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Biographies, philosophy of mathematics, mathematics education, recreational mathematics, communication of mathematics

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7
votes
2answers
483 views

Survey of the history of calculus?

Boyer 1939 is a nice readable survey of the history of the calculus, but it's showing its age. Discussing the notion of instantaneous velocity, he has: Mathematics knows no minimum interval of ...
9
votes
2answers
454 views

Origin of the term “generic” in set theory

In set theory, in particular the context of forcing, if $M$ is a model of $\sf ZFC$ and $P\in M$ is a partial order, we say that $G\subseteq P$ is a generic filter (or $M$-generic or generic over $M$) ...
25
votes
3answers
2k views

Who invented diagrammatic algebra?

There is a strong and growing trend to do mathematics via diagrammatic algebra, which involves constructing and manipulating equations whose elements are diagrams drawn in the plane. The manipulations ...
13
votes
1answer
615 views

Who first dubbed them “expander graphs”?

Expander graphs ("sparse graphs that have strong connectivity properties") burst onto the mathematical scene around the millennium, but I have not been successful in tracing the origin of (a) the ...
3
votes
1answer
375 views

Levi's book on Leibnizian calculus

Raphael Levi learned from Leibniz at a late stage in Leibniz's career. This might be a definite advantage for understanding Leibniz. Leibniz did not elaborate some of the philosophical principles ...
7
votes
0answers
128 views

Origin of Lie Product Formula

I'm interested in where Lie wrote down the Lie Product formula (for finite matrices) (the precursor of the Trotter product formula; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie_product_formula). With a ...
5
votes
1answer
372 views

What was Seifert's contribution to the Seifert-van Kampen theorem?

The Seifert-van Kampen theorem is the classical theorem of algebraic topology that the fundamental group functor $\pi_1$ preserves pushouts; more often than not this is referred to simply as the van ...
7
votes
1answer
796 views

Is there a “big program” in mathematics at the moment? [closed]

I apologize in the event that you should find this question off topic. Please feel free to delete it if that is the case. Years ago, I studied undergrad mathematics at university. The understanding ...
5
votes
1answer
241 views

When was the word “stable” first used to describe stable homotopy theory?

The word "stable" has many uses in mathematics, but in the context of stable homotopy theory, one might take it to mean one of two things: Homotopy groups stabilize after taking suspensions ...
36
votes
4answers
3k views

History of “without loss of generality”

"Without loss of generality" is a standard in the mathematical lexicon, and I am writing to ask if anyone knows where the expression was popularized. (The idea has been around since antiquity, I'm ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

Why are smooth numbers called “smooth”?

"Adleman refers to integers which factor completely into small primes as “smooth” numbers." (ME Hellman, JM Reyneri. Advances in Cryptology, 1983: citation link.) Does anyone know what is the ...
16
votes
4answers
724 views

Who first used the multiplication operator version of spectral theory

This is another history question. Hilbert phrased the spectral theorem in terms of resolutions of the identity. While this remained the form of Stone and von Neumann, they did also have the ...
11
votes
3answers
269 views

Origin of number theoretic invariants associated to hyperbolic 3-manifolds

I've been studying number theoretic methods of classifying hyperbolic 3-manifolds for over a year now. In particular, there is are the trace field, invariant trace field, quaternion algebra, and ...
50
votes
8answers
4k views

Have you solved problems in your sleep? [closed]

I have hit upon major (for me—relative to my trivial accomplishments) insights in my research in various sleep-deprived altered states of consciousness, e.g., long solo car-drives extending ...
18
votes
1answer
739 views

Reference for Diagonalization Trick

There is a standard trick in analysis, where one chooses a subsequence, then a subsequence of that... and wants to get an eventual subsubsequence of all of them and you take the diagonal. I've always ...
2
votes
3answers
584 views

The Hidden Aspect of Set Theory [closed]

This question is inspired by a similar question at the beginning of Kunen's new book, "Set Theory". Many mathematicians believe they are exploring a "real" universe. In such a Platonic point of ...
1
vote
1answer
97 views

Original sources for two theorems by Bass, Matlis and Papp

It is an interesting fact that a commutative ring $R$ is noetherian if and only if direct sums of injective $R$-modules are injective, and if and only if every injective $R$-module is a direct sum of ...
13
votes
2answers
561 views

What was the Question that led Euler to his Investigations on Polyhedra?

