Questions asking for the intuition behind some definition, conjecture, proof etc. In other words, questions designed to improve or to acquire understanding on a conceptual or intuitive level, as opposed to on a technical or formal level. When asking such a question it can be helpful to include a ...

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0
votes
3answers
943 views

Intuitions/connections/examples for “eigen-*”

There are many concepts in mathematics that begin with the German word "eigen": eigenvector, eigenvalue, eigenspace, eigenstate, eigenfunction, eigensystem etc. (to name just the most important (?) ...
5
votes
1answer
569 views

Intuitive “proof” or explanation of a result in Friedman's urn

Let $g, r, a, b$ be positive integers. In Friedman's urn model we have an urn with $r$ red and $g$ green balls in it. In each step we take one ball out of urn, register its color and return it to the ...
41
votes
4answers
6k views

Zagier's one-sentence proof of Fermat's theorem.

Zagier has a very short proof ( MR1041893) for the fact that every prime number $p$ of the form $4k+1$ is the sum of two squares. The proof defines an involution of the set $S= \lbrace (x,y,z) \in ...
2
votes
2answers
335 views

Definition of and intuition for regular subdivisions of a polytope

I'm doing a research project that involves subdividing a product of simplices. Specifically, I'm looking at theorem 2.4 from this paper: math.sfsu.edu/federico/Articles/tropOMs.pdf which references ...
18
votes
5answers
3k views

Particle Physics and Representations of Groups

This question is asked from a point of complete ignorance of physics and the standard model. Every so often I hear that particles correspond to representations of certain Lie groups. For a person ...
15
votes
3answers
3k views

Intuition and/or visualisation of Ito integral/Ito's lemma

Riemann-sums can e.g. be very intuitively visualized by rectangles that approximate the area under the curve. See e.g. Wikipedia:Riemann sum The Ito integral has due to the unbounded total variation ...
4
votes
2answers
544 views

Intuition for the satellite of a functor

Occasionally in math I come across constructions or tools that are a bit convoluted. I can look at these constructions and see that they indeed perform the task they were made to do, but sometimes I ...
25
votes
4answers
2k views

Does anyone know an intuitive proof of the Birkhoff ergodic theorem?

For many standard, well-understood theorems the proofs have been streamlined to the point where you just need to understand the proof once and you remember the general idea forever. At this point I ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

What part do arguments from authority play in mathematical reasoning?

In forming your answer you may choose to address any or all of the following aspects of the question: Descriptive. What part do arguments from authority actually play in mathematical reasoning? ...
28
votes
3answers
2k views

Why is there no Cayley's Theorem for rings?

Cayley's theorem makes groups nice: a closed set of bijections is a group and a group is a closed set of bijections- beautiful, natural and understandable canonically as symmetry. It is not so much a ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Geometric interpretation of the fundamental groupoid

Motivation The common functors from topological spaces to other categories have geometric interpretations. For example, the fundamental group is how loops behave in the space, and higher homotopy ...
19
votes
2answers
1k views

Geometric interpretation of group rings?

For a group $G$, is there an interpretation of $\mathbb C[G]$ as functions over some noncommutative space? If so, what does this space "look like"? What are its properties? How are they related to ...
4
votes
1answer
2k views

Skellam distribution: Deep connection between Poisson distributions and Bessel function?

The probability mass function for the Skellam distribution for a count difference $k=n_1-n_2$ from two Poisson-distributed variables with means $\mu_1$ and $\mu_2$ is given by: $$ f(k;\mu_1,\mu_2)= ...
11
votes
9answers
4k views

Geometric imagination of differential forms

In order to explain to non-experts what is a vectorfield, one usually describes an assignemnt of an arrow to each point of space, and this works quite well, also when moving to manifolds (where a ...
62
votes
24answers
26k 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 ...
7
votes
3answers
956 views

Intuition for a formula that expresses the class number of an imaginary quadratic field by counting quadratic residues

If $p$ is a prime of the form $4n+3$, the class number $h$ of $Q[\sqrt{-p}]$ can be expressed using the number $V$ of quadratic residues and $N$ nonresidues in the interval $[1,\frac{p-1}{2}]$: If ...
5
votes
2answers
490 views

