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

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146
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36answers
39k 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 ...
22
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2answers
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Similarities between Post's Problem and Cohen's Forcing

Remark: I have since learned that G.H. Moore addresses this question in the third reference listed at the end of this post, beginning on p. 157 in which he cites a letter from Kreisel to Gödel dated ...
38
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37answers
13k views

Major mathematical advances past age fifty [closed]

From A Mathematician’s Apology, G. H. Hardy, 1940: "I had better say something here about this question of age, since it is particularly important for mathematicians. No mathematician should ever ...
81
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19answers
12k 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 ...
80
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6answers
8k views

what mistakes did the Italian algebraic geometers actually make?

It's "well-known" that the 19th century Italian school of algebraic geometry made great progress but also started to flounder due to lack of rigour, possibly in part due to the fact that foundations ...
56
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29answers
6k views

The half-life of a theorem, or Arnold's principle at work

Suppose you prove a theorem, and then sleep well at night knowing that future generations will remember your name in conjunction with the great advance in human wisdom. In fact, sadly, it seems that ...
219
votes
72answers
86k 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 ...
130
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132answers
29k 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 ...
147
votes
64answers
25k 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 ...
100
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96answers
58k 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 ...
96
votes
27answers
13k 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 ...
58
votes
32answers
38k views

Why do we teach calculus students the derivative as a limit?

I'm not teaching calculus right now, but I talk to someone who does, and the question that came up is why emphasize the $h \to 0$ definition of a derivative to calculus students? Something a teacher ...
59
votes
15answers
6k 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 ...
31
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15answers
5k views

Abstract Thought vs Calculation

Jeremy Avigad and Erich Reck in their remarkable historical paper "Clarifying the nature of the infinite: the development of metamathematics and proof theory" claim that one of the factors of becoming ...
51
votes
36answers
11k 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 ...
62
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6answers
8k views

Why didn't Vladimir Arnold get the Fields Medal in 1974?

As you all probably know, Vladimir I. Arnold passed away yesterday. In the obituaries, I found the following statement (AFP) In 1974 the Soviet Union opposed Arnold's award of the Fields Medal, ...
33
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10answers
3k views

Is there a mathematical axiomatization of time (other than, perhaps, entropy)?

Since Euclid's axiomatization of space, we have developed a sophisticated mathematical model of space. Given a category of structures (measures), local space is modeled the spectrum of measurements ...
89
votes
5answers
7k views

Source and context of $\frac{22}{7} - \pi = \int_0^1 (x-x^2)^4 dx/(1+x^2)$?

Possibly the most striking proof of Archimedes's inequality $\pi < 22/7$ is an integral formula for the difference: $$ \frac{22}{7} - \pi = \int_0^1 (x-x^2)^4 \frac{dx}{1+x^2}, $$ where the ...
18
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18answers
6k 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 ...
36
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3answers
2k views

What was the relative importance of FLT vs. higher reciprocity laws in Kummer's invention of algebraic number theory?

This question is inspired in part by this answer of Bill Dubuque, in which he remarks that the fairly common belief that Kummer was motivated by FLT to develop his theory of cyclotomic number fields ...
11
votes
4answers
2k views

Earliest diagonal proof of the uncountability of the reals.

I cited the diagonal proof of the uncountability of the reals as an example of a `common false belief' in mathematics, not because there is anything wrong with the proof but because it is commonly ...
14
votes
5answers
3k views

When did the career of 1 as a prime number begin and when did it end? [closed]

The old Greek did not consider 1 a number, so it was not a prime. The theorem of unique prime factorization excludes 1 to be a prime number. But in between probably at Euler's and Goldbach's times? ...
8
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1answer
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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 ...
74
votes
16answers
18k views

What if Current Foundations of Mathematics are Inconsistent? [closed]

The title of the question is also the title of a talk by Vladimir Voevodsky, available here. Had this kind of opinion been expressed before? EDIT. Thanks to all answerers, commentators, voters, ...
66
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25answers
7k 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 ...
83
votes
90answers
11k 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 ...
66
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6answers
8k views

How to find ICM talks?

I am very interested in reading some and skimming through the list of invited talks at the International Congress of Mathematicians. Since the proceedings contain talks supposedly by top experts in ...
55
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13answers
10k views

Logic in mathematics and philosophy

What are the relations between logic as an area of (modern) philosophy and mathematical logic. The world "modern" refers to 20th century and later, and I am curious mainly about the second half of ...
54
votes
6answers
16k views

What are Jacob Lurie's key insights?

