Bernard d'Espagnat

Bernard d'Espagnat
Born (1921-08-22)22 August 1921
Fourmagnac, Midi-Pyrénées, France
Died 1 August 2015(2015-08-01) (aged 93)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Fields Physics
Institutions Sorbonne
Alma mater Sorbonne
Doctoral advisor Louis de Broglie
Doctoral students Mary K. Gaillard
Notable awards Templeton Prize (2009)

Bernard d'Espagnat (22 August 1921 – 1 August 2015) was a French theoretical physicist, philosopher of science, and author, best known for his work on the nature of reality.[1][2]

Quote: "The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment."[3]

Early life

d’Espagnat was born on August 22, 1921 in Fourmagnac, France, but spent most of his early years in Paris, where his father, a post-impressionist painter, and mother imbued him with a love of classic literature and the arts. Attending some of the finest schools in Paris, he was drawn to the humanities, especially philosophy. Despite his love of philosophy, d’Espagnat focused on science and mathematics, believing that advances in philosophy would require the knowledge and practice of contemporary science.

In 1939, as d’Espagnat made plans to enter the Ecole Polytechnique, World War II put his education on hold.[4]

Education and career

D'Espagnat obtained his Ph.D. from the Sorbonne at the Institut Henri Poincaré under the guidance of Louis de Broglie. He was a researcher at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique CNRS, 1947-57. During this period he also worked with Enrico Fermi in Chicago, 1951–52, and on a research project led by Niels Bohr at the Institute in Copenhagen, 1953-54. He then pursued his scientific career as the first theoretical physicist, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, 1954-59.[5][6]

From 1959 until his retirement in 1987, D'Espagnat was a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne University. He was director of the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics and Elementary Particles at the University of Paris XI (Orsay), 1980-87. He was a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin in 1977, and at the University of California - Santa Barbara in 1984.

He has been a member of the Brussels International Academy of the Philosophy of Science since 1975, and of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences since 1996. His experiments with Bell's inequalities to further his concept of veiled reality won the attention of the John Templeton Foundation. D'Espagnat became the 2009 Templeton Prize winner in March for his "work which acknowledges that science cannot fully explain 'the nature of being.'"[7][8]

Philosophical outlook

D’Espagnat remained troubled by the scant attention most physicists paid to the interpretational questions raised by quantum mechanics. His first book, Conceptions of Contemporary Physics (1965), asked these questions and sketched possible resolutions, underscoring his insistence that scientists face the issues raised by their own pursuits.

Subsequently, d’Espagnat was an early interpreter of the deep philosophical significance of experimental research agendas in quantum physics. In his 1979 Scientific American article, “The Quantum Theory and Reality,” and best-selling 1979 book, À la recherche du réel, le regard d’un physicien (In Search of Reality, the Outlook of a Physicist), he encouraged physicists and philosophers to think afresh about questions long considered marginal but which today serve as the foundation for new fields of research into the nature of reality.[4]

In Le réel voilé, analyse des concepts quantiques (Veiled Reality, An Analysis of Present-Day Quantum Mechanical Concepts), d’Espagnat coined the term “veiled reality” and explained why significant experiments over the past decade had not restored conventional realism. On Physics and Philosophy (published in France in 2002 as Traité de physique et de philosophie) was hailed as “surely the most complete book to have been written on this subject and one likely to last a long time…” by Roland Omnès. His most recent book is Candide et le physicien (Candide and the Physicist), written with Claude Saliceti and published in 2008, a layperson’s guide that answers 50 questions which pinpoint and correct preconceived ideas of contemporary physics and examine the many conceptual and philosophical changes those ideas reveal.[4]

Books by d'Espagnat


  1. "LE CARNET DU JOUR" (PDF). lefigaro. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  2. Bernard d’Espagnat, physicist - obituary
  3. D'Espagnat, Bernard, "The Quantum Theory and Reality," Scientific American, Nov. 1979.
  4. 1 2 3 BioDetails from John Templeton Foundation
  5. Perret, Florent. "Archives of Theory Division and Theory Group (Copenhagen)". CERN Scientific Information Service: Archives. CERN.
  6. "Faces and places: Jacques Prentki 1920–2009". CERN Courier. 50 (2): 35. March 2010.
  7. AP, "French physicist wins $1.4 million religion prize," The Washington Times, Mar. 2009.
  8. "Templeton prize: Current winner, 2009". Archived from the original on 2009-03-19. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
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