Gaining intuition for how submodules behave

I'm studying elementary commutative algebra this semester, largely following Atiyah-MacDonald. I often find myself in a situation where I'm interested in whether some property of an R-module M is ...
16
votes
7answers
2k views

Spectral graph theory: Interpretability of eigenvalues and -vectors

I thought "Wow!" when I learned that the eigenvector of the adjacency matrix of a cycle graph $C_n$ corresponding to the second largest eigenvalue gives the coordinates of the vertices when equally ...
11
votes
2answers
2k views

What is the physical meaning of a Lie algebra symmetry?

The physical meaning of a Lie group symmetry is clear: for example, if you have a quantum system whose states have values in some Hilbert space $H$, then a Lie group symmetry of the system means that ...
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 ...
7
votes
2answers
537 views

A split short exact sequence of algebraic fundamental groups

If we have a variety, $X$, over a field, $k$, and $x$ is a geometric point of $X$, and let $\bar x$ be a geometric point of $X_{k^s} := X \times_k k^s$ above $x$ then we have the following short exact ...
6
votes
4answers
649 views

What is the intuitive meaning of star and box in a pure type system?

The systems of the λ-cube have the axiom $\star:\square$. I've listed a few meanings that the Curry-Howard isomorphism gives to $t : T$ below. What are the intuitive meanings of $\star$ and ...
3
votes
1answer
941 views

why isn't the mobius band an algebraic line bundle?

When I hear the phrase "line bundle" the first thing that pops into my head is a mobius band. But this is a bad picture from an algebraic point of view since any line bundle on an affine variety is ...
17
votes
6answers
1k views

What can you do with a compact moduli space?

So sometime ago in my math education I discovered that many mathematicians were interested in moduli problems. Not long after I got the sense that when mathematicians ran across a non compact moduli ...
8
votes
4answers
688 views

Intuition behind existence of moduli space of stable curves

I'm not entirely sure that the title is what I'm looking for. What I'm really asking is for intuition as to why $\bar{\mathcal{M}_g}$ is the compactification of $\mathcal{M}_g$. I'm sure this is ...
6
votes
1answer
1k views

Is there good intution of the trace map?

I have never understood the trace map,not even after reading Geometric Interpretation of Trace. The problem with many answers in the above discussion is the geometric intuition does not apply to other ...
23
votes
7answers
7k views

What is the exterior derivative intuitively?

Hi, actually I have several related questions, not worth opening different threads: What is the of the exterior derivative intuitively? What is its geometric meaning? A possible answer I know is, ...
38
votes
15answers
9k views

Most 'unintuitive' application of the Axiom of Choice?

It is well-known that the axiom of choice is equivalent to many other assumptions, such as the well-ordering principle, Tychonoff's theorem, and the fact that every vector space has a basis. Even ...
22
votes
6answers
4k views

What is the difference between homology and cohomology?

In intuitive terms, what is the main difference? We know that homology is essentially the number of $n$-cycles that are not $n$-boundaries in some simplicial complex $X$. This is, more or less, the ...
71
votes
15answers
8k views

What is torsion in differential geometry intuitively?

Hi, given a connection on the tangent space of a manifold, one can define its torsion: $$T(X,Y):=\triangledown_X Y - \triangledown_Y X - [X,Y]$$ What is the geometric picture behind this ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

Surprising Analogue of Q

I was describing Manish Kumar's work a few weeks ago to a fellow graduate student, and she stumped me with a big-picture question I couldn't answer. Manish Kumar proved that the commutator subgroup ...
13
votes
4answers
3k 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. ...
6
votes
3answers
1k views

Whenever I read “centraliser of maximal split torus”, I think of…

Inspired by this question I'd like to ask something more specific: In the theory of connected reductive groups over fields, one often reads about the centraliser of a maximal split torus. Here is ...
17
votes
2answers
3k views

Intuition behind the Eichler-Shimura relation?

