Still Difficult After All These Years - MathOverflow most recent 30 from http://mathoverflow.net 2013-06-20T09:11:37Z http://mathoverflow.net/feeds/question/44593 http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5/rdf http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years Still Difficult After All These Years arsmath 2010-11-02T17:42:32Z 2011-12-31T22:42:29Z <p>I think we all secretly hope that in the long run mathematics becomes easier, in that with advances of perspective, today's difficult results will seem easier to future mathematicians. If I were cryogenically frozen today, and thawed out in one hundred years, I would like to believe that by 2110 the Langlands program would be reduced to a 10-page pamphlet (with complete proofs) that I could read over breakfast.</p> <p>Is this belief plausible? Are there results from a hundred years ago that have not appreciably simplified over the years? From the point of view of a modern mathematician, what is the hardest theorem proven a hundred years ago (or so)?</p> <p>The hardest theorem I can think of is the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_mapping_theorem" rel="nofollow">Riemann Mapping Theorem</a>, which was first proposed by Riemann in 1852 and (according to Wikipedia) first rigorously proven by Caratheodory in 1912. Are there harder ones?</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44597#44597 Answer by Bjørn Kjos-Hanssen for Still Difficult After All These Years Bjørn Kjos-Hanssen 2010-11-02T18:21:44Z 2010-11-02T18:21:44Z <blockquote> <p>I would like to believe that by 2110 the Langland's program would be reduced to a 10-page pamphlet (with complete proofs) that I could read over breakfast. Is this belief plausible? </p> </blockquote> <p>In a way, no. The problem is that there cannot be a computable function $f:\mathbb N\rightarrow\mathbb N$ such that each question that can be stated with $n$ symbols (in the language of set theory, say) has a proof, disproof, or proof that it is independent of set theory, that is no more than $f(n)$ symbols long. </p> <p>Indeed, this would contradict the result (going back to Gödel) that there is no algorithm that determines which statements are provable: if such an $f$ existed the algorithm would just be to search through all proofs of length at most $f(n)$.</p> <p>In this sense, math is always going to be hard.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44598#44598 Answer by timur for Still Difficult After All These Years timur 2010-11-02T18:22:11Z 2010-11-02T18:22:11Z <p>Proofs will simplify but there is a limit to simplification. I think more important is an organization of mathematical knowledge and education so that it is possible to fit the proof of any reasonable result in 10-page pamphlet that an average-educated person could read over breakfast.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44600#44600 Answer by Gerald Edgar for Still Difficult After All These Years Gerald Edgar 2010-11-02T18:27:28Z 2010-11-02T18:27:28Z <p>Though the idea behind it all is childishly simple, yet the method of analytic geometry is so powerful that the very ordinary boys of seventeen can use it to prove results which would have baffled the greatest of Greek geometers-Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius.<br> ---E.T. Bell, "Men of Mathematics"</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44601#44601 Answer by John Stillwell for Still Difficult After All These Years John Stillwell 2010-11-02T19:03:30Z 2010-11-02T21:30:54Z <p>One measure of hardness might be how long it takes to write up a computer-checkable proof of the theorem in question. It took a few months for a colleague of mine to produce a completely formal proof of the prime number theorem, so in that sense it is still hard.</p> <p>The same goes for the Jordan curve theorem. As for the Riemann mapping theorem, I don't know that there is a computer-checkable proof yet.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44607#44607 Answer by Kevin Buzzard for Still Difficult After All These Years Kevin Buzzard 2010-11-02T19:38:57Z 2010-11-02T19:38:57Z <p>Global class field theory. Statements are relatively simple (of the form "the abelianisation of the absolute Galois group of a number field (or, more generally, a global field) looks like this"). This is only perhaps 90 or so years old---it all depends on exactly what you mean by global class field theory. I'm no historian, but precursors to the theorems in their current form are over 100 years old and Hilbert already raised the question of making them more "explicit" as one of his problems (he wanted to see concrete generation of abelian extensions of an arbitrary number field rather than an abstract isomorphism of of a Galois group with another group). Original proofs were surely longer than current proofs, but current proofs are still very very long. If you want a proof of the main theorems of class field theory then there are nowadays a number of <em>books</em> which you can choose from. I think this is a strong contender for hard evidence that the belief in the original question is way too optimistic. I think that things will, in some sense, only get worse!</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/44593/still-difficult-after-all-these-years/44622#44622 Answer by Terry Tao for Still Difficult After All These Years Terry Tao 2010-11-02T22:19:34Z 2010-11-02T22:19:34Z <p>Difficulty is not additive, and measuring the difficulty of proving a single result is not a good measure of the difficulty of understanding the body of work in a given field as a whole.</p> <p>Suppose for instance that 100 years ago, there were ten important theorems in (say) complex analysis, each of which took 30 pages of elementary arguments to prove, with not much in common between these separate arguments. (These numbers are totally made up for the purposes of this discussion.) Nowadays, thanks to advances in understanding the "big picture", we can now describe the core theory of complex analysis in, say, 40 pages, but then each of the ten important theorems become one-page consequences of this theory. By doing so, we have actually made the total amount of pages required to prove each theorem longer (41 pages, instead of 30 pages); but the net amount of pages needed to comprehend the subject as a whole has shrunk dramatically (from 300 pages to 50). This is generally a worthwhile tradeoff (although knowing the "low tech" elementary proofs is still useful to round out one's understanding of the subject).</p> <p>There are very slick and short proofs now of, say, the prime number theorem, but actually this is not the best measure of how well we understand such a result, and more importantly how it fits in with the rest of its field. The fact that we can incorporate the prime number theorem into a much more general story of L-functions, number fields, Euler products, etc. which then ties in with many other parts of number theory is a much stronger sign that we understand number theory as a whole.</p>