Quantum Physicist Wins $1.4M Templeton Prize For Work on "Veiled Reality"

By Eliza Strickland | March 16, 2009 5:18 pm

Templeton winnerFrench physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has won the annual Templeton Prize with its purse of $1.4 million; the prize is often given to scientists who find common ground between religion and science. Professor d’Espagnat, 87, worked with great luminaries of quantum physics but went on to address the philosophical questions that the field poses [BBC News]. 

Physicists may be more open to seeing a higher power behind the great mysteries of the universe than scientists in other disciplines: Including Dr. d’Espagnat, five of the past 10 Templeton winners have been physicists or have had strong connections to the discipline [The Christian Science Monitor]. 

The thrust of d’Espagnat’s work was on experimental tests of Bell’s theorem. The theorem states that either quantum mechanics is a complete description of the world or that if there is some reality beneath quantum mechanics, it must be nonlocal – that is, things can influence one another instantaneously regardless of how much space stretches between them, violating Einstein’s insistence that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light [New Scientist]. Quantum mechanics describes such bizarre phenomena as quantum teleportation, in which two “entangled” particles reflect each other’s properties, although the information couldn’t travel between them by any conventional means. D’Espagnat argues that such experiments show that quantum mechanics only gives us a glimpse of a “veiled reality” that is beyond our comprehension.

“Quantum mechanics introduced another point of view, which consists essentially that the aim of science is not to describe ultimate reality as it really is,” d’Espagnat recounted by phone Friday from Paris. “Rather, it is to make account of reality as it appears to us, accounting for the limitations of our own mind and our own sensibilities” [The Christian Science Monitor]. D’Espagnat, a Catholic, says that leaves open the possibility that a greater power is involved in what he sees as a deeper level of reality. “I would accept calling it God or divine or Godhead but with the restriction that it cannot be conceptualised for the very reason that this ultimate reality is beyond any concept that we can construct” [Times Online], says D’Espagnat.

Related Content:
Cosmic Variance: In Bed With Templeton questions political spending by John Templeton, Jr.
Cosmic Variance: Templeton and Skeptics discusses a conference on science and religion
80beats: Quantum Teleportation Is a Go!
80beats: Quantum Cryptography Takes a Step Towards Mainstream Use
80beats: Harnessing Quantum Weirdness to Make Spy-Proof Email

Image: Templeton Foundation

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
ADVERTISEMENT
  • TDWP

    Every time something is discovered that cannot be explained someone credits it to “God” or a “Supreme Being” it seems.

  • Bob Snyder

    Hmmm… Bernard d’Espagnat is the modern day Rene Descartes.

  • stubee

    Sounds like he’d be a perfect guest for Oprah. She could invite Deepak Chopra and Dr. Oz and they could discuss quantum physics.

  • http://prem82.blogspot.com Prem

    Is this prize intended to promote the religion? rather than the science?
    I agree with TDWP in the previous comment. Very few brilliant minds are working to unfold the universe’s secrets & the rest attribute to GOD?

  • http://Discover Phinneus

    Unless we subscribe to the multiverse theory, as many brilliant minds are now telling us, our universe is ultimately created to support our form of physical being in opposition to all odds. We are then in reality in the Goldilocks zone!

  • Curt Russell

    An open mind can accept all possibilities. Every time an atheist encounters something that cannot be explained, they rule out “God” or a “Supreme Being” with no scientific evidence to support that premise while ignoring scientific and historic evidence to the contrary that is, at a minimum, worth equal consideration. Perhaps science poses answers to questions we all ponder while religion poses answers to question we would rather avoid.

  • Jumblepudding

    I Love the clip on youtube where Richard Dawkins, “Darwin’s rottweiler” admits to the vagaries of quantum physics, and it is presented as some kind of pandora’s box opening for all forms of wishful God-making. Whether it be ego, or fear of dying, or some combination of both, if you need to probe scientific thinking for weak spots to validate your spirituality, you doth protest too much. Maybe they should have a new award, the “soothing humanity’s innate fear of death” prize.

  • Gnomon

    I suspect that the intelligent design that some find in Nature is simply a reflection of their own intelligence…or lack of it. In addition, we should be carefull not to equate Spirituality with a god, gods or Religion. The opposite generally turn out to be the case.

