Questions designed to get an overview of a specific subject or body of results or to understand the relations among similar definitions, techniques or concepts appearing in different sub-fields of mathematics. While such questions by their very nature sometimes cannot be made very narrow and ...

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5
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1answer
2k views

When are technical assumptions critical? [closed]

Apart from their technical statement and proof, a usual presentation of theorems is by leading up to them with a definite motivation or intuition, for example putting the results in the wider context ...
20
votes
4answers
2k views

What information is contained in the Kazhdan-Lusztig polynomials?

The Kazhdan-Lusztig polynomials contain all kinds of representation theoretic (and other kinds of) informations. For example the character of a simple module over a Lie algebra with Weyl group $W$ ...
7
votes
2answers
571 views

Hilbert's 3rd problem,number theory, motives, cyclic homology,…

This talk by Jinhyun Park connects a lot of interesting themes, making me curious to read more about that. Do you know where?
24
votes
1answer
2k views

more on “Transalgebraic Theories” (a 19th century yoga)?

Among the talks at occasion of the Galois Bicentennial, one is about "Transalgebraic Theories". Unfortunately I found only this article describing that fascinating idea as " an extremely powerful ...
3
votes
3answers
439 views

Usefulness of symbolic devices

Each mathematician knows that good notation or symbolism – which seems to be irrelevant from a purely logical point of view – makes theorems more plausible and motivates results which would ...
15
votes
3answers
788 views

Thom's Principle: rich structures are more numerous in low dimension

Marcel Berger states Thom's Principle as: "rich structures are more numerous in low dimension, and poor structures are more numerous in high dimension." This is in Geometry II ...
24
votes
14answers
4k views

Interesting mathematical topics arising from Biology

I've heard that there's a relatively new field of science called Mathematical Biology. It will certainly apply well known and less known mathematical techniques to the understanding of some ...
45
votes
24answers
8k views

The concept of Duality

I have been thinking for sometime about asking this question, but because I did not want to have two "big-list" questions open at the same time, I did not ask this one. Now its time has come. ...
6
votes
1answer
922 views

How are mathematical objects defined from an ultrafinitist perspective?

I remember attending a lecture given by an ultrafinitist who denied that curves are a set of points, he would only say that any particular point may or not be on the curve. Similarly for algebraic or ...
12
votes
0answers
229 views

Is there a common framework for Tannaka and Gabriel-Ulmer reconstruction theorems?

Gabriel-Ulmer duality is a biequivalence between the 2-category of finite limit categories and the 2-category of locally finitely presentable categories. It allows for the reconstruction of a theory ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

Did Joseph Doob prove that random sequences don't exist?

In the book "The Mathematical Experience" it says: "An infinite [binary] sequence $x_1, x_2, \ldots$ is called random in the sense of von Mises if every infinite sequence $x_{n_1}, x_{n_2}, ...
6
votes
2answers
673 views

What is the relation of the Kuznetsov-Bruggeman trace formula and the Selberg trace formula?

I have read that there is an elementary way to show that the above mentioned trace fromulas are equivalent in the sense, that each of them can be derived directly from the other. There should exist a ...
29
votes
3answers
2k views

On what kind of objects do the Galois groups act?

I am neither number theorist nor algebraic geometer. I am wondering whether Galois groups of number fields (say the absolute Galois group $Gal(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q})$) act on objects which ...
35
votes
1answer
2k views

Various flavours of infinitesimals

I'm not sure if this is a soft question, and whether it may be too broad or, on the contrary, too localized. Well, in Mathematics the concept of "infinitesimal" has been of extreme importance for ...
1
vote
0answers
564 views

What is an algebraic object? [closed]

The question is in the title. In order to give a bit more backround about the question, one knows that their are several different notions of an algebraic object. One approach is that of Lavere and ...
7
votes
1answer
781 views

What makes a theorem 'good'? [closed]

I have been pondering the issue of what makes a theorem noteworthy. There are many famous examples of 'outstanding' theorems, such as Roth's theorem in Diophantine approximation, Szemeredi's Theorem, ...
22
votes
6answers
4k views

Why the triangle inequality?

