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David Hilbert
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Mathematician
    (January 23, 1862-February 14, 1943)
    Born in Konigsberg, Prussia (now Kalingrad, Russia)
    Contributed to number theory, functional analysis and geometry
    In physics, contributed to kinetic gas theory, general relativity and quantum mechanics
    Chair of the Mathematics Department at the University of Gottigen (1895-1930)
    Wrote 'Foundations of Geometry' (1899) and 'Principals of Mathematical Logic' (1928)
    Presented an influential list of 23 unsolved problems to the International Congress of Mathematicians (1900)
    Formulated Hilbert's Paradox of the Grand Hotel in discussions of the nature of infinity:
    The Grand Hotel has an infinite number of rooms that are all occupied
    A coach with an infinite number of passengers unexpectedly arrives
    The hotel accomodates the guests by moving the occupant of Room 1 to Room 2, the occupant of Room 2 to Room 4, and, in general, the occupant of Room N to Room 2N, freeing up the infinite number of odd-numbered rooms
    His finiteness theorem was initially rejected by Mathematische Annalen editor Paul Gordan with the comment, 'This is not mathematics. This is theology.'
    He launched an ambitious program to rigorously prove the consistency of mathematical axioms only to have Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem show that the program was doomed to failure.
    He reacted to Godel's proof with anger.
    He complained that physicists were sloppy with their math, writing 'Physics is much too hard for physicists.'
    After the finiteness theorem proved useful in mathematics, Gordan said, 'I have convinced myself that even theology has its merits.'
    He was married to Kathe Jerosch for 51 years until his death.
    He responded to objections to naming Emmy Noether as the first female professor at Gottigen with 'Gentlemen, the faculty is not a pool's changing room.'
    A few years after the Nazis came to power in Germany, the new Minister of Education asked him, 'How is mathematics at Gottingen now that it has been freed of the Jewish influence?' He replied, 'Mathematics at Gottingen? There is really none anymore.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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