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

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192
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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 ...
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 ...
118
votes
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
86
votes
14answers
13k views

Careers advice for Ph.D.s without current postdocs or university jobs

Hi, I'm sure I'm not the only Ph.D. mathematician on MO in serious need of career advice. I'm sure there will be other readers in similar situations, who will find any good advice very helpful. Can ...
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 ...
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 ...
76
votes
19answers
10k views

Mathematical habits of thought and action which would be of use to non-mathematicians

Once again I come to MO for help with something I'm writing for the public. Which habits of mathematicians -- aspects of the way we approach problems, the way we argue, the way we function as a ...
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 ...
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 ...
75
votes
5answers
6k views

New arXiv procedures?

Recently I encountered a new phenomenon when I tried to submit a paper to arXiv. The paper was an erratum to another, already published, paper and will be published separately. I got a message from ...
73
votes
28answers
7k views

Examples of theorems misapplied to non-mathematical contexts

For something I'm writing -- I'm interested in examples of bad arguments which involve the application of mathematical theorems in non-mathematical contexts. E.G. folks who make theological arguments ...
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, ...
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 ...
66
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
60
votes
10answers
8k views

What is the oldest open problem in mathematics?

What is the oldest open problem in mathematics? By old, I am referring to the date the problem was stated. Browsing Wikipedia list of open problems, it seems that the Goldbach conjecture (1742, every ...
60
votes
6answers
7k 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, ...
58
votes
23answers
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 ...
56
votes
49answers
17k views

Which mathematical ideas have done most to change history? [closed]

I'm planning a course for the general public with the general theme of "Mathematical ideas that have changed history" and I would welcome people's opinions on this topic. What do you think have been ...
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 ...
54
votes
2answers
4k views

Has the mathematical content of Grothendieck's “Récoltes et Semailles” been used?

This question is partly motivated by this one. Motivation Grothendieck's "Récoltes et Semailles" has been cited on various occasions on this forum. See for instance the answers to this question or ...
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. ...
53
votes
34answers
6k views

Books about history of recent mathematics

I draw on this question to ask something that has always been a pet peeve of mine. It is very easy to find books about the history of mathematics, much less so if one wants books about the recent (say ...
53
votes
29answers
7k views

(Preferably rare) Audio/Video recordings of famous mathematicians?

Terence Tao's homepage has a link to a collection of quotes, and one among them was Hilbert's famous "We must know, we will know" quote. This quote also had an audio link to it. Now although I'm not ...
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 ...
52
votes
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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. ...
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 ...
48
votes
3answers
6k views

The story about Milnor proving the Fáry-Milnor theorem

This question is similar to a previous one about "urban legends", but not the same. It is established that Milnor proved the Fáry-Milnor theorem as an undergraduate at Princeton. For the record, ...
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 ...
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?
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 ...
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 ...
43
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, ...
43
votes
3answers
2k views

Groups that do not exist

In the long process that resulted in the classification of finite simple groups, some of the exceptional groups were only shown to exist after people had computed (most of) their character tables and ...
42
votes
1answer
2k views

Thurston's senior thesis at New College

I've been collecting some of the many unpublished manuscripts of Bill Thurston over the years. His recent passing inspired me to ask the following. I've seen a number of references (for instance, in ...
41
votes
14answers
5k views

Does any research mathematics involve solving functional equations?

This is a somewhat frivolous question, so I won't mind if it gets closed. One of the categories of Olympiad-style problems (e.g. at the IMO) is solving various functional equations, such as those ...
40
votes
3answers
2k views

History of the four-colour problem

It is stated in many places that the first published reference to the four-colour problem (aka the four-color problem) was an anonymous article in The Athenæum of April 14, 1860, attributed to de ...
39
votes
4answers
4k views

What was Gödel's real achievement?

When I first heard of the existence of Gödel's theorem, I was amazed not just at the theorem but at the fact that the question could be made precise enough to answer: how on earth, even in ...
39
votes
2answers
2k views

Italian school of algebraic geometry and rigorous proofs

Many of the amazing results by Italian geometers of the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century were initially given heuristic explanations rather than rigorous proofs by their ...
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 ...
38
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8answers
3k views

Natural transformations as categorical homotopies

Every text book I've ever read about Category Theory gives the definition of natural transformation as a collection of morphisms which make the well known diagrams commute. There is another possible ...
37
votes
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?