a research practice working at the intersection of architecture, technology, art and ecological pedagogy

What does ‘rheomode’ mean?

There has been a strand of process based philosophical thinking – including Hegel, Marx and Engels, Whitehead, and more recently cybernetics-influenced thinkers such as Gregory Bateson and Evan Thompson – which describes a dynamic systems materialism. As the neurophenomenologist Evan Thompson so clearly describes, in such a model,

“[E]verything is process all the way ‘down’ and all the way ‘up’, and processes are irreducibly relational – they exist only in patterns, networks, organisations, configurations, or webs.. In the process view, ‘up’ and ‘down’ are context-relative terms used to describe phenomena of various scales and complexity. There is no base level of elementary entities to serve as the ultimate ‘emergent base’ on which to ground everything. Phenomena at all scales are not entities but relatively stable processes, and since processes achieve stability at different levels of complexity, while still interacting with processes at other levels, all are equally real and none has absolute ontological primacy.”

(Evan Thompson, Mind in Life – Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007) p. 440-1)

These thinkers have argued that the attempt to think in terms of processes of becoming, rather than solely in terms of objects and being (as we tend to do) is not just an important task for personal, political and ecological reasons. It is also a more realistic metaphysical basis for grasping the nature of reality. The dialectical quantum physicist, David Bohm – who stated that reality is “more like quantum organism than quantum mechanics” – has suggested that

“the notion of a permanent object with well defined properties can no longer be taken as basic in physics … Rather, it is necessary to begin with the event as a basic concept, and later to arrive at the object as a continuing structure of related and ordered events.”

(David J. Bohm, Problems in the basic concepts of physics: An inaugural lecture delivered at Birkbeck College 1963 (London: Birkbeck/J W Ruddock and Sons, 1963), p.6.)

Bohm argued that our language was far too object oriented, or noun based, and argued that this was making us see a world of static objects instead of dynamic processes. In Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Bohm asks the reader to consider what is implied in the statement ‘it is raining’. He asks “where is the ‘It’ that would, according to the sentence, be ‘the rainer that is doing the raining’?”

Bohm concludes that “clearly, it would be more accurate to say that ‘rain is going on’.”

He goes on to argue that the same is true for observers and objects, in that “instead of saying ‘an observer looks at an object,’ we can more appropriately say, ‘observation is going on, in an undivided movement involving those abstractions customarily called ‘the human being’ and ‘the object he is looking at’.’”

For Bohm as we shall see, the question of shifting focus from objects to processes was a critical first step in resolving not just the problems of physics, but also the broader environmental crisis that he – in ways very similar to Bateson – saw as fundamentally connected to these bigger epistemological errors in the ecology of human cognition.

Bohm tried to develop an experimental approach to language – a “new mode” of using existing languages – which he called the rheomode – from the Greek ‘rheo-’ to flow. This approach was based upon his thesis that it might be possible for “the syntax and grammatical form of language to be changed so as to give a basic role to the verb rather than the noun?”

Bohm’s joint work with David Peat developed new conceptions of order and creativity that had as much to do with aesthetics as they did with science. In my work I try extend this line of thinking, and suggest that new rheomodic approaches can be found within some art and design based research, specifically the series of experimental projects associated with the work of neocyberneticians Gregory Bateson, Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask. In his recent book The Cybernetic Brain, Andrew Pickering argues that in this work “cybernetics drew back the veil the modern sciences cast over the performative aspects of the world, including our own being” and through “hylozoic wonder” and “nomadic science” staged a “a vision of a world.. in which reality is always ‘in the making’.”

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  1. […] about process. We communicate with an object-based language. David invented a thing called “rheomode“—language in which we speak to each other in a flowing mode. There are some ancient languages […]

  2. […] about process. We communicate with an object-based language. David invented a thing called “rheomode“—language in which we speak to each other in a flowing mode. There are some ancient […]


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