Omnès, Roland 1931-

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Omnès, Roland 1931-


Born February 18, 1931, in Clichy, France; son of Lucien and Suzanne Omnès; married Liliane Dieny, April 19, 1956; children: Natacha, Franck, Corinne, Cecile. Education: Ecole Normale Superieure, 1954; Paris University, Ph.D., 1957.


Home—Meudon, France. Office—University of Paris Sud, 91405 Orsay, France. E-mail—Roland.Omné[email protected]


Engineer, physicist, educator, and writer. Commissariat a L'Energie Atomique, Saclay, France, engineer, 1955-1961; European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva, Switzerland, fellow 1956-58; Ecole Polytechniques, Paris, France, assistant professor of physics, 1961-63; Lawrence Radiological Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, research fellow, 1963-65; University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, professor of physics, 1965-67; Université de Paris Sud, Orsay, France, professor of physics, beginning 1967, president 1978-1983. Also member of Commission for High School Programs, 1974-77.


American Astronomical Society, Societe Francaise de Physique.


Chevalier, Ordre du Merite, 1975, Legion d' Honneur, 1982.


(With M. Froissart) Mandelstam Theory and Regge Poles: An Introduction for Experimentalists, W.A. Benjamin (New York, NY), 1963.

Introduction à l'études des particules élémentaires, Ediscience (Paris, France), 1970, introduction by G. Barton published as Introduction to Particle Physics, Wiley-Interscience (New York, NY), 1971.

(With others) L'univers et ses métamorphoses, Hermann (Paris, France), 1973.

Cours de physique, rédigé, Hermann (Paris, France), 1973.

The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

Philosophie de la science contemporaine, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1994, translation by Arturo Sangalli published as Quantum Philosophy: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1999.

Understanding Quantum Mechanics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1999.

Alors l'un devint deux: la question du réalisme en physique et en philosophie des mathématiques, Flammarion (Paris, France), 2002.

(With Georges Charpak) Soyez savants, devenez prophétes, O. Jacob (Paris, France), 2004.

Converging Realities: Toward a Common Philosophy of Physics and Mathematics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Les indispensables de la mécanique quantique, O. Jacob (Paris, France), 2006.

Contributor to professional journals.


Roland Omnès is a French physicist who has contributed solutions to a number of basic problems in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. He is also the author or coauthor of several books that focus on quantum physics. In his books, the author often addresses the gap between the commonsense experience of the classical world of thought and the nearly unintelligible world described via complex mathematics as it aims to address reality at its most fundamental stages.

As the author of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Omnès presents a modern interpretation of quantum mechanics building from the Copenhagen viewpoint, which provides a connection between the mathematics of formalism and the physical world. This approach emphasizes the ability to test predictions with experimental results, moving quantum mechanics from the realm of abstract mathematics to one with a physical context.

In his book, the author examines how quantum mechanics informs scientists' understanding of nature. He addresses drawbacks of the Copenhagen interpretation of the world and recent advances in quantum mechanics that lead to a consistent revision of the Copenhagen interpretation, with an emphasis on how this interpretation can fit all present experiments. The author keeps the concepts and mathematical developments he addresses on an undergraduate level of discussion. He concludes by exploring various philosophical implications pertinent to the study of quantum mechanics. "In the end … [the author's] new synthesis of quantum mechanics turns out to be fairly close to the old Copenhagen account," wrote William Faris in AMS. "There are differences; in the Copenhagen version the classical world is complementary to the quantum world, while in the Omnès picture it emerges from the quantum world."

Quantum Philosophy: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science begins by providing an overview of the history and philosophy of mathematics from ancient Greece to modern times and then details how modern quantum physics has essentially destroyed much of the beliefs of mathematicians from the past. He then examines how modern physics is rebuilding the foundations of the philosophy of knowledge through quantum theory that offers new answers to questions that have puzzled philosophers for centuries. For example, he discusses such issues as whether or not the world is ultimately intelligible and whether or not all events are caused.