The question that led Euler to his investigations on graphs is the well-known question related to the seven bridges of Königsberg, and that story is a must in every introduction to graph theory. ...
4
votes
1answer
141 views

What is the early history of the concepts of probabilistic independence and conditional probability/expectation?

In the 1738 second edition of The Doctrine of Chances, de Moivre writes, Two Events are independent, when they have no connexion one with the other, and that the happening of one neither forwards ...
7
votes
2answers
541 views

$\aleph$ looks like $\mathbb N$?

We all know the notation $\aleph_\lambda$ for the $\lambda$th (or, I guess, $\lambda+1$st) infinite cardinal number; in particular $\aleph_0$ is the cardinality of the the set of natural numbers ...
1
vote
0answers
436 views

Is it possible to give a fair assessment of the influence of Bourbaki's “Eléments de mathématique”? [closed]

Well, I apologize if this "soft-question" (related to the "Arnold-Serre" debate) is considered as irrelevant for MO, and for possible misunderstandings in the two earlier versions of this post (which ...
1
vote
1answer
157 views

First Parameterized Subset of Primes that was Related to a Mathematical Result

To my knowledge, Fermat primes, i.e. primes of the form $2^{2^n}+1$ were the first to play a role in a mathematical result, namely in the characterization of constructible regular n-gons. Gauss ...
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Was Vinogradov's 1937 proof of the three-prime theorem effective?

Was Vinogradov's first proof of the three-prime theorem effective? Reasons for my question: Vinogradov presented his proof in 1937 in a monograph; the English translation by K.F. Roth and A. ...
10
votes
1answer
343 views

Who first resolved Hilbert's 20th problem?

Hilbert's 20th problem concerns the existence of solutions to the fundamental problem in the calculus of variations. I understand that Hilbert, Lesbesgue and Tonelli were pioneers in this area. In ...
6
votes
2answers
1k views

Ramanujan's tau function

Why was Ramanujan interested in the his tau function before the advent of modular forms? The machinery of modular forms used by Mordel to solve the multiplicative property seems out of context until I ...
13
votes
2answers
820 views

Who first defined _simply connected_, reference?

The following definition is due to Donald J. Newman: A connected open subset $D$ of the plane $\mathbb C$ is simply connected if and only if its complement $\widetilde D = \mathbb C \setminus D$ ...
69
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 ...
6
votes
1answer
726 views

Source for Derogatory Quote About Graph Theory

(Edited in accordance with suggestions in comments.) I remember once I read a quote that sounded like "graph theory is the scum of topology" (please approximate). I can not find it on the web, and I ...
0
votes
3answers
569 views

Definition of Prime Numbers [duplicate]

The first time I heard of prime numbers, they were defined as natural numbers $n$ that can only be divided by 1 and themselves without remainder; later, when prime factorization was introduced, I ...
24
votes
1answer
5k views

Who made the famous error in calculation that 'wasted' the final years of his life?

Sorry, I am merely a Middle School maths teacher at an Australian secondary school. I remember reading years ago about a famous mathematician (18th or 19th Century?) who calculated table upon table of ...
9
votes
2answers
382 views

Historical quotation search: Equations/formulae in (Latin?) prose, before modern symbolic notation

I have been trying, without success, to find a vaguely-remembered quotation: the quadratic equation (or perhaps the quadratic formula), given in (Latin?) prose, along lines like “Consider that ...
10
votes
1answer
634 views

Why are they called Specht Modules?

I know that the simple modules of $\mathbb{C}S_n$ are called Specht Modules, and they are named after the German Mathematician Wilhelm Specht because he studied them, but I think these modules were ...
4
votes
1answer
495 views

Origin of “Woodin cardinal”

Sorry if this is a completely stupid question (I'm a not a set-theorist, though I've been doing some reading in the subject), but I was wondering, specifically, about the exact provenance of the name. ...
16
votes
2answers
614 views

Felix Klein on infinitesimals

This is a reference request prompted by some intriguing comments made by Felix Klein. In 1908, Felix Klein formulated a criterion of what it would take for a theory of infinitesimals to be ...
11
votes
2answers
495 views

Riemann's quote cited by Lakatos: what is the context?