[Maybe this is asking to be closed; but I thought I'd risk it.] A metric satisfies the axioms: $d(x,y)=0$ if and only if $x=y$. $d(x,y) = d(y,x)$. $d(x,y) \leq d(x,z) + d(z,y)$. Similarly (and ...
7
votes
1answer
438 views

Categorical Invariants

I apologize in advance if this question seems too vague. In many topology courses, concepts like the fundamental group and homology groups are introduced as a means of distinguishing ...
20
votes
5answers
2k views

Why are finiteness conditions important (and how to recognize them)?

I think everybody here has met lots of finiteness conditions, like those requiring a vector space to be finite dimensional, an abelian group to be finitely generated, a ring to be Noetherian, a ...
15
votes
8answers
6k views

The first eigenvalue of a graph - what does it reflect?

A big-picture question: what "physical properties" of a graph, and in particular of a bipartite graph, are encoded by its largest eigenvalue? If $U$ and $V$ are the partite sets of the graph, with the ...
4
votes
1answer
1k views

Why is the Arthur trace formula so powerful?

Considering the Arthur trace formula, why are the sort of convolution operators, whose "normalized traces" are given in geometric terms and spectral terms, actually able to distinguish all automorphic ...
6
votes
0answers
409 views

Does mathematical fecundity ever deviate from its applicability?

We are all familiar with Wigner's "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" thesis (1), and of Hardy's opinion that "the great bulk of higher mathematics is useless" (2). I am wondering if there are ...
55
votes
13answers
11k views

Logic in mathematics and philosophy

What are the relations between logic as an area of (modern) philosophy and mathematical logic. The world "modern" refers to 20th century and later, and I am curious mainly about the second half of ...
46
votes
14answers
5k views

What is the high-concept explanation on why real numbers are useful in number theory?

The utopian situation in mathematics would be that the statement and the proof of every result would live "in the same world", at the same level of mathematical complexity (in a broad sense), unless ...
14
votes
2answers
1k views

Using higher-order Bring radicals to solve arbitrary polynomials

It is well known that there is no general formula for the solution of the quintic. Of course, what this really means is that there is no general formula that only involves addition, subtraction, ...
65
votes
10answers
9k views

Why do Bernoulli numbers arise everywhere?

I have seen Bernoulli numbers many times, and sometimes very surprisingly. They appear in my textbook on complex analysis, in algebraic topology, and of course, number theory. Things like the criteria ...
28
votes
13answers
3k views

Surprising and Useful Physical Intuition for Mathematical Objects

I believe I.M. Gelfand said that when beginning to learn a new subject, one should learn it like a physicist. In this spirit, what are some helpful and surprising physical intuitions accompanying ...
18
votes
3answers
1k views

What do whitehead towers have to do with physics?

First let me say something that I don't completely understand, since I do not know enough physics. If I say anything wrong, someone please tell me: For the spinning particle, there is a sigma-model, ...
9
votes
6answers
963 views

(Non?)-linearity of the consistency strength ordering in ZF

Much of the research taking place in set theory, is related to the classification of sentences according to their consistency strength relative to ZF. In order to be more specific, we say that for all ...
17
votes
6answers
2k views

Why chain homotopy when there is no topology in the background?

Given two morphisms between chain complexes $f_\bullet,g_\bullet\colon\,C_\bullet\longrightarrow D_\bullet$, a chain homotopy between them is a sequence of maps $\psi_n\colon\,C_n\longrightarrow ...
2
votes
1answer
560 views

Knowledge base about topology [closed]

We are studying topology. There are a lot of definitions and theorems. I wonder if there somewhere knowledge base about topology and reasoning system exists. So I expect some tool that systematizes ...
7
votes
0answers
291 views

Canonical Time Evolution for Type $II_{1}$-Factors?

This question was spurred by the answer of Steve Huntsman to the MO question here. The Tomita-Takesaki modular automorphism group gives rise to a canonical time evolution on a type $III$ factor ...
8
votes
0answers
606 views

Counting Lattice Points in Real Polytopes

Suppose one did have an exact formula for the number of $\mathbb{Z}^n$-lattice points intersecting an arbitrary dilate of a (not necessarily rational) finite, closed and convex $n$-polytope. As a ...
8
votes
1answer
660 views

Analogue to Serre spectral sequence for cofiber sequences and homotopy

(This is a follow-up question to this one). As it is nicely outlined in an answer to this question, homotopy groups behave well with respect to (Serre)-fibrations and (co)homology groups behave well ...
66
votes
34answers
11k views

What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics?

