D O C U M E N T 3 1 7 N O V E M B E R 1 9 2 8 3 0 9 317. From Max Born Göttingen, 20 November 1928 Dear Einstein, Following a discussion with Harald Bohr,[1] who is here in Göttingen this se- mester, I want to write to you about a matter that is actually none of my business,[2] but that has frequently disturbed and upset me privately. I refer to the affair be- tween Hilbert and Brouwer. I had thus far only observed it from afar, and just re- cently, through Bohr and Courant, have I been informed of the details. I learned in that discussion that you have taken up a neutral position regarding the letter from Hilbert to Brouwer, with the justification that one must allow everyone to be as foolish as he wants.[3] I of course also find that stance to be highly reasonable, but it seems to me that you are not completely informed regarding several points, and that is why I want to write a few words to you about it. There will probably be some negotiations at Springer’s about the situation in the near future, and Bohr told me that it would be quite important for the main editorial staff to act as a unified group. Therefore, I would ask that you stick to your neutrality and not take any action against Hilbert and his friends.[4] If you could write me a word or two about this, it would reassure not only me, but also Bohr and the others. I would like to tell you very briefly just why I am at all interested in this matter. For me, quite simply my only motivation is my worry and sympathy for Hilbert. Hilbert is very seriously ill and has in fact only a short time to live.[5] Any form of excitement is a danger to him, and could reduce the few remaining hours in which he can still live and work. However, he still has a great will to live and sees his goal of completing his new fundamentals of mathematics as a duty, to which he must dedicate himself with his last remaining energy.[6] His mind is clearer than ever, and the rumor spread by Brouwer that Hilbert is no longer of completely sound mind is extraordinarily hard-hearted. Courant and other friends of Hilbert’s have mentioned more than once that one should protect the sick man from overexcite- ment, and Brouwer has misinterpreted that to imply that Hilbert’s opinions and his deeds should no longer be taken seriously.[7] Hilbert is in fact very serious about his action against Brouwer. He himself spoke briefly to me about it a few weeks ago, quite generally and without mentioning any details. He considers Brouwer to be an eccentric and imbalanced person to whom he does not want to entrust the leg- acy of taking over as chief editor of the Mathematische Annalen. I believe that pre- cisely the most recent steps taken by Brouwer have demonstrated just how correct Hilbert’s judgment of the man really is. Quite generally, in my experience, Hilbert’s judgment is almost always relevant and certain, not only in mathematical ques- tions, but also in personal matters.[8]
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