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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13
votes
2answers
876 views

Why the similarity between Hodge theory for compact Riemannian and complex manifolds?

I'm aware to varying extents of the existence of certain decompositions of the space of $k$-forms on a compact complex or compact Riemannian manifold that split into closed, co-closed, and harmonic ...
1
vote
0answers
208 views

Classification of properties of structures

Is there a sensible classification of the properties of structures with a given signature $\sigma$, e.g. graphs with $\sigma = \lbrace R \rbrace$? For example like this: properties defined by ...
9
votes
2answers
760 views

What are important examples of filtered/graded rings in physics?

Hi, what comes to the mind of a physicist, when he hears words like filtered ring and associated graded? What do these guys describe? What are basic/typical/illuminating examples in physics? Of ...
26
votes
14answers
2k views

What are interesting families of subsets of a given set?

Motivation The usual starting point of both Topology and Measure Theory is the definition of a family of subsets of a set $S$. Indeed, one defines a topology on $S$ to be a family of subsets ...
19
votes
6answers
4k views

Heuristic behind the Fourier-Mukai transform

What is the heuristic idea behind the Fourier-Mukai transform? What is the connection to the classical Fourier transform? Moreover, could someone recommend a concise introduction to the subject?
19
votes
6answers
2k views

Generalizations of “standard” calculus

We have the usual analogy between infinitesimal calculus (integrals and derivatives) and finite calculus (sums and forward differences), and also the generalization of infinitesimal calculus to ...
29
votes
21answers
6k views

What are some slogans that express mathematical tricks?

Many "tricks" that we use to solve mathematical problems don't correspond nicely to theorems or lemmas, or anything close to that rigorous. Instead they take the form of analogies, or general methods ...
6
votes
1answer
838 views

Elementary questions in arithmetic geometry

In many theories there is a rough divide between elementary problems that can be solved with "one's hands", and "deep results that require powerful tools". For example, I am told that Hodge theory is ...
13
votes
27answers
3k views

Justifying a theory by a seemingly unrelated example

Here is a topic in the vein of Describe a topic in one sentence and Fundamental examples : imagine that you are trying to explain and justify a mathematical theory T to a skeptical mathematician ...
16
votes
3answers
2k views

Why is the decomposition theorem awesome?

I saw the statement of the decomposition theorem for perverse sheaves sometime ago. I know that (modulo most of the details) it implies some big theorems in algebraic geometry and gives new proofs for ...
29
votes
7answers
5k views

Why is it useful to study vector bundles?

I have this question coming from an earlier Qiaochu's post. Some answers there, especially David Lehavi's one, were drawing the analogy bundles and varieties versus modules and rings. So I am just ...
2
votes
2answers
438 views

How much faith should I put in numerics? [closed]

Edit: Let me summarize what this question was meant to ask. Is there a quantitative theory of "approximate" soundness? Arguments are usually either sound or unsound. This is binary. If we don't ...
10
votes
1answer
2k views

Kapranov's analogies

I just wonder about Kapranov's "Analogies between Langlands Correspondence and topological QFT". I would like to read a more detailed exposition and how one turns that analogy into concrete ...
67
votes
11answers
14k views

What is an integrable system

What is an integrable system, and what is the significance of such systems? (Maybe it is easier to explain what a non-integrable system is.) In particular, is there a dichotomy between "integrable" ...
7
votes
3answers
720 views

“Right” Way of Introducing Modular Forms to Undergraduate Audience?

I am giving an extremely short talk (~12 minutes) in a few weeks in which I need to be able to introduce and motivate the idea of a classical modular form to an audience of undergraduates in as short ...
34
votes
5answers
5k views

What is a cohomology theory (seriously)?

This question has bugged me for a long time. Is there a unifying concept behind everything that is called a "cohomology theory"? I know that there exist generalized cohomology theories, Weil ...
19
votes
4answers
2k views

Visualizing how Cech cohomology detects holes

I think it's pretty intuitive how singular/simplicial cohomology detects "holes" in a space. How can we directly visualize how and in what sense the Cech cohomology of a cover does this? In ...
51
votes
16answers
8k views

Why is it a good idea to study a ring by studying its modules?

This is related to another question of mine. Suppose you met someone who was well-acquainted with the basic properties of rings, but who had never heard of a module. You tell him that modules ...
5
votes
3answers
389 views

Abstract Relation between Presehaves and Simplicial Sets

Every presheaf (let's say on a topological space) comes with restriction maps. The open sets of a topological space are ordered by inclusion and these inclusions yield the restrictions. Now a sheaf ...
129
votes
132answers
29k views

Fundamental Examples

It is not unusual that a single example or a very few shape an entire mathematical discipline. Can you give examples for such examples? (One example, or few, per post, please) I'd love to learn about ...
9
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the relationship between algebraic geometry and quantum mechanics?

