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

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118
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33answers
30k 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 ...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

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 ...
36
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37answers
12k 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 ...
67
votes
6answers
7k 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 ...
52
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29answers
5k 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 ...
192
votes
72answers
77k 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 ...
112
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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 ...
136
votes
64answers
23k 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 ...
79
votes
97answers
52k 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 ...
75
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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 ...
54
votes
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 ...
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 ...
27
votes
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 ...
14
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5answers
2k 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? ...
69
votes
16answers
15k 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, ...
87
votes
26answers
12k 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 ...
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 ...
64
votes
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 ...
47
votes
12answers
9k 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 ...
51
votes
6answers
14k 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 ...
49
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. ...
38
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 ...
45
votes
24answers
6k 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?
29
votes
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 ...
27
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 ...
76
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...
35
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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 ...
22
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9answers
18k views

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 ...
25
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10answers
3k 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?
21
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2answers
1k views

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 ...
22
votes
6answers
917 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, ...
13
votes
9answers
2k 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 ...
21
votes
5answers
3k views

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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9answers
3k views

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 ...
32
votes
9answers
3k views

Who first proved that the value of C/d is independent of the choice of circle?

I have an elementary question about the history of $\pi$. I thought the answer would be easy to find. But, to the contrary, after quite a bit of searching and after consulting math historians, I have ...
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
4answers
1k 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 ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

Why is a ring called a “ring”?

Why is a ring called "ring" (or Zahlring in German)? There seems to (naive) me nothing more ring-like to a ring than there is to a group or a field. I am particularly interested to learn why the ...
15
votes
3answers
2k views

How to Tackle the Smooth Poincare Conjecture

The last remaining problem in this whole "everything is a sphere" business, is the Smooth Poincare Conjecture in dimension 4: If $X\simeq_\text{homo.eq.} S^4$ then $X\approx_\text{diffeo} S^4$. ...
11
votes
4answers
8k views

The Ramanujan Problems.

I originally thought of asking this question at the Mathematics Stackexchange, but then I decided that I'd have a better chance of a good discussion here. In the Wikipedia page on Ramanujan, there is ...
9
votes
4answers
2k views

Who invented the gamma function?

Who was the first person who solved the problem of extending the factorial to non-integer arguments? Detlef Gronau writes [1]: "As a matter of fact, it was Daniel Bernoulli who gave in 1729 the ...
11
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
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 ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

Contacting an eminent mathematician

I have recently started a PhD. and am researching an area that two now eminent mathematicians devoted considerable time to in the 1980s. However, there appears to have been fairly moderate focus on ...
7
votes
0answers
574 views

Original references for the homotopy groups pi_5 of SU(3) and pi_4 of SU(2)?

For revision of a paper (http://arxiv.org/abs/1008.1189), I'd like to correct my references to the original work on aspects of the homotopy groups pi_5 of SU(3) and pi_4 of SU(2). I'm not a ...
33
votes
2answers
4k views

How did “normal” come to mean “perpendicular”?

How and when did the word "normal" acquire this meaning? When I first thought of this, I couldn't really come up with any explanation that wasn't complete speculation -- pretty much all I was able to ...
17
votes
6answers
1k views

Uppercase Point Labels in High-School Diagrams: from Euclid?

I wonder if the convention of labeling points in geometric diagrams with uppercase symbols ultimately derives from Greek mathematics, which was originally written in "majuscule" (uppercase) Greek ...
13
votes
1answer
2k views

Ping-pong relief map of a given function $z=f(x,y)$

I have an idea to design a type of Galton's Board to "draw" a relief map of a given two-dimensional function $z=f(x,y)$. A typical Galton's Board drops, say, ping-pong balls through a series of evenly ...
10
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2answers
1k views

Giant Rat of Sumatra singularity

I would be grateful for explanations of the issues raised in any of these three questions, or pointers to the relevant literature (now updated with answers): How did a particular singularity come ...
8
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1answer
2k views

What is “Teichmüller Theory” and its history ?

What is "Teichmüller Theory" ? What part has been worked out / forseen by O. Teichmüller himself and what is further development ? Is there some current work which might be considered as ...