  • Jo

    Curt, an atheist, by definition, does not attribute anything to a higher power. Science, on the other hand, is secular and says nothing about a higher power. You cannot say that one rejects an explanation involving a higher power “with no scientific evidence to support that premise” because higher powers and supernatural causes are not scientific explanations to begin with. We can’t give it equal consideration. We can’t give it consideration at all. This is not being close-minded — as a scientific theory, it is useless.

    Accepting all possibilities is fine. That’s what a good agnostic does. But at some point, we need to be practical about it, or we’ll get nowhere.

  • zach

    “…while ignoring scientific and historic evidence to the contrary that is, at a minimum, worth equal consideration.” So you claim to have scientific evidence for God? Congratulations Curt, you are the most important person who has ever lived. Please, publish your findings as soon as you can.

  • http://jimvanrite.net Jame Van Rite

    In a recent article on this subject in a science magazine, I read that some physicist say that if a daemon were losed within the Universe to seek out all that there is to know about this reality, it would be unsuccessful for the reason that you cannot know all that there is about a reality from inside of it.

    The issue of non-locality was brougt up in regards to whether Instein got it wrong (the title was something like “did Instein get it wrong”. In other words can these instantaneous actions really happen across light years, and if so just what is locality.

    When we humansns observe an entangled pair and immediatly cause a determination of spin for one electron, and thus the other no matter where it is, are we not in the position of gods, determing the fate of that tiny portion of the universe. “Made in the image of God” says the Bible…..so why would we not show some of him in how we effect things.

    In that same article, I noted the idea of our percetion of reality, espicially as experiencing three dimensions and time as what is actually real; while it is just possible that these three dimensions or 4 with space time, are only an illusion….are we really on a two dimensional Membrane, or in a mulitdimensional space.

    Jim Van Rite

  • Kory

    Did anyone actually read what d’Espagnat had to say? Just by looking through the brief synopsis presented in this article, people seem to be presuming what his point is.

    “I would accept calling it God or divine or Godhead but with the restriction that it cannot be conceptualised for the very reason that this ultimate reality is beyond any concept that we can construct”

    I think people are taking quotes that like out of context. Quantum mechanics will bring us to the point where, as d’Espagnat states, it will be impossible for us to comprehend. For example, Quantum Entanglement has to work through some process that can be explained, it doesn’t happen through magic – but perhaps our ability to understand what is going on behind the scenes is lacking. A cat knows that if it jumps off a building, it’s going to fall, but try to get a cat to build a flying machine, or to explain what’s going on mathematically.

    It’s possible that explaining the quantum universe perfectly requires a level of consciousness that we haven’t yet achieved. It’s ignorant to assume that humanity in it’s current state is all knowing. As far as the cat knows, it’s all knowing, but it can’t calculate complex mathematical problems, can it? The analogy isn’t perfect, but then it’s hard to make analogies about things that are beyond our comprehension. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, that there might be some things out there like that. It’s the workings of the universe beyond what we’re able to see or understand that can be referred to as ‘God,’ not as an actuall all powerful being who deliberately influences the shapings of the universe, but as a level of existance beyond what is definable by our current grasp of reality.

  • http://teleprestexan.blogspot.com/ Stephen Daugherty

    I think if you think about it for a moment, there’s some value in his approach, because it puts the emphasis on the limitations of the human mind and human methods, which is really what science is all about dealing with.

    If we were perfect at dealing cognitively with the environment, we would not need scientific methods to to clear away potential explanations. We’d just get it right the first time.

    Intelligent Design advocates take an approach that tries to push God into the framework by saying we can puzzle out what was just randomly allowed to happen, and what is so improbable that it requires God’s hand. But their primary error is that it’s difficult to establish what is likely or unlikely if you do not know all things. Worse, they insist upon the notion that God’s design itself, created by a being able to perfectly understand all the complexities individuals struggle to understand just parts of imperfectly, is distinguishable from nature to folks like us.

    If you believe in a Christian-Style God who created everything, you run into what can only be termed a figure-ground problem: how do you tell one creation from another. Furthermore, if we’re dealing with a perfect God, why the need for the do-over? A perfect God, we can reason, would be capable of engineering the world so that these things would come about spontaneously from the complex processes of nature itself.

    To get around such questions, ID advocates take the position that the scientific doctrine of natural materialism, that is trying to explain nature without positing supernatural explanations, is somehow wrong, and needs to be superceded by ID theory’s supernatural framework.

