French physicist d'Espagnat wins prestigious Templeton Prize

Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:58am EDT
 
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - French physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat has won the 2009 Templeton Prize, billed as the world's largest annual award to an individual, for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life.

The Templeton Foundation announced the $1.42 million prize at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on Monday.

Award organizers said his work in quantum physics revealed a reality beyond science that spirituality and art could help to partly grasp.

John Templeton Jr, president of the foundation launched by his late father, said at the ceremony that d'Espagnat, 87, had "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."

Previous winners include Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, United States evangelist Billy Graham and Albanian-born Mother Teresa.

D'Espagnat, a former senior physicist at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva and professor at French and United States universities, argues in his books that modern quantum physics shows that ultimate reality cannot be described.

Classical physics developed by Isaac Newton believes it can describe the world through laws of nature that it knows or will discover. But quantum physics shows that tiny particles defy this logic and can act in indeterminate ways.

D'Espagnat says this points toward a reality beyond the reach of empirical science. The human intuitions in art, music and spirituality can bring us closer to this ultimate reality, but it is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.   Continued...

 
<p>Physicist Bernard d'Espagnat of France is seen during an interview with Reuters in Paris, March 13, 2009. REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>