The idea of Dreamver.se came to me in a dream from David Hilbert. Symbolically the Hilbert dream can be read as… “if you collect and study the dreams of the past 10 years, you will find the ‘23 problems’ we confront today…”

I invite you to read the first paragraphs of the Address he made to the Congress of Mathematicians at Paris in 1900… If you change the word Mathematics for Psychology

“Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden; to cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during future centuries?

What particular goals will there be toward which the leading mathematical spirits of coming generations will strive?

What new methods and new facts in the wide and rich field of mathematical thought will the new centuries disclose?

History teaches the continuity of the development of science. We know that every age has its own problems, which the following age either solves or casts aside as profitless and replaces by new ones.

If we would obtain an idea of the probable development of mathematical knowledge in the immediate future, we must let the unsettled questions pass before our minds and look over the problems which the science of today sets and whose solution we expect from the future.

To such a review of problems the present day, lying at the meeting of the centuries seems to me well adapted. For the close of a great epoch not only invites us to look back into the past but also directs our thoughts to the unknown future.

The deep significance of certain problems for the advance of mathematical science in general and the important role which they play in the work of the individual investigator are not to be denied.

As long as a branch of science offers an abundance of problems, so long is it alive; a lack of problems foreshadows extinction or the cessation of independent development. Just as every human undertaking pursues certain objects, so also mathematical research requires its problems. It is by the solution of problems that the investigator tests the temper of his steel; he finds new methods and new outlooks, and gains a wider and freer horizon.

It is difficult and often impossible to judge the value of a problem correctly in advance; for the final award depends upon the gain which science obtains from the problem. Nevertheless we can ask whether there are general criteria which mark a good mathematical problem.

An old French mathematician said: “A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.”

This clearness and ease of comprehension, here insisted on for a mathematical theory, I should still more demand for a mathematical problem if it is to be perfect; for what is clear and easily comprehended attracts, the complicated repels us.

Moreover a mathematical problem should be difficult in order to entice us, yet not completely inaccessible, lest it mock at our efforts. It should be to us a guide post on the mazy paths to hidden truths, and ultimately a reminder of our pleasure in the successful solution.”

Back to: The idea of Dreamver.se