11
votes
2answers
778 views

What justification can you give for the fact that “most ODEs do not have an explicit solution”?

What justification can you give for the fact that "most ODEs do not have an explicit solution"?
21
votes
3answers
840 views

“Paradoxes” in $\mathbb{R}^n$

One may think of this question as a duplicate of this one. I see it more like an extension. The "inscribed sphere paradox" discussed in the aforementioned question states that if you inscribe a ...
7
votes
4answers
827 views

Coboundaries and Gluing in Cech Cohomology - Intuition?

I'm trying to develop an intuition for Cech cohomology geometrically, but am currently failing. A lot of people seem to say that the groups $H^n$ measure obstructions to gluing local sections to get ...
17
votes
3answers
1k views

Intuitive pictures in characteristic p

This is a tough one, but does anyone know of any images that recall characteristic p geometry (over algebraically closed fields) in some sense? It is not enough if it is some picture that can be also ...
7
votes
9answers
998 views

Examples where adding complexity made a problem simpler

I can think of a few situations in math where a problem becomes easier or an object becomes simpler when some complexity is added. Examples: $S^n$ is never contractible, but $S^{\infty}$ is. The ...
1
vote
2answers
776 views

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic [closed]

Undoubtedly, these terms play essential roles in (pure) mathematics. My problem is that I have feelings what they mean in different fields, such as, differential geometry (abstract manifolds vs. ...
6
votes
1answer
1k views

When are technical assumptions critical? [closed]

Apart from their technical statement and proof, a usual presentation of theorems is by leading up to them with a definite motivation or intuition, for example putting the results in the wider context ...
28
votes
13answers
3k views

Surprising and Useful Physical Intuition for Mathematical Objects

I believe I.M. Gelfand said that when beginning to learn a new subject, one should learn it like a physicist. In this spirit, what are some helpful and surprising physical intuitions accompanying ...
43
votes
29answers
9k views

What notions are used but not clearly defined in modern mathematics?

"Everyone knows what a curve is, until he has studied enough mathematics to become confused through the countless number of possible exceptions." Felix Klein What notions are used but not ...
0
votes
2answers
104 views

Removing a hypersurface when applying the Representation theorem to prove Positivstellensatz with uniform denominators

Let $f$ and $g$ be positive definite forms in the polynomial ring ${\mathbb{R}}[x_0,\ldots, x_n]$ such that $\deg(g)$ divides $\deg(f)$. A generalization of a theorem by Reznick is that $g^N f$ is a ...
6
votes
2answers
562 views

Would a supersymmetric theory of von Neumann algebras be useful?

While looking over the first chapter of 1) Quantum Fields and Strings: A Course For Mathematicians (P. Deligne, P. Etingof, D.S. Freed, L. Jeffrey, D. Kazhdan, J. Morgan, D.R. Morrison and E. Witten, ...
3
votes
1answer
398 views

Intuition on Log-Concave Sequences

A sequence $(a_n)$ is said to be log-concave provided $a_i^2 \geq a_{i-1}a_{i+1}$ for all $i$. What sorts of intuition can one have about log-concave sequences? In particular, what kind of "picture" ...
43
votes
5answers
6k views

What is sheaf cohomology intuitively?

What is sheaf cohomology intuitively? For local systems it is ordinary cohomology with twisted coefficients. But what if the sheaf in question is far from being constant? Can one still understand ...
70
votes
25answers
28k views

Intuitive crutches for higher dimensional thinking

I once heard a joke (not a great one I'll admit...) about higher dimensional thinking that went as follows- An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are discussing how to visualise four ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are normal crossing divisors nice?

This question is going to be extremely vague. It seems that wherever I go (especially about Grothendieck's circle of ideas) the higher-dimensional analogue of a curve minus a finite number of points ...
14
votes
4answers
4k views

What is a symplectic form intuitively?

Hi, to completely describe a classical mechanical system, you need to do three things: -Specify a manifold $X$, the phase space. Intuitively this is the space of all possible states of your system. ...
15
votes
1answer
689 views

Symmetric groups which are not quotients of Z/2Z*Z/3Z

Somehow this question made me think of instances of small exceptions in general, and I remembered the statement I heard once that $S_5,A_6,S_6,A_7,A_8,S_8$ are the only instances of ...
50
votes
15answers
6k views

What's a nice argument that shows the volume of the unit ball in $\mathbb R^n$ approaches 0?

Before you close for "homework problem", please note the tags. Last week, I gave my calculus 1 class the assignment to calculate the $n$-volume of the $n$-ball. They had finished up talking about ...
69
votes
8answers
5k views

Why are flat morphisms “flat?”

Of course "flatness" is a word that evokes a very particular geometric picture, and it seems to me like there should be a reason why this word is used, but nothing I can find gives me a reason! Is ...
36
votes
12answers
5k views

Cures for mathematician's block (as in writer's block) [closed]

What kind of things do you find that help you get the "creative juices flowing," to use a tired cliche, when you're stuck or burnt out on a problem? I've read about some studies that suggest listening ...
47
votes
52answers
16k views

Colloquial catchy statements encoding serious mathematics

As the title says, please share colloquial statements that encode (in a non-rigorous way, of course) some nontrivial mathematical fact (or heuristic). Instead of giving examples here I added them as ...
12
votes
15answers
1k views

Most helpful heuristic?

What's the most useful piece of mathematical "folk wisdom" you've encountered? I'm talking here about things that aren't theorems, or even conjectures, or even shadows of conjectures -- just broad ...