In mathematics, Hilbert spaces (named for David Hilbert) allow generalizing the methods of linear algebra and calculus from the two-dimensional and three dimensional Euclidean spaces to spaces that may have an infinite dimension. A Hilbert space is a vector space equipped with an inner product operation, which allows defining a distance function and perpendicularity (known as orthogonality in this context). Furthermore, Hilbert spaces are complete for this distance, which means that there are enough limits in the space to allow the techniques of calculus to be used.
Hilbert spaces arise naturally and frequently in mathematics and physics, typically as infinite-dimensional function spaces. The earliest Hilbert spaces were studied from this point of view in the first decade of the 20th century by David Hilbert, Erhard Schmidt, and Frigyes Riesz. They are indispensable tools in the theories of partial differential equations, quantum mechanics, Fourier analysis (which includes applications to signal processing and heat transfer), and ergodic theory (which forms the mathematical underpinning of thermodynamics). John von Neumann coined the term Hilbert space for the abstract concept that underlies many of these diverse applications. The success of Hilbert space methods ushered in a very fruitful era for functional analysis. Apart from the classical Euclidean spaces, examples of Hilbert spaces include spaces of square-integrable functions, spaces of sequences, Sobolev spaces consisting of generalized functions, and Hardy spaces of holomorphic functions.
Geometric intuition plays an important role in many aspects of Hilbert space theory. Exact analogs of the Pythagorean theorem and parallelogram law hold in a Hilbert space. At a deeper level, perpendicular projection onto a subspace (the analog of "dropping the altitude" of a triangle) plays a significant role in optimization problems and other aspects of the theory. An element of a Hilbert space can be uniquely specified by its coordinates with respect to a set of coordinate axes (an orthonormal basis), in analogy with Cartesian coordinates in the plane. When that set of axes is countably infinite, the Hilbert space can also be usefully thought of in terms of the space of infinite sequences that are square-summable. The latter space is often in the older literature referred to as the Hilbert space. Linear operators on a Hilbert space are likewise fairly concrete objects: in good cases, they are simply transformations that stretch the space by different factors in mutually perpendicular directions in a sense that is made precise by the study of their spectrum.