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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5
votes
2answers
564 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 ...
25
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
13
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 ...
15
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
603 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
691 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 ...
9
votes
1answer
1k 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 ...
19
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 ...
1
vote
6answers
3k views

Proofs by induction [closed]

Background I'm interested in the issue of "explanatory" mathematical proofs and would like to try to find out what intuitions mathematicians have about induction, because there seems to be some ...
8
votes
4answers
704 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
2k 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 ...
28
votes
7answers
9k 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, ...
48
votes
15answers
13k 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
6k 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 ...
87
votes
16answers
11k 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 ...
15
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. ...
6
votes
3answers
2k 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 ...
21
votes
2answers
4k 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
373 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
724 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 ...
90
votes
42answers
17k views

Examples 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
381 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 ...
18
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 ...
15
votes
2answers
5k 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 ...
7
votes
1answer
756 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 ...
11
votes
4answers
7k views

Visualization of Riemann–Stieltjes Integrals

The Riemann–Stieltjes integral $\int_a^b f(x)\,dg(x)$ is a generalization of the Riemann integral. It is e.g. heavily used as a starting point for stochastic integration. The approximating ...
11
votes
5answers
2k views

Understanding moment maps and Lie brackets

I'm trying to learn about moment maps in symplectic topology (suppose our Lie group is $G$ with Lie algebra $\mathfrak g$, acting on the symplectic manifold $(M,\omega)$ by symplectomorphisms). I'm ...
26
votes
6answers
3k 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 ...
30
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
2k 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 ...
40
votes
9answers
8k 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 ...
111
votes
16answers
15k 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 ...
53
votes
9answers
9k 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 ...
204
votes
67answers
99k 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
412 views

What are natural transformations in 1-categories?

It's well-known that, for lots of concrete categories (but by no means all), we can think of the objects as themselves being small categories, and morphisms are the functors between these categories. ...
23
votes
5answers
2k views

tips on cohomology for number theory

I am curious about what is a good approach to the machinery of cohomology, especially in number-theoretic settings, but also in algebraic-geometric settings. Do people just remember all the rules and ...
55
votes
15answers
7k 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 ...
0
votes
5answers
2k views

How to teach addition of negative numbers? [closed]

I have a friend with dyscalculia and was teaching her some some mathematics (namely, solving a linear equation, simplifying certain expressions, and what (affine linear) functions are). She ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

Intuition about schemes over a fixed scheme

I am taking a first course on Algebraic Geometry, and I am a little confused at the intuition behind looking at schemes over a fixed scheme. Categorically, I have all the motivation in the world for ...
20
votes
4answers
1k views

Heuristic explanation of why we lose projectives in sheaves.

We know that presheaves of any category have enough projectives and that sheaves do not, why is this, and how does it effect our thinking? This question was asked(and I found it very helpful) but I ...
15
votes
4answers
3k views

Etale cohomology and l-adic Tate modules

$\newcommand{\bb}{\mathbb}\DeclareMathOperator{\gal}{Gal}$ Before stating my question I should remark that I know almost nothing about etale cohomology - all that I know, I've gleaned from hearing off ...
15
votes
2answers
1k views

What does primary decomposition of (sub) modules mean geometrically?

I want to know how I should visualize modules in algebraic geometry. The way we visualize rings, via their spectra, automatically (or by the beauty of its design) depicts primary decomposition of ...
30
votes
3answers
5k views

Why are planar graphs so exceptional?

As compared to classes of graphs embeddable in other surfaces. Some ways in which they're exceptional: Mac Lane's and Whitney's criteria are algebraic characterizations of planar graphs. (Well, ...
77
votes
9answers
6k 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 ...
28
votes
6answers
3k views

Why does one think to Steenrod squares and powers?

I'm studying Steenrod operations from Hatcher's book. Like homology, one can use them only knowing the axioms, without caring for the actual construction. But while there are plenty of intuitive ...
90
votes
25answers
27k views

What is convolution intuitively?

If random variable $X$ has a probability distribution of $f(x)$ and random variable $Y$ has a probability distribution $g(x)$ then $(f*g)(x)$, the convolution of $f$ and $g$, is the probability ...
11
votes
5answers
1k views

Abstract nonsense versions of “combinatorial” group theory questions

In particular, I'm just curious whether there's a version of the Sylow theorems (which are very combinatorially-flavored) which allows horizontal and/or vertical categorification? Or at least can be ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

Flips in the Minimal Model Program

In order get a minimal model for a given a variety $X$, we can carry out a sequence of contractions $X\rightarrow X_1\ldots \rightarrow X_n$ in such a way that that every map contracts some curves on ...