    But why do we stick with natural materialism in the first place?

    There’s one simple reason: it’s what we’re competent to deal with. I can philosophize about God’s role in the universe, but I’m not capable of creating an experiment that can distinguish the right or wrong of my position in any fashion beyond that of oh-so fallible rhetoric. Real scientists, dealing with what they deal with can design observations and experiments to look for the signs of whether one theory approximates reality or diverges from it. They can say “this means that A must be true, rather than B.”, and others can cross check this position.

    We deal with the world we can deal with, and leave the rest to priests and philosophers.

  • Kran Kreed

    Isn’t Godhead that band that sang that song that was so good? I loved Godhead. Horray for physics!

  • Curt H.

    We deal with the world we can deal with because we must. Haven’t we always? Would we be here if we didn’t? To leave the rest–if there is any–to priests and philosophers, includes us. Ekart said something to the effect that there is no supernatural, just some things that are more natural than others. This, at least, suggests some distinguishable differrence.

    Through life I have found many things beyond my capability, or perhaps beyond my capacity to understand. Is that experiencing reality or supereality? It all seems the same to me, and I deal with either and both because I must.

  • Tami

    “I would accept calling it God or divine or Godhead but with the restriction that it cannot be conceptualised for the very reason that this ultimate reality is beyond any concept that we can construct”

    The Buddha said the same thing over 2500 years ago, and he didn’t need a particle accelerator to realize that truth.

    The ultimate reality cannot be conceptualised, but it CAN be REALIZED. Read the Sutras, read “I Am That”, or any of the hundreds of books that point the way. It’s no secret that we CAN realize the ultimate reality!

  • CynthiaLynn

    Vision
    O, my God, don’t let my eyes hinder my vision. Selah

    Everything is opposite.
    We see the door and wall and think they are solid.
    We don’t ‘see’ the spirit, and so, think it intangible.
    Lies.
    Our eyes deceive us.
    Walk in the Spirit & not in the flesh.
    As we walk in His Spirit, we are tangible;
    the walls are not!
    We are touched.
    He is touched.
    It is the world that is untouched.
    My God, help me to see with your eyes.
    Don’t let me be blinded by mine.

  • ErikDonovan

    I do agree with the theory of a “veiled reality” brought on by something that our minds cannot comprehend, yet I’ve understood this for a good 4 years. To say such things, you do not need to be granted a 1.4 mill dollar prize, or even open a physics textbook. I understand that he may have “proved” the existence of this omnipresent, faux thought process, but if you look at Vedic Upanishads, you can read exactly the same thing. It is a presence of an undescribed force known as Maya. I think it is also Buddhist?

    Maybe instead of just searching into one religion, he should take many into consideration.

  • Jill

    Why does it matter what we call it? God is just a name that many of us are familiar with that we use to describe an intuitive experience of something that has no correlation in the physical world. The physical world has many limitations that the spiritual world does not. I think many people get so upset about the idea of a God or Supreme Being because of negative experiences in their life connected to religion. Spiritual does not = religious. Religion is how we try to make sense of things that don’t fit neatly into the physical world. Unfortunately, religion is often used for control through fear, shame & threat and does much harm. But in other instances it does much good & helps many people. Science is wonderful but it is not everything. The spiritual side of existence is just as real as the physical side. Because of life experiences, many people understand this but cannot explain it so they don’t talk about it. Others talk about it but sometimes it gets embellished or distorted to the point of becoming like a religion itself. Some even take it into woo woo land & that freaks out many who then completely dismiss spirituality. Hopefully, someday there will be a bridge between the two worlds and maybe it will even come through science. Until then, Peace & Love to All…. Each Day is a Gift, That’s why its Called the Present.

  • http://Discover Tony

    To TDWP……which is ABSOLUTELY NOT ONE OUNCE DIFFERENT than YOU always saying NOT ……..Now is it ????????

  • CynthiaLynn

    I could struggle with the 1.4 million dollar award d’Espagnat received. However, I think everyone ‘knows’ there is something in between and inside of every molecule of this universe that is beyond our capacity to explain. (I personally believe, and call that ‘substance’ God.) If you don’t know that there are things in this world beyond your comprehension, you are ignorant. (God grants wisdom. Ask Him for some.)