"If only I had the theorems! Then I should find the proofs easily enough." This quote is generally attributed to Bernhard Riemann. In particular, on page 9 in Proofs and refutations by Imre ...
11
votes
0answers
432 views

How come Cartan did not notice the close relationship between symmetric spaces and isoparametric hypersurfaces?

Elie Cartan made fundamental contributions to the theory of Lie groups and their geometrical applications. Among those, we can list the introduction of the remarkable family of Riemannian symmetric ...
3
votes
2answers
281 views

Is there a source linking Robinson's work in wing theory with his theory of infinitesimals?

Abraham Robinson worked in applied mathematics for several decades. MathSciNet lists 12 articles by Robinson in wing theory. His production included the book Robinson, A.; Laurmann, J. A. Wing ...
5
votes
0answers
178 views

Did the notion of “angle” originate with Thales?

Thales (circa 600BC—roughly 50 years before Pythagoras, 200 years before Plato, and 300 years before Euclid) certainly knew and reasoned with the concept of a planar angle. Are there earlier ...
12
votes
0answers
254 views

Who stated and proved the “Hopf lemma” on bilinear maps?

If $A\otimes B\rightarrow C$ is a nondegenerate linear map, where $A, B, C$ are vector spaces over an algebraically closed field, then $\dim C\ge \dim A + \dim B -1$. Nondegenerate here means ...
12
votes
2answers
1k views

Original manuscript of Archimedes' cattle problem

Wikipedia states that [Archimedes' cattle problem] was discovered by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in a Greek manuscript containing a poem of forty-four lines, in the Herzog August Library in ...
2
votes
1answer
257 views

What are the Reasons for the Ambiguous Meaning of “Distribution” in Mathematics

The term "distribution" is commonly associated with statistics and, less commonly known, to generalized functions. Questions: what is known about the origin of the term in the two fields? are the ...
5
votes
1answer
345 views

Why does the gamma function use the symbol $\Gamma(\,)$?

I am aware of some of the history of the gamma function $\Gamma(z)$, partly through a 2009(!) MO question "Who invented the gamma function?"—Euler, Bernoulli, etc. My question does not seem to ...
8
votes
0answers
244 views

From Frege to Gödel - German equivalent?

I know this question does not quite fit here, but I felt it could best be answered here. I recently stumbled upon the book From Frege to Gödel, which is a sourcebook containing some of the most ...
16
votes
1answer
776 views

history of quaternion algebras

Who is responsible for the generalization of Hamilton's quaternions to other types of quaternion algebras, and when did this occur? In particular, Hamilton's quaternions are the 4-dimensional algebra ...
7
votes
3answers
579 views

history of calculus of several variables

Everybody knows that Leibniz and Newton (or Newton and Leibniz, if you wish) invented calculus, i.e. they developed the notion of differentiability for a function of one real variable. But who had for ...
28
votes
3answers
1k views

Why aren't fields called “bodies” instead?

The discrepancy regarding the names of commutative division algebras in German and English has always startled me. In English they are called fields, whereas their original German name is Körper ...
12
votes
4answers
823 views

What properties of knots lead Lord Kelvin to hypothesize that atoms were knots in the ether?

I've often heard that Lord Kelvin was one of the first people to study knot theory, as he hypothesized that atoms were knots in the ether. I assume that he had some compelling evidence for this fact. ...
2
votes
2answers
291 views

Origin of the name “Torelli group”

The genus $g$ Torelli group $I_g$ is the kernel of the action of the mapping class group of a genus $g$ surface on the first homology group of the surface. The first paper I am aware of that uses the ...
5
votes
2answers
473 views

How was Christoffel a 'whimsical eccentric'?

I've seen several citations of a letter from Weierstrass, talking about his dispute with Kronecker, in which he refers to Christoffel as a 'whimsical eccentric' (presumably the German original is ...
6
votes
1answer
400 views

Origin of the term “weight” in representation theory

In representation theory, there are the related concepts of weights and roots. Since both are kinds of generalised eigenvalues, and eigenvalues are roots of e.g. the characteristic polynomial, the ...