6
votes
1answer
1k 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 ...
43
votes
29answers
9k 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 ...
0
votes
3answers
978 views

Intuitions/connections/examples for “eigen-*”

There are many concepts in mathematics that begin with the German word "eigen": eigenvector, eigenvalue, eigenspace, eigenstate, eigenfunction, eigensystem etc. (to name just the most important (?) ...
15
votes
12answers
2k views

What are some fundamental “sources” for the appearance of pi in mathematics?

I thought it might be fun to ask this question as a way of celebrating Pi Day. One way in which people popularize pi is that they say that even though it's defined in terms of properties of a circle, ...
53
votes
33answers
8k views

Experimental Mathematics

I would like to ask about examples where experimentation by computers have led to major mathematical advances. Motivation I am aware about a few such cases and I think it will be useful to gather ...
13
votes
27answers
2k 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 ...
111
votes
130answers
26k 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 ...
22
votes
11answers
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
509 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
21answers
5k 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)?