The purpose of the Science & Ultimate Reality program is to honor the vision of theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler in his 90th birthday year and take it forward into a new century of increasingly expanding discovery. Wheeler is renowned as both a research leader and as an extraordinary inspirer and teacher of many of the 20th century's most creative physicists. Over a lengthy career, now spanning almost 70 years, he has achieved a highly successful synthesis of disciplined scientific rigor with an unusually bold, innovative, adventurous approach.
Currently, the program's two principal components are a major book project and a symposium, as described further under Program & Goals. Commissioned book chapters and invited symposium talks will explore the boundaries of knowledge in areas of interest to John Wheeler and map out major domains and possibilities for innovative and far-reaching future exploration.
Wheeler is known for addressing many of the most fundamental and challenging issues in physics. He has worked at the frontiers of knowledge where physics and philosophy meet. Often, Wheeler has addressed questions of the deep nature of physical reality, and his example has promoted that aspect of physics that represents the quest for a comprehensive, integrated understanding of the nature of the universe. Among his famous "Really Big Questions" ("RBQs") are:
Wheeler is known, too, for
his inspiring teaching. His legacy, shaped in part by his influential
mentor Niels Bohr, flourishes today amid the multitude of ongoing research
activities pursued by several generations of those he has powerfully influenced
and inspired over the course of much of the 20th century. (Remarkably,
this group now includes the students of the students of his students'
Support of future research is a further, longer-term aim of the program, which represents a strategic collaboration between two philanthropies: the John Templeton Foundation and the Peter Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize-inspired, in part, by another awards program. Recently, the Clay Mathematics Institute (www.claymath.org) established a series of $1 million rewards for solutions to a set of seven classic unsolved problems in mathematics, known as the "Millennium Prize Problems." The program seeks to recapitulate the vital stimulus David Hilbert gave to 20th-century mathematics by presenting his famous set of 23 great problems. Similarly, the Peter Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize was established to recognize excellence in the field of cosmology. The Cosmology Prize seeks to stimulate forward thinking in physical cosmology with particular interest in recognizing major advances that stimulate new conceptualizations in understanding the nature of the cosmos. It seeks also to provide a stimulus to creativity broadly analogous to the stimulus provided by Hilbert and the new Millennium Prize Problems. (For further information on the Cosmology Prize, see (www.petergruberfoundation.org/cosmologyframeset.htm.)
The Science & Ultimate Reality program honoring John Archibald Wheeler offers an unusual challenge for outstanding leaders and visionary younger scientists to take risks exploring new directions for approaching answers to some of the most profound questions of physics. The John Templeton Foundation is supporting the program in part to kick off a new long-term philanthropic agenda to develop a set of research sponsorship initiatives in basic science focusing on the mega-questions being posed on the frontiers of physics. The core vision of the Templeton Foundation is focused on these "big picture" questions and sees science as offering unique potential for illuminating the answers. This vision holds that the process of the scientific "unveiling" of the deep nature of reality has profound significance for human self-understanding, especially in relation to the conceptualization of "ultimate reality" for the future. The overall long-term aim will be to provide a creative, risk-taking stimulus to support advanced research leading to (at least a few) major successes advancing scientifically based insights into the deep structure of physical reality.
It is our hope that the Science & Ultimate Reality program will provide a unique forum in which to pursue deep answers to the provocative questions posed by Wheeler and that continue to inspire the imaginations of the world's best and brightest students and researchers in science.