The basic relationship in algebraic geometry is between a variety and its ring of functions. Arguably a similarly basic relationship in quantum mechanics is between a state space and its algebra of ...
44
votes
11answers
6k views

What precisely Is “Categorification”?

(And what's it good for.) Related MO questions (with some very nice answers): examples-of-categorification; can-we-categorify-the-equation $(1-t)(1+t+t^2+\dots)=1$?; categorification-request.
8
votes
3answers
337 views

How does one identify properties of objects with good “inheritance”?

When you are dealing with a very general object like a topological space or a ring, usually you impose an additional condition (such as compact Hausdorff or Noetherian) with the property that the ...
8
votes
2answers
480 views

What is the conceptual significance of supercommutativity?

A $\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}$-graded algebra is said to supercommute if $xy = (-1)^{|x| |y|} yx$; in other words, odd elements anticommute. Why is this the "right" definition of supercommutativity? ...
30
votes
6answers
2k views

Universal definition of tangent spaces (for schemes and manifolds)

Both schemes and manifolds are local ringed spaces which are locally isomorphic to spaces in some full subcategory of local ringed spaces (local models). Now, there is the inherent notion of the ...
3
votes
1answer
200 views

limits of algebraic varieties

I'm looking for a reference which deals with limits of families of algebraic varieties as the degree increases (or at least keywords from this subject). For the kind of example I have in mind, ...
13
votes
2answers
690 views

Is there any meaning to a “nice bijective proof?”

From Zeilberger's PCM article on enumerative combinatorics: The reaction of the combinatorial enumeration community to the involution principle was mixed. On the one hand it had the universal ...
6
votes
1answer
902 views

What is Drinfeld's manuscript “Best Dream” (in Russian!) about?

I would like to know what Drinfeld's scanned manuscript "Best Dream" is about: the title makes me curious. It's in Russian.
5
votes
5answers
727 views

Visual representation of mathematical research interrelationships

I remember seeing a visualization in the form of a 2d (nodal) graph of all areas of academia, with math, physics and engineering over in one section, connecting in an arc to the central area of ...
4
votes
7answers
1k views

What can't be described by categories?

I've been reading some "introduction to categories" type materials and have been impressed with the all-encompassing nature, but the skeptic in me wonders: is there any mathematical object that ...
44
votes
50answers
10k views

Describe a topic in one sentence. [closed]

When you study a topic for the first time, it can be difficult to pick up the motivations and to understand where everything is going. Once you have some experience, however, you get that good ...
14
votes
3answers
2k views

K(F_1) = sphere spectrum?

I repeatedly heard that K(F_1) is the sphere spectrum. Does anyone know about the proof and what that means?
30
votes
15answers
2k views

What are examples of good toy models in mathematics?

This post is community wiki. A comment on another question reminded me of this old post of Terence Tao's about toy models. I really like the idea of using toy models of a difficult object to ...
5
votes
7answers
542 views

Given a sequence defined on the positive integers, how should it be extended to be defined at zero?

This question is inspired by a lecture Bjorn Poonen gave at MIT last year. I have ideas of my own, but I'm interested in what other people have to say, so I'll make this community wiki and post my ...
37
votes
8answers
6k views

Sheaf cohomology and injective resolutions

In defining sheaf cohomology (say in Hartshorne), a common approach seems to be defining the cohomology functors as derived functors. Is there any conceptual reason for injective resolution to come ...
40
votes
21answers
6k views

What's a groupoid? What's a good example of a groupoid?

Or more specifically, why do people get so excited about them? And what's your favorite easy example of one, which illustrates why I should care (and is not a group)?
13
votes
7answers
2k views

What is lambda calculus related to?

So I'm not much of a math guy but I've really enjoyed programming in Lisp and have become interested in the ideas of lambda calculus which it is based. I was wondering if anyone had a suggestion ...
43
votes
12answers
5k views

Is there a high-concept explanation for why characteristic 2 is special?

The structure of the multiplicative groups of Z/pZ or of Zp is the same for odd primes, but not for 2. Quadratic reciprocity has a uniform statement for odd primes, but an extra statement for 2. So ...
10
votes
6answers
1k views

Why the search for ever larger primes?

I understand why primes are useful numbers and also why the product of large primes are useful such as for application in public key cryptography, but I am wondering why it is useful to continue the ...