Ilya Prigogine

Banquet speech

Ilya Prigogine’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1977

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is now a little more than eighty years ago that Alfred Nobel decided to create the Nobel Foundation responsible for the attribution of the Nobel Prizes.

These eighty years have seen important and sometimes tragic events which have deeply altered our outlook on human values.

Before coming to Stockholm at this great occasion, I read carefully Nobel’s testament and I could not help asking: What is the significance of this testament today, eighty years after it has been written.

It seems to me that his message has even deeper implications at present than at the time he had formulated it.

Alfred Nobel considered science as an essential positive element for the future of mankind. Already then this was not the unanimous view. For example Tolstoï advocated the return to nature as a possible cure for the deseases of civilization.

Today the question of the positive contribution of science to mankind is much more controversial. In a recent interesting publication by UNESCO “La Science et la Diversité des Cultures” I found the following characteristic remark: “Depuis plus d’un siècle, le secteur de l’activité scientifique a connu une telle croissance à l’intérieur de l’espace culturel ambiant qu’il semble se substituer à l’ensemble de la Culture. Pour certains, il n’y aurait là qu’une illusion… D’autres enfin, effrayés par la manipulation à laquelle l’homme et les sociétés sont exposés en tombant sous le pouvoir de la science, y voient se profiler le spectre de la déroute culturelle”.

There is indeed a problem. Science has created a form of cultural stress expressed by the famous “two cultures” motto of Lord Snow. Science for the benefit of humanity is only possible if the scientific attitude is deeply rooted in the culture as a whole.

This implies certainly a better dissemination of scientific information in the public on one side but also on the other a better understanding of the problems of our time by the scientific community.

The views expressed by Alfred Nobel in his testament could have appeared to some as the expression of the general consensus of his time. At present this is no more so. It appears to us as a program to which we can all contribute.

I regard the attribution of the Nobel Prize as a great encouragement to participate in this program, to promote through the modest means available to an individual scientist a cultural and social climate in which the intentions so clearly formulated by Alfred Nobel in his will may find their fullest realization.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1977, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1978

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1977

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