Paul Berg’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1980
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have the privilege and distinct pleasure to speak on behalf of the three Laureates in Chemistry and to express to you all our gratitude for the very high honor and warm hospitality that has been given us in Sweden.
This afternoon’s very moving award ceremony and this evening’s gala festivities caused me to recognize the extent to which we, the recipients, have been doubly blessed. For in addition to receiving the recognition and distinction that has been conferred on us by the Nobel Foundation, we have experienced the indescribable exhilaration, the ultimate high, that accompanies discovery, the breaking of new ground, the entering into areas where man had not been before. The exhilaration of which I speak is not unique to scientists; it is there for all who venture beyond the realm of accepted knowledge and experience. It is a challenging and demanding undertaking but well worth the effort.
Today, the pace of scientific discovery is quickening as never before and the consequences of the revelations that are emerging promise to influence our future in myriad ways. And yet, these advances have revealed or perhaps created an underlying apprehension and a questioning of whether certain inquiries at the edge of our knowledge, and our ignorance, should cease for fear of what we could discover or create.
In this context I would like to share with you the sage advice of an earlier Nobel Laureate – Sir Peter Medawar – who said “If we imagine the evolution of living organisms compressed into a year of cosmic time, then the evolution of man has occupied but a day. Only during the past 10-15 minutes of the human day has our life been anything but precarious. We are still beginners and may hope to improve. To deride the hope of progress is the ultimate fatuity, the last word in poverty of spirit and meanness of mind.”