Beginning with the pre-Soratic era, the author follows the emergence of modern thought and the difference between peoples' commonsense view of the world and the view presented by the advance worlds of physics and logic. He explores how modern physics played an important role in fracturing the modern view of the world, stemming from the advanced insights into the nature of the world and the universe made by people such as physicists Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Noting that many of the discoveries and theories developed by physicists cannot be expressed in words, Omnès nevertheless tries to reconcile the worlds of common sense and quantum mechanics. He does so by taking the reader on a tour of humans' understanding of the world, beginning with the long-held belief that intuitive, rational thought was enough to describe the world and that mathematics was merely an adjunct approach to our understanding that lent preciseness to intuitive descriptions. He goes on to explain how in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this worldview began to change as formal mathematical descriptions became the basis for experimentally determined descriptions of the world, leaving common sense behind in the process. He concludes his book with a discussion of how to recover a commonsense view of the world based on formal, mathematical descriptions of reality.

"The line separating physics from philosophy, like the one between the quantum world and the classical, is often blurred," wrote Daniel B. Rador in a review of Quantum Philosophy in the American Scientist. "Roland Omnès … affirms the connections between the two fields in his latest popular volume, which draws on his own work but places it in a much broader historical and intellectual context." Writing in Booklist, Bryce Christensen commented that the book can be read and understood by the general public. He went on to note: "Einstein and Aristotle meet … in this illuminating exposition of the unexpected return of common sense to modern science."

The author's 2005 book Converging Realities: Toward a Common Philosophy of Physics and Mathematics examines the philosophical relationship between mathematics and the natural sciences. In the process the author discusses topics such as current investigations into string theory and other areas of physics. The author explains how for many years physical reality held an uncertain standing within the realm of quantum mechanics, leading to an exclusive dialogue between mathematicians and philosophers that ignored physics and nature. He goes on to show how recent advances in the interpretation of quantum mechanics have led to a new sense of objectivity and common sense becoming a foundation of modern physics. "It is refreshing to find a physicist joining today's ongoing public conversation about the nature of mathematics," wrote Reuben Hersh in a review of Converging Realities in the American Scientist.

When asked what first made him become interested in writing, Omnès told CA: "A girl I was in love with long ago, and to whom I sent some poems." He described his writing influence as: "Thinking. Isn't that unusual?" When asked to describe his writing process, he responded: "Scratch, type, and erase."



American Scientist, September, 1999, Daniel B. Rador, "Quantum Blur," p. 471; July 1, 2005, Reuben Hersh, "A Physicist's Philosophy of Mathematics," p. 377.

AMS, November, 1996, William Faris, review of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, pp. 1328-1339.

Booklist, April 15, 1999, Bryce Christensen, review of Quantum Philosophy: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science, p. 1495.

Choice, March, 1995, review of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, p. 1163; November, 1999, P.R. Douville, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 577.

Contemporary Physics, March-April, 2000, P.E. Hodgson, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 105.

Library Journal, August 1999, H. James Birx, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 133.

Mathematical Intelligencer, winter, 1996, Robert Gilmore, review of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, p. 70.

Mathematics Teacher, January, 2003, Frank Swetz, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 78.

Mind, July, 2000, Peter Forrest, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 634.

Physics Today, July, 1995, Richard Scalettar, review of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, p. 53; December, 1999, Richard Scalettar, review of Quantum Philosophy, p. 62; December, 1999, Richard Scalettar, review of Understanding Quantum Mechanics, p. 62.

Science, July 2, 1999, review of Understanding Quantum Mechanics, p. 56.

SciTech Book News, September, 1999, review of Understanding Quantum Mechanics, p. 35.

Times Higher Education Supplement, March 17, 1995, Tony Hey, review of The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, p. 33; March 10, 2000, James Cushing, review of Understanding Quantum Mechanics, p. 28.


Over the Horizon, (February 12, 2006), Frank Sudia, review of Quantum Philosophy.