William B. Shockley

Banquet speech

William B. Shockley’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1956

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:

When I accepted yesterday the honor of responding for the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics, I did not fully realize that I was undertaking one of the most difficult of all speaking assignments. The problem, as I see it, may be illustrated by a story.

Once upon a time a minister delivered an exceptionally fine sermon. Afterwards a member of the congregation complimented him and went on to say: “I have a book at home which has in it every word of your sermon.” The minister was amazed and wondered if somehow he had engaged in subconscious plagiarism. The member of the congregation then said that the book he referred to was the dictionary – which contains all the words but not of course in the correct sequence.

The dictionary that I used this morning is the collection of past volumes of Les Prix Nobel – and my difficulty was not in finding the correct sequences but in finding them so often and so well phrased. My experience reminded me of T.S. Eliot‘s frustration in the second of his “Four Quartets”. Dealing with the difficulty of expressing in words the imprecision of feeling, Eliot writes: “And what there is to conquer by strength and submission, has already been discovered once or twice, or several times by men whom one cannot hope to emulate.” The expressions of feeling given by previous laureates cannot be surpassed.

It occurred to me that I might add something by using the tools of my trade and studying the previous responses statistically. This method is not useful, however, because the important qualities emerge in even the smallest sample of the responses. The dominant feelings are humility, gratitude, admiration and comradeship.

Gratitude is expressed both for the award of the prize and for the contributions of earlier and contemporary scientists and colleagues and for institutions. Gratitude and friendliness is felt for the hospitality in Stockholm.

Admiration is expressed for the ideals of Nobel and the impartiality and objectivity of the Royal Academy of Sciences which has realized them with such distinction.

Sympathy for the task before Swedish Scientists was well expressed by Henry Dale in 1936. He said: “I am conscious of a real sympathy with our colleagues here in Stockholm, on account of the anxieties which must weigh upon them in their great and difficult responsibility of making these awards.”

Speaking for Drs. Bardeen, Brattain and myself, I would like to express our deeply felt agreement with what has been already said so well and so many times.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1956, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1957

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1956

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