Max Born’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1954
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.
When the work of a scientist is regarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science worth of the Nobel Prize, the highest honour open to a scholar, he will sense not only the deepest gratitude for this distinction but also a feeling of indebtedness to all those who have gone before and beside him. This feeling of all working together in the same direction is one of the most rewarding experiences of a scientist.
We are a great fellowship, men of all nations seeking after the truth. It is my greatest hope that the modern trend to subjugate science to politics and to inhuman ends and to erect barriers of fear and suspicion around national groups of scientists will not continue. For it is against the spirit of scientific research, as the mind can grow and bear fruit only in freedom.
The work for which the Nobel Prize has been awarded to me is of a kind which has no immediate effect on human life and activity, but rather on human thinking. But indirectly it had a considerable influence not only in physics but in other fields of human endeavour.
This transformation of thinking in which I have taken part is however a real child of science, not of philosophy: it was not the result of speculation, but forced upon us by the observed properties of Nature.
The facts known up to the end of the 19th century seemed to indicate that the world was a perfect mechanism, an automaton, so that if its configuration were known at a given instant its future behaviour could be predicted with certainty. This deterministic view was still generally accepted when I was young. But then new facts were discovered, in the realm of atoms as well as in the stellar universe, facts which did not fit in the mechanistic frame.
The human mind is conservative, and the scientist makes no exception from this rule. He will accept a new theory only if it stands the trial of many experimental tests. It was Prof. Walther Bothe with whom I share the honour of the Physics Prize, who devised the most powerful method of experimenting in this field. His results were decisive. I think that the statistical interpretation of the laws of nature to which I have been able to contribute has stood the test; it is universally accepted today. A philosophy in which the notions of chance and freedom are fundamental seems to me preferable to the almost inhuman determinism of the previous epoch – but that is no scientific argument.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Science has, by awarding to me the Nobel Prize for Physics, expressed the opinion that the ideas for which I have worked have been proved of value for the experimental scientist as well as for the theoretician. This is a great source of satisfaction to me.
My wife and I have been in this beautiful and hospitable country once before, on our honeymoon, a young and inconspicuous couple. We spent an unforgettable fortnight in the Cavaliershouse at Drottningholm. How little did we expect then, that after more than 40 years we should return under circumstances so entirely changed. My colleague Professor Bothe is unfortunately prevented by illness to be present. I deeply regret his absence and you all will share my good wishes for his speedy recovery.
May I express my sincerest gratitude for the great honour conferred upon me and for the very kind hospitality offered to my wife and myself, and to Prof. Bothe’s children.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.