Étienne Klein: “I’m vaccinated against despair”

50 YEARS OF DOT. The physicist and philosopher was never satisfied with the “poor state of scientific culture” in France. His instructions.





By Etienne Klein

The physicist and philosopher of science Etienne Klein.
© JOEL SAGET / AFP

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JI think I’ve been vaccinated against despair since, a very long time ago, I discovered the works of the philosopher Clément Rosset. While I know it’s highly controversial, its central thesis definitely gave me a boost. He himself summed it up like this: “People only live on the hope of escaping when there is no possibility of escaping. » All of his work denounces our futile attempts to obscure reality by inventing spooky parallel worlds to serve as alibi or compensation. In short, he insisted that we shouldn’t tell each other stories: our world, with all the misery it contains, cannot be shared.

From this knowledge, this lateral thinker developed an original philosophy of joy, “Force majeure”, in his eyes: For joy, I enjoy all of reality without hiding any of it, however horrific it may be. Joy, so philosophically refounded, is neither a cure nor a way out. It is even the opposite, since it expressly integrates clear knowledge of the worst into the jubilant pursuit of existence.

I remain very sensitive about this “Paradox of Joy” which Rosset pointed out: Although nothing makes me approve of reality, I can love it unconditionally, without motive, even with joy and in an irrational way. Because being happy always means being happy in spite of everything. But it is precisely this joy that gives me the desire and the strength to fight against what I do not like in this world into which we are thrown.

Give you a taste for science

For example, I was never satisfied with the poor state of scientific culture in our country. That’s why I enthusiastically campaigned for the popularization of physics, believing that there is a reality “problem eroticism” which, well explained, creates a true feast of the spirit through the pleasant union of reflections, knowledge, anecdotes, emotions, stories, paradoxes, brilliant ideas … If we want to give flavor to science, we should not start by tasting science ? For example by taking the time to explain – and why not with nonsense? —the true stories of the discoveries rather than the shallow Vulgates that summarize and often betray them. In the course of the history of ideas, how did scientific knowledge become knowledge worthy of the name? The earth is round, yes. The atom exists naturally. Living species are evolving, that’s for sure. But thanks to what arguments, what observations, what reasoning, what experiences, what wanderings did people finally know this? What were the controversies that once divided their opinions? And what ended the debates?

I will not let anyone say that such a move is hopeless.


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