    If d’Espagnat was able to bridge the gap between what we ‘know in our heart’ and what can be scientifically proven then he has done much more than the average joe. Bravo for him. He deserves his reward.

    Next time you see it snow, instead of looking at the snowflake, look at everything around it. That is God. He is everywhere. He’s also in the snowflake. But He is not the snowflake. He is also in the wind. But he is not the wind. There is no one Word you can use to describe the undescribable (except Jesus). With many words you can attempt to. But wisdom says: Great is the mystery of God. Who can attain to it?

    Scientists who are attempting to bridge the gap between science and the unexplainable are noteworthy. Those who scoff at their efforts, are not. That’s why d’Espagnat won the award. Scoffers are just jealous.

  • CynthiaLynn

    In January 1997, Lamber Dolphin, a physicist, wrote “What holds the universe together?” This can be found on the web. Search ‘The Vacuum: Much ado about Nothing.’ It’s refreshing to see educated intelligence believing in God.

  • CynthiaLynn

    Sorry. Lambert Dolphin.

  • http://Discover Tony

    If “The fear of Death” is the only reason for accepting GOD then what is the reason for denying HIM ??? Fear of accountability ??? Perhaps if you could show me one piece of “Scientific Evidence”……. or the entire accumulated record for that matter……. that precludes or negates the posible underlying existance of GOD ???? The difference between our two positions is that the “NO GOD” one has NO MORAL FOUNDATION…..NO ULTIMATE TRUTH…….NO HOPE FOR ANYTHING BEYOND ORGANIC DECAY……. NO REASON BEYOND A KINDLY HEART TO TREAT OTHERS JUSTLY……. If, on the other hand, there IS a GOD,then HE IS the inventor and creator of ALL of the science that we have learned and can see and of ALL that we can not yet understand…..and it ALL HAS A PURPOSE and a REASON and I AM ACCOUNTABLE !!!!! Stop and think about it….if we are BOTH WRONG what is the difference in the way we chose to live ???? DEATH will be EXACTLY THE SAME and yet LIFE for ME will have been FULL of HOPE and ACCOUNTABILITY to someone higher than myself who insists I treat others JUSTLY and COMANDS that I LOVE WITH DEFERENCE to others !!!! If we are both wrong which life is best ???? even if just I AM WRONG ??? Even just YOU ARE WRONG ????

  • CynthiaLynn

    There is scientific evidence that ‘nothing can come out of nothing.’ That proves creation. Can anyone share with me even one shred of scientific evidence that disproves God’s existence?

  • FILTHpig

    Sorry, it’s “SOMETHING can come out of nothing”. Also, being that religion predates science, let’s see some proof that God DOES exist. And don’t go point to a tree and say “see what I mean”. There is no “proof” either way. Religion is just an excuse for people to think they are somehow better than the the rest of us. That God exists or not isn’t the point. The point is most people are self-righteous, hypocritical elitists (see Tony) and religion seems to promote those qualities in society.

  • Rod Lloyd

    Trika Shaivite philosophy is one of the most advanced Hindu philosophies and is totally at ease with these sort of quantum findings. It maintains that the “Principle of Awareness” is the Primal Field not produced by matter and mind, but out of which, matter and mind is organised and arises. This it symbolises richly in a religious manner. It postulates that our own core of awareness is but a connection to that Great Primal Eternal Awareness by which existence, evolution and devolution is experienced. “God” exists but not in the Western delimited form. Quantum science is one modern portal of faith for me.

  • CynthiaLynn

    No, Filthpig, you are wrong. It is ‘Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit.’ Translation: Out of nothing nothing comes. We are talking about science right now. Try to keep up. Science says: Out of nothing, nothing comes. This is not religion. Look it up before you reply.

    Furthermore, whether most people are self-righteous or not has nothing to do with science Filthpig. But, Tony is right on. Tony rocks!

  • http://Discover Tony

    To Filth That is quite a group you put me in to for no more than I wrote…….I think maybe you have saddled me to someone elses horse……YOU are right GOD can’t be PROVEN one way or the other…….just as most of what we call science now that is truely only theory…..accepted perhaps but unproven because it can’t be repeated……and even if it weren’t it couldn’t negate a Creator…… FAITH is a more wonderful way to live !!!!!!! I BELIEVE !!!!!! Thank You Cyntia !! :-)

  • CynthiaLynn

    You are welcome Tony. Keep the Faith. It’s gonna be worth it.

