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SCIENCE|RELIGION: Observations of a Scientist upon Science and Reality

In philosophy, science, universe on May 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm

John Templeton FoundationBernard d’Espagnat is a French theoretical physicist and a philosopher of science. He received the Templeton Prize in March this year upon work that shows how science cannot fully explain reality. The Templeton is the largest prize in the world in terms of monetary value and is annually awarded by the Templeton Foundation to acknowledge work that finds a common ground between science and religion and to individuals who reaffirm the spiritual dimension of life.

Bernard d’Espagnat’s major contribution in science is his work on several aspects of quantum mechanics. It was this work which lead him to explore the nature of reality and to question the disregarding attitude many scientists have towards the philosophical questions thrown up by quantum physics.

d’Espagnat’s ideas on the doomed division between science and ‘ultimate reality’

From The Guardian:

“What quantum mechanics tells us, I believe, is surprising to say the least. It tells us that the basic components of objects – the particles, electrons, quarks etc. – cannot be thought of as “self-existent”. The reality that they, and hence all objects, are components of is merely “empirical reality”.

This reality is something that, while not a purely mind-made construct as radical idealism would have it, can be but the picture our mind forces us to form of … Of what ? The only answer I am able to provide is that underlying this empirical reality is a mysterious, non-conceptualisable “ultimate reality”, not embedded in space and (presumably) not in time either.”

From Princeton University Press (In a review of his book On Physics and Philosophy):

d Espagnat's bookHis overall conclusion is that while the physical implications of quantum theory suggest that scientific knowledge will never truly describe mind-independent reality, the notion of such an ultimate reality–one we can never access directly or rationally and which he calls “veiled reality”–remains conceptually necessary nonetheless.

From his Templeton page:

“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.

From the BBC report on the news:

His concept of an ultimate reality – as he terms it, “the ground of things” – is only glimpsed, not explicitly described, by science.

Science, he said, “is aimed not at describing ‘reality as it really is’ but at predicting what will be observed in such-and-such circumstances”.

From the statement delivered by d’Espagnat on the prize ceremony:

At this point I’d like to draw your attention on the fact that, if true, this conception of mine has two significant consequences.

One of them is that if indeed it is our mind that, due to its own structure, carves all objects out of the “ground of things,” obviously we cannot any more picture mind to ourselves as being itself an emanation of (some class of) objects. If the notion “emanation” is here to be kept, we may only claim that mind emanates “from the ground of things.” As we shall immediately see, the difference is far from being a negligible one.

For indeed – and this is nothing else than the second consequence I just mentioned – this “ground of things,” this Real, quite obviously is not a thing. Clearly it is not imbedded in space, and presumably not in time either. Let us call it “Being” if you like. Or “the One,” following
Plotinus.


  1. Surely He is beyond all visions. The Infinite, the Absolute, who is at once Transcendent and Immanent. We know Him by His attributes. And, for what has been mentioned in your post conforms to the reality that we must believe in the ‘gaib’.

  2. Yes, because we can never directly perceive the ONE. The interesting point is that the only way to be able to perceive the ‘ultimate reality’ is to get out from this limited and limiting world! Using Hofstadterian terms, we seem to be stuck in a loop which we cannot get away from. This world is one level we can never cross from here!

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