What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? - MathOverflow most recent 30 from http://mathoverflow.net 2013-05-22T05:01:13Z http://mathoverflow.net/feeds/question/56677 http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.5/rdf http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? kakaz 2011-02-25T20:43:24Z 2012-01-01T14:12:17Z <blockquote> <p><em>"Everyone knows what a curve is, until he has studied enough mathematics to become confused through the countless number of possible exceptions."</em></p> <p>Felix Klein</p> </blockquote> <p>What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics?</p> <hr> <p>To clarify further what is the purpose of the question following is another quote by M. Emerton: </p> <blockquote> <p><em>"It is worth drawing out the idea that even in contemporary mathematics there are notions which (so far) escape rigorous definition, but which nevertheless have substantial mathematical content, and allow people to make computations and draw conclusions that are otherwise out of reach."</em></p> </blockquote> <p>The question is about examples for such notions.</p> <p>The question was asked by <strong><a href="http://mathoverflow.net/users/3811/kakaz" rel="nofollow">Kakaz</a></strong></p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56702#56702 Answer by Henry Towsner for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Henry Towsner 2011-02-26T04:06:12Z 2011-02-26T04:06:12Z <p>In proof theory, the notion of a "natural well-ordering" comes up, but isn't (perhaps can't be) defined formally.</p> <p>In a similar vein, I'm told that inner model theorists were proving results about "the core model" for decades without having a precise definition of what it was.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56707#56707 Answer by Frank for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Frank 2011-02-26T04:49:01Z 2011-02-26T04:49:01Z <p>The definition of a number is kinda fuzzy. Is the alph null a number? </p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56709#56709 Answer by Gerry Myerson for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Gerry Myerson 2011-02-26T05:30:46Z 2011-02-26T05:30:46Z <p>For a number of years, different authors were using different definitions of "chaos", but I think that has settled down now. </p> <p>"Quantum group" may be a good answer. If Wikipedia can be trusted on this issue, "In mathematics and theoretical physics, the term quantum group denotes various kinds of noncommutative algebra with additional structure. In general, a quantum group is some kind of Hopf algebra. There is no single, all-encompassing definition, but instead a family of broadly similar objects." </p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56710#56710 Answer by Emerton for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Emerton 2011-02-26T05:41:41Z 2011-02-27T00:08:04Z <p>One of the most important contemporary mathematical concepts without a rigorous definition is quantum field theory (and related concepts, such as Feynman path integrals). </p> <p>Note: As noted in the comments below, there is a branch of pure mathematics --- constructive field theory --- devoted to making rigorous sense of this problem via analytic methods. I should add that there is also a lot of research devoted to understanding various aspects of field theory via (higher) categorical points of view. But (as far as I understand), there remain important and interesting computations that physicists can make using quantum field theoretic methods which can't yet be put on a rigorous mathematical basis.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56712#56712 Answer by Alex Bartel for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Alex Bartel 2011-02-26T06:13:17Z 2011-02-26T14:24:57Z <p>I'm not sure how well this fits the bill, but in algebraic geometry and number theory, the notion of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motive_%28algebraic_geometry%29#Mixed_motives" rel="nofollow">mixed motives</a> is still undefined, although people have a fairly good idea of what properties they want the category of mixed motives to have.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56715#56715 Answer by Jeff Adler for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Jeff Adler 2011-02-26T07:46:47Z 2011-02-26T07:46:47Z <p>The set of equivalence classes of irreducible, smooth representations of a reductive $p$-adic group $G$ should be partitioned into finite subsets called $L$-packets. Each $L$-packet should correspond to a Langlands parameter, but since this correspondence remains conjectural, $L$-packets are not defined in general. In some important cases, one knows exactly what the $L$-packets are. For example, if $G$ is a general linear group, then the $L$-packets are singletons. For other groups, there are some properties that $L$-packets are believed to satisfy, but that's not a definition.