In some sense divine
Right so the French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has won ‘the Templeton Prize’ which is awarded annually to someone who contributes to something called ‘affirming life’s spiritual dimension.’ What does that mean? I haven’t the slightest fucking clue. I don’t think anyone has. I think it just means something like ‘not being mean and boring like those horrible atheists’ – or ‘not saying people are made entirely of metal’ – or ‘liking the pretty rainbows.’ But that of course still doesn’t mean I have a clue what it means, because meaning something like something isn’t the same as actually meaning something, and I don’t suppose the Templeton Foundation stands up in all its pomp and hands a prize worth many dollars to someone actually for liking the pretty rainbows, in so many words – so I still don’t know what it actually, really, when you nail it down, means by it.
Neither, it would appear, does Mark Vernon. He’s remarkably careful to avoid saying anything precise about it.
The bizarre nature of quantum physics has attracted some speculations that are wacky but the theory suggests to some serious scientists that reality, at its most basic, is perfectly compatible with what might be called a spiritual view of things…For [D’Espagnat], quantum physics shows us that reality is ultimately “veiled” from us. The equations and predictions of the science, super-accurate though they are, offer us only a glimpse behind that veil. Moreover, that hidden reality is, in some sense, divine.
See what I mean? Not exactly anything you can hold him to. The theory suggests to some serious scientists that reality, at its most basic, is perfectly compatible with what might be called a spiritual view of things. That’s a lot of hedges – five in one clause, and then ending up with the perfectly meaningless ‘a spiritual view of things.’ Oooooooooh, really? The theory suggests that reality might be compatible with what might be called a spiritual view of things? Ooooooh, wow, that changes my whole view of everything, which has been turned upside down and inside out and every which way and is now unrecognizable. Or to put it another way, big woop – anything might be compatible with ‘a spiritual view of things.’ Unless of course Mark Vernon really does mean something precise and (say) falsifiable by ‘a spiritual view of things,’ but I think if he had he would have said so.
But no matter, because after some more pious waffle about a veil and a glimpse, we get to the nub of the thing, which is that ‘that hidden reality is, in some sense, divine.’ Ah. Ah yes. Quite. But – in what sense, exactly? ‘In some sense, divine’ really covers an awful lot of territory. It covers rum raisin ice cream, just for one thing. But surely the Templeton Foundation wouldn’t go giving some French physicist large amounts of dollars just for saying rum raisin (or cassis or abricot or noisette) ice cream is divine. Would it? But it would give them to him for saying something that boils down to ‘that hidden reality is, in some sense, divine,’ only with equations. Do you sense a certain amount of obscurantism here? A whiff of the old hocus pocus? Because I do. I think they’re conning us – or themselves, or both. I think they think d’Espagnat said something really deep, and spiritual, without having any idea what it is. But that’s okay, because whatever it is, it’s compatible with something else, so no worries.