made from the above quote", but you don't really ask any of them directly. Please consider using the edit link to make your question more explicit. Apr 26, 2012 at 6:53
  • +1: This is a definite question--- is this quote accurate and does it reconcile with "quantization" (you mean "quantification" not "quantization", they are different concepts). It is by a well known philosopher (Bohm), and there is no reason to modify it. The other references for this are Heisenberg's philosophical writings, influenced by Tagore, and Pauli's "lucid mysticism". The maya notion is not necessarily an indictment of quantification, but of the material world in general.
    – Ron Maimon
    Apr 27, 2012 at 3:08
  • Hey, thanks for the great references. Many physicists seemed to have a mystical bent, like Pauli and the Jungian correspondence. The concept of माया is very mysterious. I read "Uncommon Wisdom" by Fritjof Capra which contains interesting accounts of his conversations with Heisenberg, amongst others.
    – user1539
    Apr 27, 2012 at 6:36
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    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! This is a really interesting subject for sure, but is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to focus this more directly on one of several concerns here? Great questions ask about one really specific thing. Don't forget you can always ask more questions, too :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Apr 28, 2012 at 20:47
  • @JosephWeissman Thank you very much for your kind words and your welcome and sorry for my late response! You're absolutely right, this question is way too open-ended. I'll ask more specific questions in future. Thanks again!
    – user1539
    May 2, 2012 at 7:04

1 Answer 1


What I would say about the above quote is that is is based upon an etymological error.

Māyā and mātrā are based upon two completely different Sanskrit roots.

I certainly hope his physics is based upon more careful research than this.

Attempting to essentialize the differences between "the West" and "the Orient" is a bad idea to begin with, but to do so based upon a spurious etymology seems reckless beyond comprehension.

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    Are you able to offer more information on the two different roots? Apr 26, 2012 at 15:52
  • Thanks for your question, Mozibur. "Matra" is मात्रा . "Maya" is माया . I don't know any Sanskrit, do you?
    – user1539
    Apr 27, 2012 at 0:13
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    I'm still early in my Sanskrit studies, but based on my research: everyone agrees that mātrā is measure, and related to "meter" and all of its cognates. Some older dictionaries (including Monier-Williams) posit that māyā comes from the same root, but most modern works suggest that it comes from "ma-" (not) and "ya-" (that). In other words, a privative and "reality", or "illusion." Apr 27, 2012 at 6:40
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    I think that question ("whether there is a reality that cannot be known by measurement") is a fascinating one-- I just think that dragging a "West vs Orient" argument into it is ill-advised, and then using questionable etymology to back it up is just plain reckless. Apr 27, 2012 at 7:08
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    Totally agree. "West vs Orient" came from Bohm. Anyway I think the worldviews are complementary.
    – user1539
    Apr 27, 2012 at 8:03

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