The modular curve $X_0(N)$ has good reduction at all primes $p$ not dividing $N$. At such a prime, the Eichler-Shimura relation expresses the Hecke operator $T_p$ (as an element of the ring of ...
1
vote
4answers
352 views

Intuition/Heuristic behind I/I^2 definition of Kähler differentials

Hello, this one has always been mysterious to me. The Kähler differentials $\Omega_{A/k}$ are definined, by the universal property $$Der_k(A,M)=A-Mod(\Omega_{A/k},M)$$ so for $M=A$ we get that ...
15
votes
1answer
677 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 ...
68
votes
36answers
13k views

The phenomena of eventual counterexamples

Define an "eventual counterexample" to be $P(a) = T $ for $a < n$ $P(n) = F$ $n$ is sufficiently large for $P(n) = T\ \ \forall n \in \mathbb{N}$ to be a 'reasonable' conjecture to make. where ...
7
votes
2answers
337 views

Effects of “weak” vs. “strict” categories in Eckmann-Hilton arguments

A standard example for demonstrating the need for genuinely weak n-categories is that a weak 3-category with unique 0- and 1-cells amounts to the same thing as a braided monoidal category (by an ...
13
votes
3answers
2k views

Intuition for Primitive Cohomology

In complex projective geometry, we have a specified Kähler class $\omega$ and we have a Lefschetz operator $L:H^i(X,\mathbb{C})\to H^{i+2}(X,\mathbb{C})$ given by $L(\eta)=\omega\wedge \eta$. We then ...
11
votes
2answers
4k views

Truth of the Poisson summation formula

The Poisson summation says, roughly, that summing a smooth $L^1$-function of a real variable at integral points is the same as summing its Fourier transform at integral points(after suitable ...
6
votes
1answer
697 views

Geometric Intuition for Big Monodromy

In various contexts, I have come across results referred to as "big monodromy." A standard arithmetic example is the open image theorem for the image of Galois action on non-CM elliptic curves. A ...
9
votes
3answers
5k views

Visualisation of Riemann-Stieltjes-Integrals

The Riemann-Stieltjes-Integral $\int_a^bf(x)dg(x)$ is a generalization of the Riemann Integral. It is e.g. heavily used as a starting point for stochastic integration. The approximating ...
24
votes
6answers
2k views

Why is addition of observables in quantum mechanics commutative?

I am no expert in the field. I hope the question is suitable for MO. Background/Motivation I once followed a quantum mechanics course aimed at mathematicians. Instead of the usual motivations coming ...
29
votes
6answers
2k views

Why do Littlewood-Richardson coefficients describe the cohomology of the Grassmannian?

I'm looking for a "conceptual" explanation to the question in the title. The standard proofs that I've seen go as follows: use the Schubert cell decomposition to get a basis for cohomology and show ...
16
votes
3answers
2k views

Stacks and sheaves

I'm a bit confused by the double role which sheaves play in the theory of stacks. On the one hand, sheaves on a site are the obvious generalization of a sheaf on a topological space. On the other ...
18
votes
5answers
1k views

Why does the group law commute with morphisms of elliptic curves?

I know this should be pretty simple, but right now the only way I can see how to prove it is to sit down and write out explicit formulae for the group law, and see that everything works out. What's ...
34
votes
9answers
6k views

Intuition for Group Cohomology

I'm beginning to learn cohomology for cyclic groups in preparation for use in the proofs of global class field theory (using ideal-theoretic arguments). I've seen the proof of the long exact sequence ...
83
votes
16answers
11k views

How do I make the conceptual transition from multivariable calculus to differential forms?

One way to define the algebra of differential forms $\Omega(M)$ on a smooth manifold $M$ (as explained by John Baez's week287) is as the exterior algebra of the dual of the module of derivations on ...
48
votes
9answers
6k views

How is it that you can guess if one of a pair of random numbers is larger with probability > 1/2?

My apologies if this is too elementary, but it's been years since I heard of this paradox and I've never heard a satisfactory explanation. I've already tried it on my fair share of math Ph.D.'s, and ...
152
votes
61answers
79k views

Proofs without words

Can you give examples of proofs without words? In particular, can you give examples of proofs without words for non-trivial results? (One could ask if this is of interest to mathematicians, and I ...