Brazilian physicist wins 2019 Templeton Prize

19 March 2019

Dartmouth College/Eli Burakian.

THE winner of the 2019 Templeton Prize is Professor Marcelo Gleiser, a Brazilian theoretical physicist who has gained renown for presenting “science as a spiritual quest to understand the origins of the universe and of life on Earth”.

Professor Gleiser, aged 60, was announced as the 51st winner of the £1.1 million prize on Tuesday morning. He is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

He is described by the John Templeton Foundation, giver of the prize, as a “leading proponent of the view that science, philosophy, and spirituality are complementary expressions of humanity’s need to embrace mystery and the unknown”. He is the first Latin American to win the prize.

Heather Templeton Dill, the foundation’s current president, said of the founder, her grandfather: “Two values which were especially important for him, and the focus of various foundation grants, are the pursuit of joy in all aspects of life, and the profound human experience of awe.

“Professor Gleiser’s work displays an undeniable joy of exploration. He maintains the same sense of awe and wonderment that he first experienced as a child on the Copacabana beach, gazing at the horizon or the starry night sky, curious about what lies beyond. As he writes in The Island of Knowledge, ‘Awe is the bridge between our past and present, taking us forward into the future as we keep on searching.’”

He is the sixth physicist to win the prize, which is awarded to “a person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”.

In a video message published on the prize’s website, Professor Gleiser said: “The path to scientific understanding and scientific exploration is not just about the material part of the world.

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“My mission is to bring back to science, and to the people that are interested in science, this attachment to the mysterious, to make people understand that science is just one other way for us to engage with the mystery of who we are.”

Professor Gleiser’s books include The Dancing Universe, published in 1997, which became a bestseller in Brazil; The Prophet and the Astronomer, A Tear at the Edge of Creation, and The Island of Knowledge.

The president of Dartmouth College, Philip J. Hanlon, said: “We could not be prouder of Marcelo, whose work goes to the heart of humanity’s place in the cosmos and explores the biggest questions about our existence.”

In a letter supporting the award of the prize to Professor Gleiser, Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, said: “His tireless efforts to bring a cohesive, just, and all-inclusive vision of humanity and its future are advancing human flourishing, bringing together people from different cultures and religious backgrounds into a global conversation on the importance of going beyond old stereotypes to celebrate the human condition and our role as planetary custodians.”

Previous winners have included the Christian philosopher Professor Alvin Plantinga (News, 28 April 2017); the founder of the L’Arche movement, Jean Vanier (News, 13 March 2015); and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (5 April 2013).

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