“Mathematics knows no races or geographical boundaries; for mathematics, the cultural world is one country.” David Hilbert
David Hilbert was a man who was forever optimistic about the future of human culture and science. When he was a young man, the beliefs of the physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond had been in vogue.
Du Bois-Reymond and his followers believed there were some things that humans would never know. They thought there were limits on our ability to gather scientific knowledge. Famously, they said: ignoramus et ignorabimus, meaning “we do not know and will not know.”
Hilbert made a radio broadcast in 1930 rebutting this gloomy outlook:
We must not believe those who today, with philosophical bearing and superior tone, prophesy the decline of culture and accept the ignorabimus principle. For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none at all in natural science. Rather than this foolish ignorabimus our slogan shall be: Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen! (‘We must know, we will know!)