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56717#56717 Answer by Harry Gindi for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Harry Gindi 2011-02-26T08:08:23Z 2011-02-26T13:10:27Z <p>The notion of canonicity (with respect to maps and objects) has thusfar evaded attempts by mathematicians to formalize it. If I remember correctly, Bourbaki tried to give it a definition based on some ideas of Chevalley, but, at least to my knowledge, it was deleted from later drafts of the Elements because it was not a particularly useful notion (or perhaps it just didn't work out. There was a thread on MO asked by Kevin Buzzard about this particular section of Bourbaki, and maybe you could find more details there). Jim Dolan more recently tried to give a definition of a canonical transformation between functors, but his notion is essentially that of a transformation that is natural when restricted to the core groupoid. However, this doesn't really capture all of the cases that we want, and I don't know of any serious attempt to make use of the notion. </p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56720#56720 Answer by Michael Greinecker for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Michael Greinecker 2011-02-26T08:38:33Z 2011-02-26T08:38:33Z <p>In Leo Corry's book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Algebra-Rise-Mathematical-Structures/dp/3764370025/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1298709298&amp;sr=8-1" rel="nofollow">Modern Algebra and the Rise of Mathematical Structures</a> , he chronicles how mathematicians have tried to give a formal definition of <strong>structure</strong> via lattice theory, Bourbaki's set theoretic structures, and category theory. At least according to Corry, the concept is still elusive and not really captured by any of the attempts.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56721#56721 Answer by lvb for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? lvb 2011-02-26T09:37:32Z 2011-02-26T09:53:39Z <p>So-called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stiff_equation" rel="nofollow">Stiff ODEs</a> might qualify. In the literature one finds plenty of different attempts to define the notion of a <em>stiff</em> initial value problem for an ODE, some of them more, some less precise and they all try to capture the phenomenon of rapid step size decrease when numerically integrating some IVPs with explicit schemes whereas some implicit schemes do very well without slowing down significantly. In fact, some authors use <em>this</em> as the definition of a stiff IVP.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56722#56722 Answer by kakaz for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? kakaz 2011-02-26T09:55:54Z 2012-01-01T06:20:26Z <p>The field with one element, $F_1$. </p> <p><em>Georges Elencwajg in</em> <a href="http://meta.mathoverflow.net/discussion/968/notions-used-but-not-rigorously-defined/#Item_0" rel="nofollow">http://meta.mathoverflow.net/discussion/968/notions-used-but-not-rigorously-defined/#Item_0</a></p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56723#56723 Answer by darij grinberg for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? darij grinberg 2011-02-26T10:12:58Z 2011-02-26T10:12:58Z <p>Left/right derived functors. If $F$ is an additive functor from a category $A$ to another category $B$, then the left/right derived functors of $F$ go from $A$ to... where? Not to $B$ certainly, because this would require global choice on $A$ or break canonicity.</p> <p>There seem to be solutions nowadays, with the notions of derived categories and <a href="http://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/anafunctor" rel="nofollow">anafunctors</a>. Unfortunately, there seems to be no introductory text yet which would systematically develop homological algebra in a clean way, without cheating and speculating over one's head. I am more than glad to be proven wrong...</p> <p>PS. This might be what Harry Gindi is referring to.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56725#56725 Answer by kakaz for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? kakaz 2011-02-26T10:46:49Z 2012-01-01T06:19:35Z <p>Notion of calculability:</p> <blockquote> <p>A function of positive integers is <strong>calculable</strong> only if recursive.