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Askloster Symposia – Archive Trust for Research in Mathematical Sciences and Philosophy

Askloster Symposia

Introduction and some history

The annual Åskloster Meetings grew from an idea of the late David Bohm who wished to find or create a forum in which scientists, mathematicians and philosophers could meet to explore radically new ideas together in a relaxed atmosphere, free from the conventional constraints of formal grant-driven conferences where people seem to come, often not so much with a desire to discuss and communicate, as to exhibit their individual prowess and the importance of their own ideas.

Georg WikmanDavid Bohm was fortunate to know a very unusual and striking personality : a visionary and energetic Swedish entrepreneur named Georg Wikman. Georg Wikman was a frustrated mathematician who had left his academic career for the commercial world : partly because he realised that he could not live on an academic’s salary; partly because he wanted the freedom and the resources to pursue his mathematical and scientific research – and the very broad vision, which he shared with David Bohm, of the wider philosophical context – and cultural significance – of fundamental scientific ideas, in particular that of Process.

Georg recognised that such a pursuit would be more fruitful outside the treadmill of current academic life, with its “publish or perish” imperatives, insecurity, struggles for tenure, inflexible disciplinary boundaries and pressures towards institutional and political conformism.  Indeed, from the perspective of a future historian of science, Georg Wikman’s name may well stand out as having been one of the first to recognise – and act on – the realisation that in the 21st Century, the pursuit of the most profound ideas in mathematics and science would increasingly – as once before, in the Age of Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz and Newton – be the work of individual savants who had regained the necessary time and freedom for reflection by operating in informal networks outside the framework of large institutions such as University Departments and Research Labs, or the clutches of their administrators.

Georg Wikman

With a fellow student, Georg Wikman  set up The Swedish Herbal Institute in Goteborg and developed it into a successful and flourishing enterprise. It is through Georg’s generosity and vision that the Åskloster Meetings have come into being and flourished.  Georg organised these gatherings in the beautiful surroundings of his country house in Åskloster, which is about 40 kilometers south of Goteborg, near the very tranquil and attractive coastal resort of  Varberg , with its ancient fortress .

One of the first Meetings of note occurred in the Winter of 1989-90 just after the Velvet  Revolution had taken place in Prague.  Georg brought together a group of academics who had been banned from holding positions in The Charles University under the former communist regime and who had been in the forefront of the Movement for Civic Rights and then the eventual Revolution.  The group included Ivan Havel, the brother of the then new Czechoslovak President, Vaclav Havel, Ivan’s wife Dasha, who was the Director of The Civic Forum Foundation, and Zdenek Neuberger, a philosopher-biologist.  Also at the meeting were members of The Dialogue Group , which David Bohm had established in London.

Georg Wikman

There was an amazing creative energy at this meeting enhanced, no doubt, by the euphoria of the Czech participants, filled with the sense of a long-awaited re-awakening to political and cultural freedom and civic and national dignity in one of the great spritual nerve-centres of Europe and flushed  by the success of throwing off, almost bloodlessly, but nonetheless courageously, the shackles of a repressive regime.

David Bohm very much appreciated that energy and spirit. He had always encouraged his students and his colleagues to look at physics and mathematics in a broad philosophical context. Yes, absolutely  they must master the rigorous techniques and mathematical formalism of their chosen discipline, but they must not become slaves to these techniques or become trapped by the formalism.  The question of the significance of this formalism for our understanding of the nature of reality and our place within nature was what was of paramount importance.  The term “philosophy” was not to be treated as equivalent to “empty speculation” or employed as an insult against anyone trying something radically new.

Georg Wikman

Without speculation nothing new was likely to emerge except, perhaps, by some fortunate accidental juggling with mathematical recipes unguided by deeper understanding..  This attitude was not an endorsement of idle speculation for its own sake, but rather of imaginative speculation setting out from a firm grasp of existing theory and its mathematical representation, that aimed at a deeper conceptual understanding of the processes of nature, an understanding that could not be derived simply from formal manipulations of the mathematical structures, nor by staying within the conventional wisdom.

Of course with freedom comes the danger of chaos and confusion. David Bohm was always adamant that it must be exercised with care, intellectual honesty and mutual respect. These were qualities which he exemplified himself and helped to engender in others. David Bohm was passionate in wanting to create the conditions for creativity to flourish.  He would entertain and explore many ideas normally dismissed as “heresy”.  He lived his life on the cutting edge as illustrated by his experiences under McCarthyism and the boldness of his causal interpretation of quantum mechanics.  He was never inclined to submit tamely to the Zeitgeist, whether in Physics or any other part of life. To allow these controversial ideas to develop, he saw that there must be an opportunity for like-minded people to meet and discuss new ideas, robustly and rigorously, but in an atmosphere of openness and  without prejudicial constraints. Georg Wikman provided the means to this end, as well as himself contibuting richly to the spirit and impulse behind it.

After David Bohm died in 1994,  Georg Wikman determined to keep the spirit of his work and ideas alive and the result has been the development of a series of Meetings designed to explore fundamental questions in Mathematics Physics and Philosophy in their interrelationship, and in the spirit of imaginative but thoroughly informed speculation that David Bohm inspired.

A complete video and audio record of the Meetings has been made. You can access and watch and listen to these recordings in the Meetings Archive.

Askloster Meetings Archive

After David Bohm died in 1994, Georg Wikman determined to keep the spirit of his work and ideas alive and the result has been the development of a series of Meetings designed to explore fundamental questions in Mathematics Physics and Philosophy in their interrelationship, and in the spirit of imaginative but thoroughly informed speculation that David Bohm inspired.

The first Meeting of 2004 was a small pioneering meeting exploring the feasibility of such gatherings. The participants enjoyed the freedom and found the atmosphere very stimulating.

Further Meetings have taken place in each successive year . It is the intention to keep the numbers participating small, to between ten and fifteen. This allows ample time for discussions and helps ensure successful communication between all the participants. Naturally radical ideas are encouraged, but it has been found helpful to have a guiding theme for each Meeting in mind, a theme usually determined by the choice of the participants themselves.

  • 2004: Process, Order and Quantum Theory
  • 2005: New Perspectives on Space and Time
  • 2006: Category Theory, Non-commutative Geometry and Quantum Theory
  • 2007: Roads to Quantum Reality
  • 2008: Mathematical Aspects of Quantum Theory and Relativity: Novel Approaches to the Foundations of Physics
  • 2009: Novel Mathematical Structures in Physics
  • 2010: Notions of Order and Structure: The Larger Legacy of David Bohm to 21st Century Physics

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