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"We must know, we will know !" - mathematician David Hilbert (1930)

The Latin maxim ignoramus et ignorabimus, meaning "we do not know and will not know",
stood for a position on the limits of scientific knowledge,
in the thought of the nineteenth century.

(Ignorabimus: statement that the truth can never be known).

It was given credibility by Emil du Bois-Reymond, a German physiologist,
in his Über die Grenzen des Naturerkennens
("On the limits of our understanding of nature") of 1872.

Hilbert's reaction

On the 8th of September 1930, the mathematician David Hilbert pronounced his disagreement
in a celebrated address to the Society of German Scientists and Physicians, in Königsberg:

We must not believe those, who today, with philosophical bearing and deliberative tone,
prophesy the fall of culture and accept the ignorabimus.
For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none whatever in natural science.

In opposition to the foolish ignorabimus our slogan shall be:

    Wir müssen wissen — wir werden wissen! ('We must know — we will know!')

Even before that he said: "In mathematics there is no ignorabimus."

Hilbert worked with other formalists to establish concrete foundations
for mathematics  in the early 20th century.

However, Gödel's incompleteness theorems showed in 1931 that no finite system of axioms,
if complex enough to express our usual arithmetic, could ever fulfill the goals
of Hilbert's program, demonstrating many of Hilbert's aims impossible,
and establishing limits on mathematical knowledge.


Hilbert's 1930 radio adress in Konigsbergen, Germany:

  1. Audio:

  2. Transcript:

Ignorabimus (statement that the truth can never be known)

Hilbert's program:'s_problems



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