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169
votes
61answers
86k views

Proofs without words

Can you give examples of proofs without words? In particular, can you give examples of proofs without words for non-trivial results? (One could ask if this is of interest to mathematicians, and I ...
117
votes
67answers
37k views

Awfully sophisticated proof for simple facts [closed]

It is sometimes the case that one can produce proofs of simple facts that are of disproportionate sophistication which, however, do not involve any circularity. For example, (I think) I gave an ...
117
votes
26answers
14k views

What are some reasonable-sounding statements that are independent of ZFC?

Every now and then, somebody will tell me about a question. When I start thinking about it, they say, "actually, it's undecidable in ZFC." For example, suppose A is an abelian group such that every ...
113
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 ...
106
votes
75answers
33k views

Best online mathematics videos?

I know of two good mathematics videos available online, namely: Sphere inside out (part I and part II) Moebius transformation revealed Do you know of any other good math videos? Share.
93
votes
59answers
16k views

Jokes in the sense of Littlewood: examples? [closed]

First, let me make it clear that I do not mean jokes of the "abelian grape" variety. I take my cue from the following passage in A Mathematician's Miscellany by J.E. Littlewood (Methuen 1953, p. 79): ...
87
votes
53answers
19k views

What are your favorite instructional counterexamples?

Related: question #879, Most interesting mathematics mistake. But the intent of this question is more pedagogical. In many branches of mathematics, it seems to me that a good counterexample can be ...
84
votes
81answers
64k views

Do good math jokes exist? [closed]

Have a good joke? Share. I know this is subjective, but the principle "should be of interest to mathematicians" trumps. (I hope.)
77
votes
42answers
16k views

What are the most attractive Turing undecidable problems in mathematics?

What are the most attractive Turing undecidable problems in mathematics? There are thousands of examples, so please post here only the most attractive, best examples. Some examples already appear on ...
73
votes
6answers
4k views

Counterexamples in algebraic topology?

In this thread Books you would like to read (if somebody would just write them...), I expressed my desire for a book with the title "(Counter)examples in Algebraic Topology". My reason for doing so ...
67
votes
6answers
7k views

Mistakes in mathematics, false illusions about conjectures

Since long time ago I have been thinking in two problems that I have not been able to solve. It seems that one of them was recently solved. I have been thinking a lot about the motivation and its ...
58
votes
23answers
21k views

What are the most misleading alternate definitions in taught mathematics?

I suppose this question can be interpreted in two ways. It is often the case that two or more equivalent (but not necessarily semantically equivalent) definitions of the same idea/object are used in ...
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 ...
47
votes
6answers
3k views

Simplest examples of nonisomorphic complex algebraic varieties with isomorphic analytifications

If they are not proper, two complex algebraic varieties can be nonisomorphic yet have isomorphic analytifications. I've heard informal examples (often involving moduli spaces), but am not sure of the ...
45
votes
33answers
4k views

Dimension Leaps

Many mathematical areas have a notion of "dimension", either rigorously or naively, and different dimensions can exhibit wildly different behaviour. Often, the behaviour is similar for "nearby" ...
45
votes
28answers
4k views

Examples where it's useful to know that a mathematical object belongs to some family of objects

For an expository piece I'm writing, it would be useful to have good examples of the following phenomenon: (1) ${\cal X}$ is a parameterized family of somethings. (Varieties, schemes, manifolds, ...
45
votes
27answers
4k views

books well-motivated with explicit examples

It is ultimately a matter of personal taste, but I prefer to see a long explicit example, before jumping into the usual definition-theorem path (hopefully I am not the only one here). My problem is ...
44
votes
2answers
4k views

Galoisian sets of prime numbers

The question is about characterising the sets $S(K)$ of primes which split completely in a given galoisian extension $K|\mathbb{Q}$. Do recent results such as Serre's modularity conjecture (as proved ...
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 ...
42
votes
28answers
5k views

What are some examples of ingenious, unexpected constructions?

Many famous problems in mathematics can be phrased as the quest for a specific construction. Often such constructions were sought after for centuries or even millennia and later proved impossible by ...
40
votes
44answers
13k views

An example of a beautiful proof that would be accessible at the high school level?

The background of my question comes from an observation that what we teach in schools does not always reflect what we practice. Beauty is part of what drives mathematicians, but we rarely talk about ...
39
votes
28answers
18k views

Applications of the Chinese remainder theorem

As the title suggests I am interested in CRT applications. Wikipedia article on CRT lists some of the well known applications (e.g. used in the RSA algorithm, used to construct an elegant Gödel ...
39
votes
35answers
6k views

Examples of theorems with proofs that have dramatically improved over time

I am looking for examples of theorems that may have originally had a clunky, or rather technical, or in some way non-illuminating proof, but that eventually came to have a proof that people consider ...
39
votes
7answers
4k views

Riemannian surfaces with an explicit distance function?

I'm looking for explicit examples of Riemannian surfaces (two-dimensional Riemannian manifolds $(M,g)$) for which the distance function d(x,y) can be given explicitly in terms of local coordinates of ...
38
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)?
37
votes
78answers
8k views

What is the first interesting theorem in (insert subject here)? [closed]

In most students' introduction to rigorous proof-based mathematics, many of the initial exercises and theorems are just a test of a student's understanding of how to work with the axioms and unpack ...
35
votes
5answers
3k views

What is Yoneda's Lemma a generalization of?

