The title is from the famous speech of David Hilbert, which literally translates as "we must know - we will know". A considerable clique of late 19th and early 20th century, who was called Praktiker and belittled human mind and knowledge, embraced the slogan "ignoramus et ignorabimus" (tr. "we do not know, and we will not know") to support the idea that human mind is limited in reaching scientific knowledge [1, 2]. Opposing this idea, Hilbert made a speech in 1930, and claimed that in addition to its falsehood, such a pessimistic perspective limits human understanding itself. He also opposed the ruthless pragmatism toward science (as supported by Lev Tolstoy), maintaining that such a pure exploitation policy without the exploratory approach of a scientific mind would hinder the technological progress as well [personal note: yes, I see bandits everywhere]. He concluded with a highly confident and optimistic response to "we do not know, and we will not know":
- We must not believe those, who today with philosophical bearing and a tone of superiority
prophesy the downfall of culture and accept the ignorabimus. For us there is no ignorabimus,
and in my opinion even none whatever in natural science. In place of the foolish ignorabimus, let
stand our slogan:
We must know,
We will know.
The slogan was later inscribed on Hilbert's tomb as an epitaph.
I first came across Hilbert's speech at the History of Science class at Bogazici University, taught by Prof. Beker, whom we lost early this year. This post is dedicated to his memory.