History and philosophy of mathematics, biographies of mathematicians, mathematics education, recreational mathematics, communication of mathematics.

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1answer
745 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
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3answers
572 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
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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
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2answers
392 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
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1answer
660 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
525 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
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2answers
623 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
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2answers
510 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 ...
12
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0answers
463 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
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2answers
285 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
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0answers
181 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
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0answers
256 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
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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
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1answer
261 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
354 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 ...
9
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0answers
247 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
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1answer
816 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
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3answers
610 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 ...
36
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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
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4answers
837 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
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2answers
296 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
477 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
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1answer
409 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 ...
12
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3answers
1k views

History and motivation for Tannaka, Krein, Grothendieck, Deligne et al. works on Tannaka-Krein theory?

I am trying to wrap my mind around Tannaka-Krein duality and it seems quite mysterious for me, as well, as its history. So let me ask: Question: What was the motivation and historical context for ...
29
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3answers
3k views

Did ancient mathematicians know Euler's characteristic for convex polyhedra?

The formula $V-E+F=2$ is so simple that I can't believe that it was really Euler (or perhaps Descartes) who first observed it (I mean the formula itself in some generality, not necessarily a valid ...
18
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2answers
2k views

Where are Georg Cantor's Original Manuscripts?

Georg Cantor is famous for introducing transfinite numbers and set theory. A main part of his mathematical point of view about this new type of "numbers" and this new "realm of mathematics" cannot be ...
40
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4answers
3k views

The Arnold – Serre debate

I have read (but I cannot now find where) that Arnold & Serre had a public debate on the value of Bourbaki. Does anyone have more details, or remember or know what was said?
2
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1answer
158 views

why the difference between terms and propositional variables?

Reading some old logic texts (written around 1930) I noticed that these texts make no difference between propositional variables and terms. They do make difference between identity and truthvalue ...
55
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14answers
5k views

Mathematical research published in the form of poems

The article Friedrich Wille: Galerkins Lösungsnäherungen bei monotonen Abbildungen, Math. Z. 127 (1972), no. 1, 10-16 is written in the form of a lengthy poem, in a style similar to that of the ...
7
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0answers
188 views

Reference Request: Topological h-cobordism theorem in higher dimensions

I think this question on math.stackexchange is more appropriate on mathoverflow. Correct me, if you don't think so. The h-cobordism theorem is true in the topological and in the smooth category in ...
2
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0answers
171 views

Does anyone know what is the right reference for the following simple lemma from harmonic analysis?

The lemma says that given $\lambda\geq 1$, $p\geq 1$, $a_j\geq 0$, for a collection of balls $\{B_j\}_{j\in\mathbb{N}}$ in $\mathbb{R}^n$, it holds $$\|\sum_j a_j\chi_{\lambda B_j}\|_p\leq ...
-2
votes
2answers
658 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
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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 ...
8
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1answer
302 views

Why did Alonzo Church choose the letter $\lambda$ as the “binding operator”?

Is there any known reason why Alonzo Church chose Greek $\lambda$ as the "binding operator" for the Lambda Calculus?
7
votes
1answer
426 views

History of Jordan Canonical Form?

Can anyone suggest a reference that discusses the history of the Jordan canonical form? In particular, I am interested in: When and how was it first stated? (I understand it was independently stated ...
4
votes
2answers
293 views

Who first used the cross-ratio to describe shapes in hyperbolic geometry?

I was reading this Wikipedia article today:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape#Similarity_classes and I realized that it strongly resembles the use of coss-ratios as "shape parameters" in hyperbolic ...
26
votes
1answer
856 views

Institutional response to “Esquisse d'un programme”

It is well-known that Grothendieck's "esquisse d'un programme" was submitted in 1984 as part as the author's application for a permanent position of "Directeur de Recherche" at the C.N.R.S. (the main ...
20
votes
7answers
1k views

Was lattice theory central to mid-20th century mathematics?

Four years ago, I read a book on the history of mathematics up to 1970 or so. It was very interesting up until the end. The last few chapters, though, were on lattices. The author claimed that ...
25
votes
9answers
2k views

Are there some other notions of “curvature” which measure how space curves?

I am learning differential geometry and have a few questions on curvature. -- Background: Gauss invented "Gauss curvature" to measure how surface curves. Riemann gives an ingenious generalization ...
9
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1answer
493 views

Well founded induction attributed to Noether

What I know as well founded induction, namely the rule $$ \big(\forall y.(\forall z.z\lt y\Rightarrow\phi z)\Rightarrow\phi y\big)\Longrightarrow\big(\forall x.\phi x\big), $$ whose validity is the ...
13
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1answer
2k views

Fourier transform of the unit sphere

The Fourier transform of the volume form of the (n-1)-sphere in $\mathbf R^n$ is given by the well-known formula $$ \int_{S^{n-1}}e^{i\langle\mathbf a,\mathbf u\rangle}d\sigma(\mathbf u) = (2\pi)^{\nu ...
8
votes
1answer
270 views

History question: Roth's theorem on approximating algebraic numbers…before Roth

Roth's theorem has two universal quantifies, over irrational algebraic numbers $\alpha$ and over real $\epsilon>0$. Of course the theorem asserts in each instance that the inequality ...
17
votes
1answer
521 views

What motivated Rademacher's contour along the Ford circles?

Apologies if this question isn't suitable for MathOverflow; I posted it on MSE here but it didn't get a response and it felt like it was on the cusp of being suitable for here. After Ramanujan and ...
12
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2answers
825 views

How did Gauss and contemporaries think of modular forms?

Accounts of modular forms say that they were studied in the early 19th century, but then define modular forms using terminology that didn't exist until the 20th century. How did the earliest ...
5
votes
1answer
322 views

Influence of Yau's solution to the Calabi Conjecture on the field of PDEs

I remember reading a long time ago(I can't recall where, unfortunately) that Yau's solution of the Calabi-Yau conjecture introduced new techniques that were very important for the field of partial ...
14
votes
1answer
460 views

History of Koszul complex

This is a question about history of commutative algebra. I'm curios why Koszul complex from commutative algebra is called Koszul complex? All Koszul's early papers are about Lie algebras and Lie ...
8
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1answer
2k views

What is the source of this E̶r̶d̶ő̶s̶ quote?

Namely, the following one "All problems appeared once in the [American Mathematical] Monthly." I remember reading it several years ago... When I first posed the question, I believed that I had ...
7
votes
1answer
251 views

Analogy between Lagrange's Theorem and Rank-Nullity Theorem?

One can view view Lagrange's Theorem $$|G/H|=|G|/|H|$$ and the Rank-Nullity Theorem $$\dim(V/U)=\dim(V)-\dim(U)$$ as directly analogous. Does anyone know a high-level explanation of this analogy? I ...
14
votes
2answers
945 views

Deligne Weil II

Deligne's Weil I has been published under the title "La conjecture de Weil: I" in 1974, and Weil II in 1980. So did Deligne know in 1974 that there would be a Weil II, and can one explain the period ...
10
votes
5answers
746 views

What are good English-language sources for reading about the Luzin affair?

What are good English-language sources for reading about the Luzin affair? I'm interested in the subject and am wondering about good historical sources.