Born in 1958, Etienne Klein is a physicist and holds a Ph.D. in the philosophy of sciences. He is currently the assistant to the Director of Material Sciences for the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). His area of responsibility is the physics of particles and of controlled nuclear fusion (the ITER project).
He is, moreover, professor of physics and of the philosophy of sciences at l’Ecole Centrale in Paris.
He received the Jean Perrin prize, awarded by the French Physics Society, in 1997, the Grammaticakis-Neumann Prize, awarded by the Academy of Sciences , in 2000, and the Jean Rostand Prize, in 2004.
Klein has written several thought-provoking works on physics, including the following: L’Unité de la Physique (The Unity of Physics), PUF, 2000; Les Tactiques de Chronos (The Tactics of Father Time), Flammarion, 2003; Petit Voyage dans le Monde des Quanta (Brief Voyage into the World of Quantum Theory), Flammarion, 2004; Il Etait Sept Fois la Révolution, Albert Einstein et les Autres (In the Time of the Seven Revolutions, Albert Einstein and the Others), Flammarion, 2005.
1. WHAT REMAINS OF THE IDEA OF PROGRESS IN FRANCE?
For a few years now, the relationship of science to society has been undergoing major shifts, and at the same time so has the idea of progress. Viewed from a certain angle, this relationship has come to resemble that of an older couple that is growing apart: their discussions have remained heated, but the romantic side of things has cooled down.
This evolution, which occasionally takes on the aspects of a crisis, is accompanied by a mutual distrust. The image of scientists has become one where the face of Pasteur is superimposed on that of Frankenstein; scientists feel at times admired and at other times misunderstood. As for the public, it swings from infatuation to fear. Science frightens the public sometimes, but that in no way impedes it from embracing the next new gadget that this same science has made possible.
A two-sided sign of the times sums things up: as the controversies intensify, ?Science and Society? committees are on the rise, and the human sciences are often called in to rescue the hard sciences.
Could science, previously both admired and glorified, today pose a ?problem? for our fellow citizens? And in this context, what remains of the idea of progress?
2. NEW QUESTIONS FOR SCIENTISTS
Scientists who are accustomed to giving lectures for the general public know that new questions, oftentimes delicate ones, sometimes embarrassing ones, are today put to research professionals.
After polling the results, it is possible to place them in a few different categories: it seems the questions that are asked with the most insistence concern the relationship between science and power, science and democracy, science and development, science and technology, science and truth, and, finally, science and universality. We propose to evoke and analyze these questions, which illustrate the ambivalence of the image of science in our society.
3. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT TIME?
"Time" is a word we use frequently and indiscriminately. Suddenly, reinforced by use, the idea we have of time is something we take for granted. This idea we have of it seems to take us back to a familiar era, almost "domestic". As soon as we try to define it precisely, however, it becomes quite hard to crack, consisting of many enigmas and contradictions.
We begin by questioning the meaning of certain expressions currently in use which contain the word “time”, as in, for example, "time passes".Then we will discuss the question of whether or not physics can establish an argument proving the existence of time.
Finally, we wonder whether or not science has the ability to fully comprehend what "time" is.
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