Alvin E. Roth’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2012.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Laureates and Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
We all know the wonderful image popularized by Isaac Newton, of how he could see so far only because he stood on the shoulders of giants. That image describes well how my work has built on that of my predecessors, particularly Lloyd Shapley, with whom I share this prize, and the late David Gale.
We need a different metaphor to capture how we benefit from our teachers, our contemporaries, our colleagues and coauthors and students.
Perhaps we not only stand on the shoulders of giants, but we are like acrobats in a giant human pyramid. We are surrounded by those on whose shoulders we stand, by those who helped us climb up and who hold us in place, and by those still further up whom we helped climb beyond us, each turning ‘into a ladder-rung for the next’, to borrow an image from last year’s Nobel laureate in Literature.
Or maybe a useful metaphor for a scientific career would be athletics. The athlete begins by being coached how to play, and over a career moves from team player, to team leader, to coach. The level of the game keeps rising and the coaching becomes better, as the community learns from its accumulated experience.
Maybe we could think of science as being like a nuclear chain reaction, in which people and ideas bounce off each other, and if critical mass is reached, a new field is formed.
My point is that in the midst of this beautiful celebration of scientific and literary accomplishment; let’s pause over dinner to remember one of the fundamental lessons of economics, that accomplishments are social as well as singular. Lets revel in the memories not only of discovery and invention, but of all the sometimes illuminating, sometimes stressful, sometimes tedious, and sometimes thrilling human interactions that brought us here tonight, and will inspire and fortify us when we return to work.