David J. Gross

Banquet speech

David J. Gross’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, December 10, 2004.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.

For more than 100 years the Nobel Foundation has handed out these generous prizes and hosted these magnificent banquets. All of this made possible due to the generosity and vision of Alfred Nobel. But can it continue?

To continue having such splendid parties two things are required. First, an inexhaustible supply of money, but also, equally important, an inexhaustible supply of great scientific discoveries.

The first requirement seems to be guaranteed, since the Foundation spends only the interest and wisely invests the capital of Nobel’s bequest.

The second requirement might appear harder to satisfy. As knowledge increases, could the pace of scientific discovery slow; as more and more problems are solved?

Fortunately Nature is as generous with its problems as Nobel with his fortune. The more we know, the more aware we are of what we know not. Indeed, the most important product of knowledge is ignorance.

The questions we ask today are more profound and more interesting than those asked years ago when I was a student. Many of those were answered. But back then we did not possess enough knowledge to be intelligently ignorant – and to ask the wonderful questions we ask today.

Some wonder whether some day we will arrive at a theory of everything, and run out of new problems to solve – much as the effort to explore the earth ran out of new continents to explore.

While this is conceivably possible, I am happy to report that there is no evidence that we are running out of our most important resource – ignorance.

How lucky for science.
How lucky for scientists.
And, how lucky for the Nobel Foundation.

© The Nobel Foundation, 2004

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