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A Salon de Fleurus Salon Thursday October 11th 2012 / MoMA

The Author

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A Professor in the Physics, Philosophy and Media Studies departments at the Nice University until 2002, Jean-Marc LevyLeblond is Professor Emeritus and Program Director at the International Academy of Philosophy since 2001. This atypical researcher stands out not only through his work in the fields of mathematics and theoretical physics, but also through his strong involvement in the scientific education department – including works for literary men – and his important contributions to the history, politics and philosophy of science. Raising the credibility of scientific popularization and culture, he has never stopped fighting against over-simplification and clichés, even if this implied divulging, and not without humor, the existence of an “enormous museum of errors that have preceded us”. A clever and talented writer, he has published many books dedicated to “scientific criticism”, in a manner similar to the work of an art critic.

La Science (n’)e(s)t (pas) l’art. Brèves rencontres... [Science and Art (Are Not Similar). Brief Encounters…] (Hermann, 2010)

Bibliography

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Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond

France

La Science (n’)e(s)t (pas) l’art. Brèves rencontres... [Science and Art (Are Not Similar). Brief Encounters…] (Hermann, 2010) À quoi sert la science ? [What is the Use of Science?] (Bayard, 2008) La Vitesse de l’ombre : aux limites de la science [At the Speed of Shadow: Reaching the Limits of Science] (Seuil, 2006) De la matière – relativiste, quantique, interactive [On Matter – Relativism, Quantum and Interaction] (Seuil, 2006) La Science en mal de culture : Science in Want of Culture (Futuribles, 2004) Impasciences (Bayard, 2000 ; 2e éd. Seuil, 2003) La Pierre de touche (la science à l’épreuve) [The Touchstone (Putting Science to the Test)] (Gallimard, 1996) Aux contraires (l’exercice de la pensée et la pratique de la science) [Adressing constraints (Reflection as Exercise and the Practice of Science)] (Gallimard, 1996) Mettre la science en culture [Putting Science in the Service of Culture] (Anais, 1986) L’Esprit de sel : science, culture, politique [The Spices of Life: Science, Culture, Politics] (Fayard, 1981) (Auto)critique de la science [(Self-)Criticism of Science], texts assembled by Alain Jaubert and Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (Seuil, 1973)

“One of the most common ideas today, sometimes expressed directly, but more often considered implicit, concerning the relationship between the arts on the one hand, science and technology on the other, is that we have finally reached a point of reconciliation. The collaboration between artistic production and scientific and technological research should be encouraged in order to avoid their painful separation. But isn’t the history of mankind, especially from a cultural point of view, the very history of the separation of different fields of activity, of their gain of autonomy? The idea of an ecumenical reunification, of bringing together the great discoveries of art and science, seems to me to be the product of some form of naive nostalgia rather than an informed, though utopian, project. And I must admit that I do not find this separation disturbing at all. Maybe it is a question of personality, but I can see clearly the essential difference between Art and Science – and on top of that, many other specific distinctions between the arts and the sciences. If, as a scientist, my interest in art would resume itself to finding similar attitudes and products to those I am (too) familiar with, my curiosity would quickly become dulled. But my fascination with art, contemporary art especially, is directly proportional to its difference from science, and has nothing to do with the similarities between the two. I haven’t any kind of nostalgia for the lost Unity of creation – which is no more natural (it is the diversity of the universe of rocks, flowers and birds that constitutes its beauty) than it is human” Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond

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À quoi sert la science ? [What is the Use of Science?] (Bayard, 2008)

La Vitesse de l’ombre : aux limites de la science [At the Speed of Shadow: Reaching the Limits of Science] (Seuil, 2006)

De la matière – relativiste, quantique, interactive [On Matter – Relativism, Quantum and Interaction] (Seuil, 2006)

La Science en mal de culture : Science in Want of Culture (Futuribles, 2004)

Science is familiar to us especially thanks to the growing presence of its technological applications in our day-to-day lives. But science is also the result of a thirst for knowledge, of a desire to understand and acknowledge the world. Between these two aspects – practical utility on the one hand, curiosity and the need to discover objective truths on the other – is there a complementarity or do they come in conflict? Does the logic of productivity and efficiency counteract a more essential or a more idealistic destiny? What is the use of science? And to whom is it useful? These are not abstract questions, but questions that may redirect our entire future.

The texts reunited in this volume try to formulate what we would like to call a criticism of science. Not a criticism in the sense where science would have to face reproach, but rather a questioning of the ins and outs of science which would allow us to understand its content, nature and stakes as a whole. The title of this book, inspired by a known paradox that ascribes to the speed of shadow a greater value than the speed of light, refers to the crisis of the Age of Reason philosophy and to the grim perspective of a techno-science who could no longer provide anything but obscure certainties. To allow us to better understand scientific activity, these texts follow a strategy of exploring the limits of science by asking certain specific, but very relevant, questions. Why, in the past four centuries, have physicists started taking a growing interest in Hell? Where does the myth of the seven colors of the rainbow come from? What significance does the use of the letters of the alphabet in physics formulas (cabalistic, of course) have? What can we learn about science from the well-known anecdotes about the world’s greatest savants, particularly those about Einstein? Can science be considered universal and transcultural? Sharing knowledge, does it imply sharing a certain type of ignorance? Does Science have a Muse?