</p> </blockquote> <p>Calculable function ( in a objective meaning) as used in Church-Turing Thesis <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/church-turing/" rel="nofollow">http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/church-turing/</a></p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56731#56731 Answer by kakaz for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? kakaz 2011-02-26T12:07:08Z 2011-02-26T12:07:08Z <p>Maybe situation in Matroid theory where there is several strict axiomatization schemes but its equivalence is not easy to prove, is interesting here. Probably there should be some generalization which would tie this different approaches into one, more or less obvious notion. There is even terminology connected with that phenomenon by G.C.Rota Cryptomorphism <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptomorphism" rel="nofollow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptomorphism</a> </p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56740#56740 Answer by mathphysicist for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? mathphysicist 2011-02-26T15:10:46Z 2011-02-26T15:10:46Z <p>Not only is the notion of chaos not well-defined (cf. the answer of Gerry Myerson), but the same holds true for its opposite: there is no universally accepted definition of <a href="http://mathoverflow.net/questions/6379/what-is-an-integrable-system/" rel="nofollow">integrable system</a> yet.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56747#56747 Answer by Gil Kalai for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Gil Kalai 2011-02-26T16:28:25Z 2011-02-26T16:28:25Z <p>I have three (somewhat related) examples:</p> <p>1) The notion of <strong>explicit construction</strong>. Seeking explicit constructions to non-constructive replace existence proofs is an old endeavor. Computational complexity offers, in some cases, formal definitions (constructions that can be dome in P or in polylog space.) But these definitions are slightly controversial. In any case people looked for explicit constructions before any explicit definition for the term explicit construction was known.</p> <p>2) The notion of <strong>effective bounds/proofs</strong>. There are many important problems about replacing a proof giving non effective bounds with a proof giving effective bounds. Usually I can understand a specific such problem but the general notion of effectiveness is not clear to me. (A famous example: effective proofs for Thue Siegel-Roth theorem.)</p> <p>3) <strong>Elementary proofs</strong>. I remember that finding elementary proofs for the prime number theorem was a major goal. I was told what this means many times and in a few of those I even understood. But the notion of "elementary" proof in analytic number theory remained quite vague for me.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56752#56752 Answer by Douglas Bowman for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Douglas Bowman 2011-02-26T18:27:42Z 2011-02-26T18:27:42Z <p>The notion of a $q$-analogue in enumerative combinatorics.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56765#56765 Answer by Andres Caicedo for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Andres Caicedo 2011-02-26T20:44:37Z 2011-02-26T20:44:37Z <p>There are several examples in set theory; the three I mention are related so I will include them in a single answer rather than three.</p> <blockquote> <p>1) <em>Large cardinal notion</em>.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have seen in print many times that there is no precise definition of what a large cardinal is, but I must disagree, since "weakly inaccessible cardinal" covers it. Of course, if you retreat to set theories without choice then there may be some room for discussion, but this is a technical point.</p> <p>People seem to mean something different when they say that large cardinal is not defined. It looks to me like they mean that the word should be used in reference to <em>significant</em> sign posts within the large cardinal hierarchy (such as "weakly compact", "strong", but not "the third Mahlo above the second measurable") and, since "significant" is not well defined, then...</p> <p>However, it seems clear that nowadays we are more interested in large cardinal <em>notions</em> rather than the large cardinals per se. To illustrate the difference, "$0^\sharp$ exists" is obviously a large cardinal notion, but I do not find it reasonable to call it (or $0^\sharp$) a large cardinal.</p> <p>And <em>large cardinal notion</em> is not yet a precisely defined concept. A very interesting approximation to such a notion is based on the hierarchy of <em>inner model operators</em> studied by Steel and others. But their meaningful study requires somewhat strong background assumptions, and so many of the large cardinal notions at the level of $L$ or "just beyond" do not seem to be not properly covered under this umbrella.</p> <blockquote> <p>2) <em>The core model</em>.</p> </blockquote> <p>This was mentioned by Henry Towsner. I do not think it is accurate that we were proving results about it without a precise definition. What happens is that all the results about it have additional assumptions beyond ZFC, and we would like to be able to remove them. More precisely, we cannot show its existence without additional assumptions, and these additional assumptions are also needed to establish its basic properties.