27
votes
26answers
4k views

Mathematicians who made important contributions outside their own field? [closed]

It is often said that scientists who cross disciplinary borders can make unexpected discoveries thanks to their fresh view of the problems at hand. I am looking for mathematicians who did just that. ...
65
votes
9answers
7k views

Analogues of P vs. NP in the history of mathematics

Recently I wrote a blog post entitled "The Scientific Case for P≠NP". The argument I tried to articulate there is that there seems to be an "invisible electric fence" separating the problems in P ...
-2
votes
2answers
608 views

Accidental, unplanned breakthroughs in Mathematics [closed]

In math/physics, or generally in science, there are many moments where the success and the triumph come from the accidental, unplanned attempts. Moreover, there are some cases that originally having ...
45
votes
18answers
7k views

Examples of major theorems with very hard proofs that have NOT dramatically improved over time

This question complement a previous MO question: Examples of theorems with proofs that have dramatically improved over time. I am looking for a list of major theorems in mathematics whose proofs are ...
33
votes
17answers
4k views

What are some deep theorems, and why are they considered deep?

All mathematicians are used to thinking that certain theorems are deep, and we would probably all point to examples such as Dirichlet's theorem on primes in arithmetic progressions, the prime number ...
60
votes
24answers
6k views

Modern Mathematical Achievements Accessible to Undergraduates

While there is tremendous progress happening in mathematics, most of it is just accessible to specialists. In many cases, the proofs of great results are both long and use difficult techniques. Even ...
28
votes
13answers
2k views

Great mathematics books by pre-modern authors

Last summer, I read Euclid's Elements, and it was an eye-opening experience; I had assumed that three thousand years' difference would make the notation incomprehensible and the reasoning alien, but ...
37
votes
20answers
6k views

Mathematicians whose works were criticized by contemporaries but became widely accepted later

Gauss famously discarded Abel's proof that an algebraic equation of degree five or more cannot have a general solution (Abel himself had rejected divergent series as the work of the devil). Cantor's ...
31
votes
31answers
6k views

Trichotomies in mathematics

Added. Thanks to all who participated! Let me humbly apologize to those who were annoyed (quite understandably) by this thread, deeming it nothing more than an exercise in futility. If you thought the ...
52
votes
61answers
8k views

Old books still used

It's a commonplace to state that while other sciences (like biology) may always need the newest books, we mathematicians also use to use older books. While this is a qualitative remark, I would like ...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Statements which were given as axioms, which later turned out to be false.

I know that early axiomatizations of real arithmetic (in the first half of the nineteenth century) were often inadequate. For example, the earliest axiomatizations did not include a completeness ...
11
votes
7answers
1k views

What are some Applications of Teichmüller Theory?

I'm trying to collect some specific examples of applications of Teichm├╝ller Theory. Here are some things I have collected thus far: No-wandering-domain Theorem (Sullivan) Theorems of Thurston ...
7
votes
9answers
988 views

Examples where adding complexity made a problem simpler

I can think of a few situations in math where a problem becomes easier or an object becomes simpler when some complexity is added. Examples: $S^n$ is never contractible, but $S^{\infty}$ is. The ...
30
votes
10answers
3k views

Believing the Conjectures

In Believing the axioms (I and II), Penelope Maddy proposes five "rules of thumb" that she then uses to justify large cardinal axioms in set theory. These extrinsic rules are modeled after the ...
16
votes
19answers
2k views

History Question: AUTObiography of Mathematicians

According to Wikipedia, an autobiography is an account of the life of a person, written by that person sometimes with a collaborator. An autobiography offers the author the ability to recreate ...
25
votes
65answers
7k views

Fiction books about mathematicians? [closed]

What are some fiction books about mathematicians? It seems to me rather difficult for writers to create good books on this subject. Some years ago I thought there were no such books at all. There ...
11
votes
11answers
2k views

Approachable French Masters

It has been my general desire for a few years to acquire the basics in other European languages for the purpose of reading some of the classics in their original language, in a similar vein to this ...
42
votes
9answers
5k views

Have we ever lost any mathematics?

The history of mathematics over the last 200 years has many occasions when the fundamental assumptions of an area have been shown to be flawed, or even wrong. Yet I cannot think of any examples where, ...
27
votes
22answers
6k views

Titles composed entirely of math symbols

I apologize for burdening MO with such a vapid, nonresearch question, but I have been curious ever since Suvrit's popular October 2010 Most memorable titles MO question if there were any ...
9
votes
2answers
2k views

What are examples of theorems which were once “valid”, then became “invalid” as standard definitions shifted?

That is, results established by correct proofs within some framework, yet the manner in which their author or the general mathematical community at the time would describe these results would, in ...
4
votes
3answers
772 views

Examples of results which were surprising but later shown to be natural. [closed]

After Ramanujan formulated his conjectures on the Tau-function, and after the importance of the function was realized, it took the development of the theory of Modular forms for the complete ...
186
votes
72answers
76k views

Video lectures of mathematics courses available online for free

It can be difficult to learn mathematics on your own from textbooks, and I often wish universities videotaped their mathematics courses and distributed them for free online. Fortunately, some ...
78
votes
90answers
10k views

What would you want to see at the Museum of Mathematics?

