[FOM] alleged quote from Hilbert

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Thu Apr 7 19:03:33 EDT 2005

Martin Davis wrote:

>In Rebecca Goldstein's recent "Incompleteness" she quotes Hilbert as follows:
>Mathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with 
>meaningless marks on paper.
>I would appreciate any information about this quotation

try a google search. there is the usual infinite number of web sites 
alleging Hilbert used this phrase. Then there is G. Chaitin and M. 
O'Donnell who argue against the notion that Hilbert was so simple-minded 
about formalism. See, for example, O'Donnell's paper here:


see also

    In 1919-20, Hilbert gave a series of popular lectures in Gottingen
    under the general title of "Nature and Mathematical Knowledge." In
    these lectures Hilbert sharply criticized accepted views of
    mathematics and physics. He explicitly discarded the view that
    mathematics can be reduced to a formal game played with meaningless
    symbols according to rules established in advance, while stressing
    the role of intuition and experience as a source of mathematics.


and pp 66-67 here:


and page 12 here:


However, given the number of google hitst that attribute the quote to 
Hilbert, perhaps Goldstein, like myself, reads too much Web.

Now an N J Rose has the same quote from Hilbert here: 
http://www4.ncsu.edu/~njrose/Special/Images/AHistory.pdf  ... but NO 
source for the quote. i fear Rose may read a little too much web as well???

les schaffer

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