The three conferences reunited in this volume seek to explain the manner in which modern physics analyses matter, and especially the impact that the theories of relativism and quantum elaborated in the beginning of the XXth century have had over this approach. The focus is on the novelty and originality of our ideas concerning matter rather that on its specific attributes and components. It becomes obvious that the notion of physical object itself and the concepts that allow us to locate, characterize and enumerate these objects, and to analyze their interactions, have suffered profound transformations that have remained too often concealed behind an arduous mathematical formalism, which these lessons try to eliminate. The final purpose is to present the modern approach on matter in physics as an ongoing process influenced by a century of theoretical and practical experience.

In today’s world the explanations and applications that science offers are no longer sufficient, unless their implications at a social level are taken into account. It becomes necessary that citizens start taking greater control over scientific activity, which is equivalent to the popularization of scientific culture and technique. But the very existence of this culture is questioned today, insofar as know-how becomes more and more associated to knowledge. Thus, putting (back) science in the service of culture becomes a priority.

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Impasciences (Bayard, 2000 ; 2e éd. Seuil, 2003)

La Pierre de touche (la science à l’épreuve) [The Touchstone (Putting Science to the Test)] (Gallimard, 1996)

Aux contraires (l’exercice de la pensée et la pratique de la science) [Adressing constraints (Reflection as Exercise and the Practice of Science)] (Gallimard, 1996)

L’Esprit de sel : science, culture, politique [The Spices of Life: Science, Culture, Politics] (Fayard, 1981)

This book can be surprising for three different reasons to those who consider that science must be studied, used and, too often, put in the service of certain interests. The first one is learning that science can also be analyzed, evaluated and criticized. The second is showing how different approaches such as the chronicle or the pastiche, the tale and the imaginary interview, can become more relevant to science than any elaborate theory. The third one refers to those associations of thoughts that bring together MacGyver and Marie Curie, or those that give more importance to the hole in the ozone layer than to the Big Bang theory, letting us see with acute clarity how Scientific Reason takes advantage of its means and guides the manner in which science and technique select and ask their most important questions. An indispensable book to any technocitizen who does not wish to die in ignorance and who is anxious to see the emergence of a wiser, more humane and more comprehensible approach of science.

Is science modern? Has the “scientific revolution” actually taken place? Have we actually surpassed the obscurity of “occult” sciences to reach an age of reason and true science? There are many solid reasons that we should doubt the reality of this radical separation that has become a common belief. If the legitimacy of art, literary, music and film critics is undeniable, there are no recognized “science critics”. This paradox, which burdens any attempt of incorporating science into the cultural world, is the main issue that the texts reunited in this volume try to deal with. Each seeks to surpass the stage of scientific criticism in order to formulate a criticism of science, putting contemplation at the heart of any scientific activity in order to reveal its connections to politics, to its own history, but also to art and language.

What is the use of science in today’s world, other than the fact that it presents itself to human consciousness as an ideal form of knowledge? Time has come to evaluate the connection between scientific theories and common knowledge, analyzing and criticizing the unnecessary transfer of concepts (or, more often, of simple formulas) from one to the other. Rather than providing us with ready-made ideas, should we not ask of science – and especially of physics – to show us how difficult it is to elaborate solid affirmations? Most attempts of popularizing new theories today remain inefficient, as long as the basic concepts on which they are founded continue to be ambiguous. How could the uninitiated individual understand the nature of quarks when the organization of the atomic nucleus remains unexplained, or that of quasars when we are still wondering how galaxies were formed? Instead of simplifying all conceptual difficulties when it comes to modern discoveries, it would be more efficient to confront them. This plea for a rethinking of science starts with the analysis of some essential antinomic pairs of concepts that have become part of common language, such as straight/curved, continuous/discontinuous, absolute/relative, certain/uncertain, elementary/composite, demonstrated/unpredictable, rigorous/intuitive etc., concepts that constitute the basis of all theories in physics, but which become blurred in their contrasts and ambiguous in their polarity when they present themselves to common thought. Science could thus end up complying with the wish once expressed by Merleau-Ponty: through its “negative philosophical discoveries” it could surpass certain common prejudices, invalidate implicit certainties and finally offer new perspectives to human intelligence.

While based on research, is science necessarily a knowledgeproducing activity? Does it provide new methods and standards for the learning process? What is science to science? While being an intellectual activity, is science also a cultural activity? Does modern science rhyme with culture, is it a new form of culture – should it be? What is science to culture? As a social activity, science has complex connections to economical structures and political contexts. What is its role and what limitations are imposed on science? What is science to politics? This volume reunites several texts that seek to arouse such crucial questions and to scour the meaning of all ideas that might arise from them.

An event created and organized by the Villa Gillet - 25 rue Chazière - 69004 Lyon - France Tel : 00 33 (0)4 78 27 02 48 - Fax : 00 33 (0)4 72 00 93 00 - www.villagillet.net

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