What is Yoneda's Lemma a generalization of? I am looking for examples that were known before category theory entered the stage resp. can be known by students before they start with category theory. ...
34
votes
12answers
5k views

Combinatorial results without known combinatorial proofs

Stanley likes to keep a list of combinatorial results for which there is no known combinatorial proof. For example, until recently I believe the explicit enumeration of the de Brujin sequences fell ...
33
votes
15answers
6k views

Strong induction without a base case

Strong induction proves a sequence of statements $P(0)$, $P(1)$, $\ldots$ by proving the implication "If $P(m)$ is true for all nonnegative integers $m$ less than $n$, then $P(n)$ is true." for ...
32
votes
22answers
6k views

Examples of seemingly elementary problems that are hard to solve?

I'm looking for a list of problems such that a) any undergraduate student who took multivariable calculus and linear algebra can understand the statements, (Edit: the definition of understanding here ...
32
votes
17answers
4k views

Canonical examples of algebraic structures

Please list some examples of common examples of algebraic structures. I was thinking answers of the following form. "When I read about a [insert structure here], I immediately think of [example]." ...
31
votes
7answers
5k views

Is there a measure zero set which isn't meagre?

A subset of ℝ is meagre if it is a countable union of nowhere dense subsets (a set is nowhere dense if every open interval contains an open subinterval that misses the set). Any countable set ...
30
votes
2answers
2k views

Are there pairs of highly connected finite CW-complexes with the same homotopy groups?

Fix an integer n. Can you find two finite CW-complexes X and Y which * are both n connected, * are not homotopy equivalent, yet * $\pi_q X \approx \pi_q Y$ for all $q$. In Are there two ...
30
votes
2answers
2k views

Difficult examples for Frankl's union-closed conjecture

Frankl's well-known union-closed conjecture states that if F is a finite family of sets that is closed under taking unions (that is, if A and B belong to the family then so does $A\cup B$), then there ...
29
votes
17answers
5k views

Wonderful applications of the Vandermonde determinant

This semester I am assisting my mentor teaching a first-year undergraduate course on linear algebra in Peking University, China. And now we have come to the famous Vandermonde determinant, which has ...
29
votes
3answers
2k views

Algebras over the little disks operad

Hello, The so-called "recognition principle" of Boardman-Vogt and May leaves me unsatisfied. My problem is the following: The "recognition principle" says that every "group-like" algebra over the ...
28
votes
5answers
2k views

`Naturally occuring' $K(\pi, n)$ spaces, for $n \geq 2$.

[edited!] Given a group $\pi$ and an integer $n>1$, what are examples of Eilenberg-Maclane spaces $K(\pi, n)$ that can be constructed as "known" manifolds? (or if not a manifold, say some space ...
28
votes
5answers
891 views

are there natural examples of classical mechanics that happens on a symplectic manifold that isn't a cotangent bundle?

I'm curious about just how far the abstraction to a symplectic formalism can be justified by appeal to actual physical examples. There's good motivation, for example, for working over an arbitrary ...
27
votes
6answers
4k views

Algebraically closed fields of positive characteristic

I'm taking introductory algebraic geometry this term, so a lot of the theorems we see in class start with "Let k be an algebraically closed field." One of the things that's annoyed me is that as far ...
27
votes
3answers
2k views

Wanted: example of a non-algebraic singularity

Given a finitely generated $\def\CC{\mathbb C}\CC$-algebra $R$ and a $\CC$-point (maximal ideal) $p\in Spec(R)$, I define the singularity type of $p\in Spec(R)$ to be the isomorphism class of the ...
26
votes
13answers
5k views

Examples of using physical intuition to solve math problems

For the purposes of this question let a "physical intuition" be an intuition that is derived from your everyday experience of physical reality. Your intuitions about how the spin of a ball affects ...
26
votes
14answers
4k views

Explicit computations using the Haar measure

This question is somewhat related to my previous one on Grassmanians. The few times I've encountered the Haar measure in the course of my mathematical education, it's always been used in a very ...
26
votes
7answers
2k views

Does any method of summing divergent series work on the harmonic series?

It's sort of folklore (as exemplified by this old post at The Everything Seminar) that none of the common techniques for summing divergent series work to give a meaningful value to the harmonic ...
24
votes
20answers
6k views

Nontrivial question about fibonacci numbers?

I'm looking for a nontrivial, but not super difficult question concerning Fibonacci numbers. It should be at a level suitable for an undergraduate course. Here is a (not so good) example of the sort ...
23
votes
11answers
2k views

Interesting conjectures “discovered” by computers and proved by humans?

There are notable examples of computers "proving" results discovered by mathematicians, what about the opposite: Are there interesting conjectures "discovered" by computers and proved by humans? ...
23
votes
11answers
4k views

Motivating the de Rham theorem

In grad school I learned the isomorphism between de Rham cohomology and singular cohomology from a course that used Warner's book Foundations of Differentiable Manifolds and Lie Groups. One thing ...
23
votes
4answers
2k views

What are “good” examples of spin manifolds?

I'm trying to get a grasp on what it means for a manifold to be spin. My question is, roughly: What are some "good" (in the sense of illustrating the concept) examples of manifolds which are spin ...
23
votes
3answers
2k views

Arithmetic geometry examples

(This is inspired by Algebraic geometry examples.) I want to collect here (counter)examples in arithmetic geometry. Curves violating the Hasse principle: The Selmer curve $3X^3 + 4Y^3 + 5Z^3 = 0$. ...
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 ...
22
votes
5answers
1k views

Explicit elements of $K((x))((y)) \setminus K((x,y))$

In an answer to the popular question on common false beliefs in mathematics Examples of common false beliefs in mathematics. I mentioned that many people conflate the two different kinds of formal ...