</p> <p>The core model is intended to capture the "right analogue" of $L$ based on the background universe. If the universe does not have much large cardinal structure, this analogue is $L$ itself. If there are no measurable cardinals in inner models, the analogue is the Dodd-Jensen core model, and the name comes from their work. Etc. In each situation we know what broad features we expect the core model to have (this is the "not clearly defined part"). Once in each situation we formalize these broad features, we can proceed, and part of the problem is in showing its existence. </p> <p>Currently, we can only prove it under appropriate "anti-large cardinal assumptions", saying that the universe is not too large in some sense. One of the issues is that we want the core model to be a fine structural model, but we do not have a good inner model theory without anti-large cardinal assumptions. Another more serious issue is that as we climb through the large cardinal hierarchy, the properties we can expect of the core model become weaker. For example, if $0^\sharp$ does not exist, we have a full covering lemma. But this is not possible once we have measurables, due to Prikry forcing. We still have a version of it (weak covering), and this is one of the essential properties we expect.</p> <p>(There are additional technical issues related to <em>correctness</em>.)</p> <p>But it is fair to expect that as we continue developing inner model theory, we will find that our current notions are too restrictive. As a technical punchline, currently the most promising approach to a general notion seems to be in terms of Sargsyan's hod-models. But it looks to me this will only take us as far as determinacy or Universal Baireness can go. </p> <blockquote> <p>3) <em>Definable sets of reals</em>.</p> </blockquote> <p>We tend to say that descriptive set theory studies definable sets of reals as opposed to arbitrary such sets. This is a useful but not precise heuristic. It can be formalized in wildly different ways, depending of context. A first approximation to what we mean is "Borel", but this is too restrictive. Sometimes we use definability in terms of the projective hierarchy. Other times we say that a definable set is one that belongs to a natural model of ${\sf AD}^{+}$. But it is fair to say that these are just approximations to what we would really like to say. </p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56779#56779 Answer by Pablo Shmerkin for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Pablo Shmerkin 2011-02-27T00:46:49Z 2011-02-27T00:46:49Z <p>Surprised nobody mentioned <strong>fractal</strong> yet. (Chaos has been mentioned but the connection is tenuous.)</p> <p>No satisfactory definition of fractal exists. Mandelbrot tentatively defined a fractal as a set whose Hausdorff dimension is strictly larger than its topological dimension. But this leaves out many sets that most people agree are fractals, and it's hard to extend to other objects (like measures) that one also wants to consider as fractals.</p> <p>Taylor defined a fractal as a set with coinciding Hausdorff and packing dimensions. His goal was to leave out too irregular objects (for which different concepts of fractal dimension may differ), but according to his definition any smooth object is a fractal, and clearly fractal sets such as Bedford-McMullen carpets are left out.</p> <p>In applied fields, a fractal is often defined as a set having some kind of similarity: small parts are similar to the whole set, perhaps in a statistical or approximate sense. While many fractals arising in practice do enjoy this feature, this is still a very vague definition.</p> <p>Some authors consider <em>any</em> set or measure in Euclidean space to be a fractal, when the goal is to study properties typically associated with fractal sets, such as Hausdorff dimension.</p> <p>At the end of the day, there is agreement that giving a universal definition of fractal is impossible, yet it is a useful concept to have around, and people know a fractal when they see it.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56840#56840 Answer by David Harris for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? David Harris 2011-02-27T18:07:41Z 2011-02-27T18:07:41Z <p>Infinitesimals are almost in this category.</p> <p>Technically, calculus generally uses limits instead of infinitesimals. And there are logical systems (e.g. nonstandard analysis) in which genuine infinitesimals are rigorously defined. However, people find infinitesimals easier for intuition even in the context of the standard analysis. This type of infinitesimal reasoning generally then needs to be transformed into standard proofs.