Ignoramus et ignorabimus
The Latin maxim ignoramus et ignorabimus, meaning "we do not know and will not know", represents the idea that scientific knowledge is limited. It was publicized, in this sense, by Emil du Bois-Reymond, a German physiologist, in his publication Über die Grenzen des Naturerkennens ("On the limits of our understanding of nature") of 1872.
Seven World Riddles
He defined seven "world riddles", of which three, he declared, neither science nor philosophy could ever explain, because they are "transcendent". Of the riddles, he considered the following transcendental and declared of them ignoramus et ignorabimus: "1. the ultimate nature of matter and force, 2. the origin of motion, ... 5. the origin of simple sensations, a quite transcendent question."
David Hilbert, a widely-respected German mathematician, suggested that such a conceptualization of human knowledge and ability is too pessimistic, and that by considering questions unsolvable, we limit our understanding.
In 1900, during an address to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, Hilbert suggested that answers to problems of mathematics are possible with human effort. He declared, "In mathematics there is no ignorabimus.", and he worked with other formalists to establish foundations for mathematics during the early 20th century.
We must not believe those, who today, with philosophical bearing and deliberative tone, prophesy the fall of culture and accept the ignorabimus. For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none whatever in natural science. In opposition to the foolish ignorabimus our slogan shall be: Wir müssen wissen – wir werden wissen. ('We must know - we will know.')
Answers to some of Hilbert's Program of 23 problems were found during the 20th century. Some have been answered definitively; some have not yet been solved; a few have been shown to be impossible to answer with mathematical rigor.
During 1931, Gödel's incompleteness theorems showed that some mathematical questions cannot be answered in the manner we would usually prefer.
...it is in fact an incredibly self-confident support for scientific hubris masked as modesty...
This is in a discussion of Friedrich Wolters, one of the members of the literary group "George-Kreis". Lepenies comments that Wolters misunderstood the degree of pessimism being expressed about science, but well understood the implication that scientists themselves could be trusted with self-criticism.
- I know that I know nothing
- Ignorance management
- Ignotum per ignotius
- List of Latin phrases
- Strong agnosticism
- Unknown unknown
- William E. Leverette Jr., E. L. Youmans' Crusade for Scientific Autonomy and Respectability, American Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1. (Spring, 1965), pg. 21.
- D. Hilbert (1902). "Mathematical Problems: Lecture Delivered before the International Congress of Mathematicians at Paris in 1900". Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. 8: 437–79. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1902-00923-3. MR 1557926.
- Hilbert, David, audio address, transcription and English translation.
- "wissen" refers to the term "wissenschaft" and educator Wilhelm von Humboldt's concept of "bildung." That is, education incorporates science, knowledge, and scholarship, an association of learning, and a dynamic process discoverable for oneself; and learning or becoming is the highest ideal of human existence.
- Lepenies, Wolf (1988). Between Literature and Science: the Rise of Sociology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 272. ISBN 0-521-33810-7.