ciência e espiritualidade: bernard d´espagnat

20/03/2009

PARIS, MARCH 16 – Bernard d’Espagnat, a French physicist and philosopher of science whose explorations of the philosophical implications of quantum physics have opened new vistas on the definition of reality and the potential limits of knowable science, has won the 2009 Templeton Prize.

D’Espagnat, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris-Sud, also explored the philosophical importance of these new physics-based insights into the nature of reality. Much of his early work on the subject centers on what he calls “veiled reality,” a hidden yet unifying domain beneath what we perceive as time, space, matter, and energy – concepts challenged by quantum physics as possibly mere appearances. Since then, his writings and lectures on fundamental questions such as “What deep insights does science reveal about the nature of reality?” have provoked debate among scientists and philosophers.

The Templeton Prize was announced today at a news conference at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris by the John Templeton Foundation, which has awarded the prize since 1973. The Prize, valued at one million pounds sterling (approximately $1.42 million or €1.12 million), is the world’s largest annual award given to an individual.

D’Espagnat has written and lectured extensively on the philosophical significance of the universal truths of quantum mechanics. He notes, however, that quantum physics merely predicts observational results. As far as describing reality, it suggests that not only our plain, everyday concepts of objects but also our scientific concepts refer only to phenomena – that is, to mere appearances common to all.

Still, d’Espagnat warns, experiments often falsify theories and so there must exist, beyond mere appearances, something that resists us and lies beyond the phenomena, a “veiled reality” that science does not describe but only glimpses uncertainly. In turn, contrary to those who claim that matter is the only reality, the possibility that other means, including spirituality, may also provide a window on ultimate reality cannot be ruled out, d’Espagnat insists, by cogent scientific arguments. Although he concedes the theological implications of the term “veiled reality,” he guards against using it as justification for specific religious doctrines which can be falsified by reason and fact.

In his nomination of d’Espagnat for the Templeton Prize, Nidhal Guessoum, Chair of Physics at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, wrote, “He has constructed a coherent body of work which shows why it is credible that the human mind is capable of perceiving deeper realities.”

These perceptions offer, d’Espagnat has said, “the possibility that the things we observe may be tentatively interpreted as signs providing us with some perhaps not entirely misleading glimpses of a higher reality and, therefore, that higher forms of spirituality are fully compatible with what seems to emerge from contemporary physics.”

In a statement prepared for the news conference, d’Espagnat pointed out that since science cannot tell us anything certain about the nature of being, clearly it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not. “Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated,” he said. “On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.”

D’Espagnat stressed the role of science in grasping empirical reality, that is, the reality of experience or observation. He went on, however, to note that other methods of insight, including the arts, provide windows on understanding the true realities that lie behind things, what he described as “the ground of things.” “Artistic emotions essentially imply the impression of a mysterious realm which we may merely catch a glimpse of,” he said. “Science and only science yields true knowledge. On the other hand, concerning the ground of things, science has no such privilege.”

The Templeton Prize each year honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. Created by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. The monetary value of the prize is set always to exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore Templeton’s belief that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors.

John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., Chairman and President of the John Templeton Foundation and son of Sir John, notes that d’Espagnat has consistently employed the most rigorous scientific standards to expand the potential of what science may tell us far beyond the laboratory. “Instead of simply measuring the limits of quantum physics,” he said, “he has explored the unlimited, the openings that new scientific discoveries offer in pure knowledge and in questions that go to the very heart of our existence and humanity.”

The 2009 Templeton Prize will be officially awarded to d’Espagnat by HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, May 5th.

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