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56849#56849 Answer by none for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? none 2011-02-27T20:24:45Z 2011-02-27T20:24:45Z <p>How about the natural numbers $\mathbf N$ and the real numbers $\mathbf R$? If they were both clearly defined, then (for example) mathematicians would agree that the continuum hypothesis has a truth value, even if that value is not known. But there's not such agreement, and some will dispute that CH even has a meaning, much less a truth value. Even keeping it just to $\mathbf N$, all "definitions" that I know of are circular (e.g. the Peano axioms in second order logic just kick the unclarity up to the level of the predicates that the induction axiom quantifies over). The Hilbert $\omega$-rule is similarly self-referential. Yet we (mostly) agree that all arithmetic formulas (even, say, $\Pi^0_{100}$ formulas) <i>do</i> have truth values, that there's a (not effectively describable) first-order theory of "true arithmetic", etc. It just comes back to "the naturals, I mean the ordinary naturals, you know, 0, 1, 2, 3..." which comes across as a little bit faith-based ;-).</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/57123#57123 Answer by John Sidles for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? John Sidles 2011-03-02T16:26:36Z 2011-06-20T18:37:11Z <p>In response to Colin Tan's request (below), I have posted these remarks as the <i>TCS StackExchange</i> question "<a href="http://cstheory.stackexchange.com/q/7059/1519" rel="nofollow">Do the undecidable attributes of P pose an obstruction to deciding P versus NP?</a>" </p> <hr> <p>That a mathematical idea be "clearly defined" is itself an idea that perhaps could be more clearly defined ... one candidate for a more rigorous assertion is that a mathematical intuition be formally <i>decidable</i>. Moreover, widespread intuitions that are eventually proved to be decidable versus undecidable have an illustrious history in mathematics.</p> <p>These reflections lead to the suggestion this community wiki's question would be better-posed mathematically (and might perhaps be more useful too) if it were amended to read:<blockquote>"What intuitions are commonly embraced and/or have proved to be broadly useful, but nonetheless are formally <i>undecidable</i>, in modern mathematics?"</blockquote>One specific example that comes to mind is <a href="http://cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/5004/are-runtime-bounds-in-p-decidable-answer-no" rel="nofollow">Emanuele Viola's theorem</a>, with its implication that the set of Turing machines {M} associated to P has no decidable runtime ordering. Viola's proof of undecidability was eye-opening to me, and it has filled the valuable role of leading me to wonder "What else is out there?"</p> <p>To show the utility of these reflections, Section 1.5.2 of Sanjeev Arora and Boaz Barak's well-respected textbook <i>Computational Complexity: a Modern Approach</i> is titled <i>"Criticisms of P and some eď¬€orts to address them"</i>. I have often wished that Arora and Barak had written more on this theme. With the help of Viola theorem, this wich becomes specific and rigorous: a section titled "What&nbsp;properties of P are not <i>decidable</i> in modern mathematics?" </p> <p>No doubt many more examples of "undecidable intuitions of modern mathematics" could be posted, and it would be great fun to read other people's examples. However, it seems inappropriate to amend the topic of a community wiki in such a fundamental respect, and so I am posting this amended question as a suggested general "answer" instead.</p> <hr> <p>Partially in response to Colin Tan's request (in the comments below), I have posted on TCS StackExchange the specific question "<a href="http://cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/6836/what-is-the-proper-role-of-verification-in-quantum-sampling-simulation-and-exte" rel="nofollow">What is the proper role of verification in quantum sampling, simulation, and extended-Church-Turing (E-C-T) testing?</a>".</p> <p>More broadly, on Lance Fortnow's weblog, under the topic "<a href="http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3722233&amp;postID=3501776212238109913" rel="nofollow">75 Years of Computer Science</a>", the question is raised </p> <blockquote> <p>"Do there exist languages $L$ that are recognized solely by those Turing machines in $P$ whose runtime exponents are undecidable? Can examples of these machines and languages be finitely constructed?" </p> </blockquote> <p>... but I am not (yet) prepared to post this as a MathOverflow and/or TCS StackExchange question. Thanks and appreciation are extended to Colin.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/57193#57193 Answer by Michael Hardy for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Michael Hardy 2011-03-03T01:59:47Z 2011-03-03T01:59:47Z <p>Some people claim to have defined the concept of "closed form" fully and precisely. Have they?