[Viewpoint]The road to inspiration

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[Viewpoint]The road to inspiration

At an international mathematics competition held in Paris, France, in 1900, the father of modern mathematics, David Hilbert, proposed 23 difficult mathematical problems that he thought the human race of the 20th century should solve.

He said, “Wouldn’t we be pleased if someone among us unveils the future and shows us the secrets of development and scientific advancement in the coming century? Just as there are objects in things people do, mathematics studies also need problems. Through problem-solving, mathematicians acquire new methods and viewpoints, and wide and free perspectives.”

Hilbert was a mathematician with a conviction that any problem could be ultimately solved.

At a meeting with fellow German scientists in 1930, he emphasized, “For us there is no ignorabimus [something we cannot know] ... and in my opinion, none at all in natural science.” He rejected the claims of skeptics and pessimists who declared, “Ignoramus et ignorabimus [We do not know and cannot know].” Instead, he declared optimistically, “We must know - we will know.”

These words are also engraved on his gravestone.

The problems Hilbert proposed provoked the passion of mathematicians. Many sought to find answers, and many problems were solved by them.

Although some still remain unsolved, mathematicians who took Hilbert’s challenge - “There is no ignorabimus” - are still working ceaselessly. In the meantime, mathematics has developed and contributed to the advancement of the human race and the growth of civilization.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who had transformed himself from an entrepreneur into a philanthropist, was inspired by Hilbert.

He thought the problems confronting the human race can be solved, just like mathematical problems, and made up his mind that he would find solutions.

Gates wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal in January 2003: “The problems Hilbert presented stimulated intellectual research and helped accomplish important breakthroughs in the technical and medical fields. We need to ask the world to take action once again. It is necessary to solve problems that obstruct medical treatment of diseases that torment the poor. This is more than a challenge to human intellect. It is a test of our love for humanity.”

The inspiration Gates acquired went beyond ideas of an entrepreneur and the logic of the market.

He accomplished many things while pursuing good for humanity, instead of pushing profits.

He provided great help to poor African nations for curing and preventing infectious diseases, such as malaria, pneumonia and AIDS.

He created a wave of education reform in the United States. His project of investing in and supporting model teachers so that they can teach at schools in poor areas have now been proved to be a success.

The rapid decline of the world economy has given a big blow to Gates, too.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suffered a 19 percent loss from asset management last year.

Nevertheless, Gates said he would increase the scale of the foundation’s charity work. Probably, it is because he has rock-solid faith that problems of the human race could be solved with love for all mankind.

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan left a message, “Love each other,” before he passed away recently.

People say we witnessed a miracle as we said goodbye to the cardinal. It was because they could feel the “heart of love” spread like a wildfire among them when they saw a crowd of 400,000 people lined up outside the Myeongdong Cathedral enduring the intense cold to see him for the last time.

They might have gained inspiration from the cardinal when they bid farewell to him. They might have thought of leading a life of serving others or donating their organs.

However, not everyone can have great ideas like Bill Gates.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, said, “When inspiration does not come to me, I take the road to meet inspiration,” but there are people who do not know this road.

The important thing is to remember the words of Cardinal Kim and cultivate a heart of love, because it is the source of inspiration, big or small.

The writer is the Washington D.C. correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Sang-il
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