"Everyone knows what a curve is, until he has studied enough mathematics to become confused through the countless number of possible exceptions." Felix Klein What notions are used but not ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Why does homotopy behave well with respect to fibrations and homology with respect to cofibrations?

(I apologize that this is a vague question). I seems to me somehow that homotopy groups behave well with respect to (Serre)-fibrations. For example you get a long exact sequence of homotopy groups ...
7
votes
5answers
1k views

what can be said about the choice of a prior in Bayesian statistics?

When reading about the Bayesian approach to statistics, priors are an important component of the whole methodology. Yet, it seems like priors are chosen without any specific theoretical motivation. ...
24
votes
10answers
2k views

Are infinite dimensional constructions needed to prove finite dimensional results?

Infinite dimensional constructions, such as spaces of diffeomorphisms, spectra, spaces of paths, and spaces of connections, appear all over topology. I rather like them, because they sometimes help me ...
40
votes
14answers
6k views

Does any research mathematics involve solving functional equations?

This is a somewhat frivolous question, so I won't mind if it gets closed. One of the categories of Olympiad-style problems (e.g. at the IMO) is solving various functional equations, such as those ...
67
votes
52answers
24k views

Theorems that are 'obvious' but hard to prove

There are several well-known mathematical statements that are 'obvious' but false (such as the negation of the Banach--Tarski theorem). There are plenty more that are 'obvious' and true. One would ...
9
votes
11answers
3k views

What advanced Area of Mathematics can be delved into with only basic Calculus and Linear Algebra

Hello Mathoverflow Community, I would really appreciate some advice on this: All I know is Basic Calculus and Basic Linear Algebra, I want to start learning more advanced material on my own while ...
20
votes
3answers
2k views

Narratives in Modular Curves

I've tried several times to read up on modular curves, and I've despaired every time. It seems that there are several competing narratives, that all get enfused and conspire to befuddle me. There are ...
80
votes
16answers
8k views

What makes four dimensions special?

Do you know properties which distinguish four-dimensional spaces among the others? What makes four-dimensional topological manifolds special? What makes four-dimensional differentiable manifolds ...
24
votes
8answers
4k views

How should one think about sheafification and the difference between a sheaf and a presheaf

The first time I got in touch with the abstract notion of a sheaf on a topological space $X$, I thought of it as something which assigns to an open set $U$ of $X$ something like the ring of continuous ...
81
votes
17answers
23k views

What recent discoveries have amateur mathematicians made?

E.T. Bell called Fermat the Prince of Amateurs. One hundred years ago Ramanujan amazed the mathematical world. In between were many important amateurs and mathematicians off the beaten path, but what ...
17
votes
5answers
1k views

How and how much do the notations and diagrams influence our understanding of mathematical concepts?

How and how much do the notations and diagrams influence our understanding of mathematical concepts? This question was stimulated by the MathOverflow questions Thinking and Explaining and ...
51
votes
11answers
5k views

Why certain diophantine equations are interesting (and others are not) ?

It is quite clear why certain differential equations, among the jungle of possible diff equations that is possible to conceive, are studied: some come from physical problems, or from "spontaneous" ...
4
votes
4answers
4k views

Why do we want to have orthogonal bases in decompositions?

In the decompositions I encountered so far, we all had orthogonal set of bases. For example in Singular Value Decomposition, we had orthogonal singular right and left vectors, in [discrete] cosine ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Hecke-algebras in your field of mathematics

(How) do Hecke-algebras arise naturally in your field of mathematics and why are they important? How would you define them and how do you think about them? e.g. generators and relations, functions ...
13
votes
16answers
1k views

Generalized notions of solutions in various areas of mathematics

In many areas of mathematics (PDE, Algebra, combinatorics, geometry) when we have difficulty in coming with a solution to a problem we consider various notions of "generalized solutions". (There are ...