This question is inspired by this Tim Gowers blogpost. I have some familiarity with the work of Jacob Lurie, which contains ideas which are simply astounding; but what I don't understand is which key ...
55
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. ...
60
votes
21answers
11k views

Has philosophy ever clarified mathematics?

I've recently been reading some standard textbooks on the philosophy of mathematics, and I've become quite frustrated that (surely due to my own limitations) I don't seem to be gleaning any ...
44
votes
19answers
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 ...
38
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32answers
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 ...
16
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19answers
21k 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 ...
49
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24answers
7k views

Writing papers in pre-LaTeX era?

I wonder how people wrote papers in the pre-LaTeX era? I mean, when typewriters and simple computers were (60th-70th?). Did they indeed put formulas by hand in the already printed articles?
30
votes
8answers
3k views

What do named “tricks” share?

There are a number of theorems or lemmas or mathematical ideas that come to be known as eponymous tricks, a term which in this context is in no sense derogatory. Here is a list of 10 such tricks (the ...
25
votes
2answers
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The work of E. Artin and F. K. Schmidt on (what are now called) the Weil conjectures.

I was reading Dieudonne's "On the history of the Weil conjectures" and found two things that surprised me. Dieudonne makes some assertions about the work of Artin and Schmidt which are no doubt ...
47
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4answers
3k views

Did Gelfand's theory of commutative Banach algebras influence algebraic geometers?

Guillemin and Sternberg wrote the following in 1987 in a short article called "Some remarks on I.M. Gelfand's works" accompanying Gelfand's Collected Papers, Volume I: The theory of commutative ...
25
votes
9answers
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What is the shortest Ph.D. thesis? [closed]

The question is self-explanatory, but I want to make some remarks in order to prevent the responses from going off into undesirable directions. It seems that every few years I hear someone ask this ...
18
votes
10answers
3k views

New proofs to major theorems leading to new insights and results?

I am wondering, historically, when has a new proof of an old theorem been particularly fruitful. A few examples I have in mind (all number theoretic) are: First example is classical... which is ...
25
votes
7answers
1k views

Concise model of modern fiat money and its non-conservation

A confession: I have never really understood the basic model of fiat money and central banking, by which a central bank controls the money supply. By the standards of someone trained in mathematics, ...
25
votes
10answers
4k views

real symmetric matrix has real eigenvalues - elementary proof

Every real symmetric matrix has at least one real eigenvalue. Does anyone know how to prove this elementary, that is without the notion of complex numbers?
25
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21answers
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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 ...
44
votes
3answers
5k views

who fixed the topology on ideles?

I am teaching a course leading up to Tate's thesis and I told the students last week, when defining ideles, that the first topology that was put on the ideles was not so good (e.g., it was not ...
37
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8answers
4k views

What recent programmes to alter highly-entrenched mathematical terminology have succeeded, and under what conditions do they tend to succeed or fail?

I think we all occasionally come across terminology that we'd like to see supplanted (e.g. by something more systematic). What I'd like to know is, under what circumstances is it reasonable to believe ...
31
votes
6answers
2k views

Negative impact of wrong or non-rigorous proofs

The recent talks of Voevodsky (for example, http://www.math.ias.edu/~vladimir/Site3/Univalent_Foundations_files/2014_IAS.pdf), which describe subtle errors in proofs by him as well as others, as well ...
12
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4answers
2k views

History of the high-dimensional volume paradox

Inscribe an $n$-ball in an $n$-dimensional hypercube of side equal to 1, and let $n \rightarrow \infty$. The hypercube will always have volume 1, while it is a fun folk fact (FFF) that the volume of ...
23
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5answers
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Origins of names of algebraic structures

Consider the names of basic algebraic structures: 'group', 'ring', 'space', 'field', 'Körper', even the name 'structure' itself - all of them time-honoured terms, deeply rooted in our history and ...
18
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14answers
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Insightful books about elementary mathematics

What are some books that discuss elementary mathematical topics ('school mathematics'), like arithmetic, basic non-abstract algebra, plane & solid geometry, trigonometry, etc, in an insightful ...
18
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9answers
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Was the early calculus inconsistent?

This question does NOT concern the RIGOR, or lack thereof, of the early calculus. Rather the question is of its CONSISTENCY. George Berkeley wrote in 1734 with reference to the early calculus that ...