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Review: Une Incertaine réalité. Le monde quantique, la connaissance et la durée by Bernard d’Espagnat

François Laruelle, trans. Sylvia

from: Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 92nd Year, No. 2 (April-June 1987), pp. 319-20

Bernard d’Espagnat, Une Incertaine réalité. Le monde quantique, la connaissance et la durée.[1] Paris, Gauthier-Villars, 1985. 15.5 x 24, X + 310 p., bibliogr., index.


B. Espagnat's theses are now well known and have not fundamentally varied since À la recherche du réel. Before recalling them succinctly, one must mark that, far from all epistemological artefact, he poses, but as a function of the quantum principle and the difficulties introduced by “Bell’s inequalities”, a specifically philosophical question to the totality of physics: that of the reality to which science is supposed to access. This question is by definition “transcendental” in the large and authentic sense of this word and does not necessarily imply a response in terms of “transcendental realism” which the author precisely critiques here (p. 85 and later). The philosophers will recognize him for recalling them thus to a more important task (rethinking the real, cause and time) than epistemological descriptions and conceptualizations. His response is nuanced and perfect sometimes discharging further from a simple registration of contradictions between macroscopic physics, relativistic and quantum, than from the promotion of a really new problematic. The stake is the realism of physics—the Author maintains it and we should credit him on this point for a “phenomenological” probity and a fidelity to the ultimate requisites of science. But classical and relativistic realism is attacked, by the experimental verification of Bell’s inequalities, on its foundation itself which is the “locality” of phenomena and events in space-time. Thence, before the impossibility despite everything of abandoning reality “in itself” and of veering to phenomenalism, in a “non-local realism”, between a reality independent of man and the reduction of it to phenomena required by science and implicated in its techno-theoretical operations. The Author makes the inventory of impossible attempts at the conciliation of unitary realism and the givens of microphysics. He notes some more recent developments (theories of irreversibility and complexity) that suggest the impossibility of escaping the order of phenomena.

             Philosophers will appreciate the confidence that the Author has in them very regularly, as well as their efforts for liberating the real or Being from operatory schemes of objects and from equations, and retrieving thus, in a nearly Kantian manner, a sense and lieu for liberty, causality, consciousness, art, etc. But they will ask how it is possible to sunder thus in two the real and to render it “uncertain”; of which difference or scission it is about here, and which operates it:  science itself become transcendental subject? A subject sometimes physicist sometimes philosopher ex machina, etc.? It remains to disengage the author’s “spontaneous philosophy”.



[1] [trans.]: Reality and the Physicist: Knowledge, duration and the quantum world, trans. J.C. Whitehouse & Bernard d’Espagnat, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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