56 HomeYamamoto and the Secret Admirers
Neal Stephenson


David Hilbert (1862-1943)
The mathematician David Hilbert was born in what was Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). He attended the gymnasium, 19th century German equivalent of high school, and then the University of Königsberg. He recewived his doctorate in 1885 with his thesis entitled Über invariante Eigenschaften specieller binärer Formen, Insbesondere der Kugelfunctionen.

Hilbert continued on in Königsberg as a member of staff until 1895, first as an assistant lecturer then as a professor. In 1895 he was to move to the University of Göttingen as the Chair of Mathematics, he continued here for the rest of his career.

In 1899 following study of Euclid's axioms of geometry Hilbert proposed 21 new axioms and analysed their significance. He published his work in a paper entitled Grundlagen der Geometrie (Foundations of Geometry) it was to become a major influence in promoting the axiomatic approach to mathematics.

The year 1900 saw the event that David Hilbert is best known for with his lecture before the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris. In his lecture he submitted 23 important mathematical problems that he believed should be targeted in the next century. Hilbert believed in the importance of definite problems for the progress of mathematics, and was to ask many more hard questions throughout his life in order to further our knowledge of mathematics. The 1930's saw answers to two of Hilbert's problems, they were answered by Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing and were important steps in the foundation of computer science.

In 1930 David Hilbert retired and gave a farewell address that showed that he was still enthused by the solving of mathematical problems.

We must know, we shall know.

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