</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/63927#63927 Answer by Nilima Nigam for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Nilima Nigam 2011-05-04T16:05:20Z 2011-05-04T16:05:20Z <p>'Applied Mathematics' is a much-used term in modern mathematics, but I've yet to find a universally-agreed upon definition. Given its use as a major category ('pure' vs 'applied') and repository of sundry generalizations ('non-rigorous','relevant', 'not deep', 'critical to science', etc.), surely a precise definition is in order.</p> <p>In the MSC, there is only one MSC code with this phrase (00A69). Based on this, maybe 'Applied Mathematics' is a field of inquiry which is not important</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/63934#63934 Answer by Roland Bacher for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Roland Bacher 2011-05-04T17:40:57Z 2011-05-04T17:40:57Z <p>The different domains of mathematics (analysis, geometry, algebra, probability, combinatorics etc) are not completely clearly defined and overlap. This is of course not a problem when doing mathematics but sometimes when trying to categorize some work.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/75605#75605 Answer by Hans Stricker for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Hans Stricker 2011-09-16T15:00:16Z 2011-09-16T15:00:16Z <p>Relating to the answer on <a href="http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/56779#56779" rel="nofollow">fractals</a>: What about the notion of <strong>dimension</strong> itself (let alone fractal dimensions)? (At least <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimension" rel="nofollow">Wikipedia</a> doesn't give a concise general definition of "dimension".)</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/76713#76713 Answer by Adam Bjorndahl for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Adam Bjorndahl 2011-09-29T01:04:26Z 2011-09-29T01:04:26Z <p>The notion of a <strong>solution concept</strong> in game theory. Although the most famous example of such---Nash equilibrium---is rigourously defined, as are several others (correlated equilibrium, rationalizability, sequential equilibrium, etc.), there is no satisfactory general definition of the <em>type</em> of object of which these are tokens. Indeed, the purported definition that appears in <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solution_concept" rel="nofollow">this Wikipedia article</a> is, in a sense, as far from informative as it could be without incurring a type mismatch.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/76822#76822 Answer by David Harris for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? David Harris 2011-09-30T02:13:55Z 2011-09-30T02:13:55Z <p>In analysis, the concept of a limit at infinity vs. a limit at a real number $r$.</p> <p>Typically, there is a whole list of definitions of various limits $\lim_{x \rightarrow a} f(x) = b$, depending on whether $a$ and $b$ are ordinary reals or $\pm \infty$. You may have 9 separate definitions of the limit, one for each case. This situation repeats itself any time a limit is used implicitly, for example if an integral converges to a real or to $\pm \infty$, a series converges, and so on. </p> <p>Everyone knows that these definitions are really the same, but it seems more cumbersome to have a single unified definition than to have separate definitions that are, informally, the same concept. It is this covert "intuitive sense" in which all the definitions are the same that is not clearly defined.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/76850#76850 Answer by Jacques Carette for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Jacques Carette 2011-09-30T12:31:23Z 2011-09-30T12:31:23Z <p>I asked about <a href="http://mathoverflow.net/questions/29413/defining-variable-symbol-indeterminate-and-parameter" rel="nofollow">Defining variable, symbol, indeterminate and parameter</a> previously on MO, and did not get any satisfying answers for all these concepts. The one exception is that of variable (and meta-variable) where Neel gave good pointers.</p> http://mathoverflow.net/questions/56677/what-notions-are-used-but-not-clearly-defined-in-modern-mathematics/84683#84683 Answer by Buschi Sergio for What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics? Buschi Sergio 2012-01-01T14:12:17Z 2012-01-01T14:12:17Z <p>This is mine opinion:</p> <p>The mathalogic of usual language (that come from Aristotele) when we argue about a proof, expecially "reductio ad absurdum" rule, that is a implicit faith act on the coherence of what we are speaking. THe use of a relation (as $\in$) before define relation in the set theory contest, and using a "naive natural finite quantity manipulation" before bulding the theory of set or some well formalized mathematics theory. </p> <p>ABout no too professional mathematics:</p> <p>concept and existence of points, and spaces as a set of pont.</p> <p>Concept of natural number set $\mathbb{N}$ as a "infinite in act" (quite it all gived) and no as "ever could add some to it" (infinite as ever continuing bulding), infact the passage to "infinite in act" need Peano axioms. </p>