  • spha-odon

    Choice, Not Chance
    The missing link has made many think,
    And some write it down with pen and ink —
    They pass their word along
    In structured prose and lyric song.
    They’ve assumptions of the monkey mind
    As being a most enlightened kind
    That needs be listened to
    So all its monkey thoughts we can review.
    Let us consider on this path
    A most profound aftermath–
    The effect upon the youthful mind,
    To permit this “double bind.”
    About this missing link
    Being how we look, not how we think,
    These beastly minds that in us dwell
    Open wide the gates of hell.
    But, perhaps as regressed through hypnotic trance,
    One may find his preternatural stance
    To have been a choice and not a chance
    Of evolutionary circumstance.
    022497

  • http://Discover Tony

    I think it is interesting to note that the REAL SCIENTIST in this conversation is the one who thinks there must be a creator…. as do many of his kind……. I myself am a lowly farm equipment mechanic and have been for 30 years……I have as much business arguing quantum mechanics as a pigmy tribesman from the Amazon jungle has building a nuclear power plant…….though I’m pretty certain I couldn’t last long where he lives !! I have read and studied all my life though and have come to realize that I am either an accidental animal, the pruduct of a gazillion to one shot occurance in the universe, and dependent pretty much on that same set of odds for my continued existence, or the beneficiary of a Creator who is up to something that is up not entirely clear to me. On the one hand my only purpose is to compete for all I need and want…..in which case I must admit sex would be my highest motivation…. OR I am responsible to a Maker that I would kind of like to get to know …..the odds are too much for me….. and the end too hopeless…… if anyone gets the chance to question those odds watch Rob Bells video “Everything is Spiritual” even if you are a confirmed atheist the science is pretty astounding !!

  • Richard Warwick

    Trying to find God in the physical universe is like trying to rob Fort Knox. Still, if it’s worth a million I hope he has fun with it for his few remaining years.

  • Jen

    Stephen wrote, “Intelligent Design advocates take an approach that tries to push God into the framework by saying we can puzzle out what was just randomly allowed to happen, and what is so improbable that it requires God’s hand…”

    Intelligent Design advocates may seem to “push God” into every scientific occurrence that does not make sense, but don’t those who refuse to believe in the possibility make the same error by pushing Him out? The scientific process about testing and experimenting tangible things to determine the laws and theories that govern our universe; therefore, one cannot use the argument of science to prove there is no God, just as you cannot prove their is a God. God, or a supreme being or designer, does not fall in the realm of science. It falls in the realm of faith. At times, science may give evidence of intelligent design rather than, for example, random chance, but it doesn’t prove the existence of God, just as figuring out a scientific mystery does not prove God’s nonexistence. If those dealing with something as complex as quantum physics believe that the very nature of it points to a greater being or intelligent design or even God himself, it is a show of that person’s faith that is aroused by science. The two are not mutually exclusive, though neither can they prove each other.

  • Jen

    P.S. Tony is right on! Watch Rob Bell’s video!

  • Josh

    The “God of the Gaps” argument holds as much weight as the garbage I took out this morning.

  • Quincy

    Ah, The Great Debate- is there a God? Why are we so afraid of the existence of supreme being? The alternative to God is as one atheist put it on a radio interview in Canada many years ago,” Our job is to convert sun into soil.” With a job description like that, then my life is like a flashbulb going off in the darkness- just a momentary illumination then nothing. No apparent meaning, no memory.

    Oh, yes, I am a follower of Jesus. And I have asked myself,” Should I discover in my last moment of life that there was no God, would it devastate me?’ My immediate reply was,”No. Even if it was a grand illusion and delusion, following God made life an incredible experience.” And for me, now in my late 50’s, I read as a pastor to people debate the reality of God. ( I remember being younger and not believing in the existence of God. Fortunately for me, He believed in me:) I realize that I can argue no one into belief. That I shall leave to God who has left ample evidence, at least to my poor old mind, that He is real. and yes, there are brilliant Christina minds who can muster subtantial arguments.

    But at the end of the day, one must still ask what the purpose of life has been. To turn sun into soil, or to love, and leave life better than we found it? Whatever we believe about God I hope we will resonate with the second answer. Enjoy the debate for it helps us determine what we believe and what we believe will most truly shape how we live. Quincy

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+