EDIT (30 Nov 2012): MoMath is opening in a couple of weeks, so this seems like it might be a good time for any last-minute additions to this question before I vote to close my own question as "no ...
134
votes
64answers
22k views

Proofs that require fundamentally new ways of thinking [closed]

I do not know exactly how to characterize the class of proofs that interests me, so let me give some examples and say why I would be interested in more. Perhaps what the examples have in common is ...
7
votes
9answers
429 views

What are some early examples of creation of lists / catalogues of (particularly) combinatorial objects?

A lot of effort in discrete maths / combinatorics is expended in the construction of lists, catalogues or census [sic] of combinatorial objects such as groups, graphs, designs etc. These catalogues ...
87
votes
26answers
11k views

Extremely messy proofs

Currently in my undergraduate courses I am being taught how to set up various machinery using slick, short proofs and then how to apply that machinery. What I am not being taught, largely, is what ...
18
votes
8answers
2k views

Theorems first published in textbooks?

According to Wikipedia, the Bohr-Mollerup Theorem (discussed previously on MO here) was first published in a textbook. It says the authors did that instead of writing a paper because they didn't think ...
22
votes
3answers
2k views

Online math history lectures

This question is somewhat similar to this: Best online mathematics videos? I'm using the word "history" loosely here. What I'm looking for are those lectures that put various mathematical ...
53
votes
19answers
16k views

Why were matrix determinants once such a big deal?

I have been told that the study of matrix determinants once comprised the bulk of linear algebra. Today, few textbooks spend more than a few pages to define it and use it to compute a matrix inverse. ...
119
votes
33answers
29k views

Widely accepted mathematical results that were later shown wrong?

I wonder if there are any examples in the history of mathematics of a mathematical proof that was initially reviewed and widely accepted as valid, only to be disproved a significant amount of time ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

Vinogradov's Elements of Number Theory

I can't be the only person here who has fond memories of the problems in Vinogradov's Elements of Number Theory. (For people who have not read it - the text itself is just a concise basic number ...
50
votes
16answers
7k views

Can a mathematical definition be wrong?

This question originates from a bit of history. In the first paper on quantum Turing machines, the authors left a key uniformity condition out of their definition. Three mathematicians subsequently ...
1
vote
12answers
3k views

mathematics in nature [closed]

Do you have (not trivial) examples of a natural phenomenon that illustrates perfectly a mathematical concept, structure, equation or theory ? As suggested by sigoldberg1, I search physical situations ...
75
votes
19answers
11k views

Do you read the masters?

I often hear the advice, "Read the masters" (i.e., read old, classic texts by great mathematicians). But frankly, I have hardly ever followed it. What I am wondering is, is this a principle that ...
48
votes
36answers
10k views

What are some correct results discovered with incorrect (or no) proofs?

Many famous results were discovered through non-rigorous proofs, with correct proofs being found only later and with greater difficulty. One that is well known is Euler's 1737 proof that ...
7
votes
3answers
2k views

The definition of “proof” throughout the history of mathematics

It is widely believed that mathematicians have a uniform standard of what constitutes a correct proof. However, this standard has, at minimum, changed over time. What are some striking examples where ...
49
votes
22answers
7k views

Papers that debunk common myths in the history of mathematics

What are some good papers that debunk common myths in the history of mathematics? To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, here are some examples. Tony Rothman, "Genius and biographers: The ...
62
votes
21answers
6k views

Fields of mathematics that were dormant for a long time until someone revitalized them

I thought that the closed question here could be modified to a very interesting question (at least as far as big-list type questions go). Can people name examples of fields of mathematics that were ...
28
votes
56answers
8k views

What are examples of mathematical concepts named after the wrong people? (Stigler's law) [closed]

It's a common observation in Lie theory that Cartan matrices and the Killing form are named after the wrong people; they were discovered by Killing and Cartan, respectively. I remember learning about ...
18
votes
19answers
5k views

What are some mathematical concepts that were (pretty much) created from scratch and do not owe a debt to previous work?

Almost any mathematical concept has antecedents; it builds on, or is related to, previously known concepts. But are there concepts that owe little or nothing to previous work? The only example I know ...
10
votes
5answers
2k views

“Oldest” bug in computer algebra system?

The goal of this question is to find an error in a computation by a computer algebra system where the 'correct' answer (complete with correct reasoning to justify the answer) can be found in the ...
18
votes
18answers
5k views

What are some applications of other fields to mathematics?

It is commonplace to consider applications of mathematics to other fields, especially the exact sciences. But what I would like to know about is the converse topic, namely: What are some ...
48
votes
26answers
8k views

What are some famous rejections of correct mathematics?

Dick Lipton has a blog post that motivated this question. He recalled the Stark-Heegner Theorem: There are only a finite number of imaginary quadratic fields that have unique factorization. ...
1
vote
1answer
2k views

What are examples of theorems get extensions based on simple observation?

Here are some examples illustrate what I meant: Bonnet-Myers:Bonnet in 1855 proved n=2 case, Myers in 1941 extended to any dimension using the same idea. Bishop-Gromov Volume comparison: Bishop knew ...
11
votes
17answers
15k views

Good books on problem solving / math olympiad

Hello, I would want all book tips you could think of regarding Problem solving and books in general, in elementary mathematics, with a certain flavour for "advanced problem solving". An example would ...
78
votes
97answers
51k views

Famous mathematical quotes [closed]

Some famous quotes often give interesting insights into the vision of mathematics that certain mathematicians have. Which ones are you particularly fond of? Standard community wiki rules apply: one ...
112
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 ...