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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22
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
86
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 ...
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. ...
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 ...
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
364 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
717 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 ...
87
votes
42answers
16k 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
372 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 ...
16
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 ...
14
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
745 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 ...
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 ...
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
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 ...
38
votes
9answers
7k 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 ...
107
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
8k 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 ...
192
votes
66answers
95k 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
406 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. ...
22
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 ...
53
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 ...
10
votes
3answers
1k 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 ...
29
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, ...
73
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 ...
26
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 ...
88
votes
25answers
26k 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 ...
32
votes
3answers
3k views

What do higher Chow groups mean?

Let $z^i(X, m)$ be the free abelian group generated by all codimension $i$ subvarieties on $X \times \Delta^m$ which intersect all faces $X \times \Delta^j$ properly for all j < m. Then, for each ...
25
votes
7answers
2k views

What examples of distributions should I keep in mind?

I'm learning a bit about the theory of distributions. What examples of distributions will help me develop good intuition? Definitions: Let $U$ be an open subset of $\mathbb{R}^n$. Write ...
4
votes
1answer
706 views

Explanation for Satake correspondence

Some time ago I was told there's an interesting classical Satake correspondence which I will write as $$[\mathop{\mathrm{disk}} \Rightarrow G] \\,\backslash\\, [\mathop{\mathrm{disk}^\times} ...
26
votes
3answers
4k views

What is the “intuition” behind “brave new algebra”?

Y.I. Manin mentions in a recent interview the need for a “codification of efficient new intuitive tools, such as … the “brave new algebra” of homotopy theorists”. This makes me puzzle, because I ...
37
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
17k 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 ...
29
votes
6answers
5k views

Algebraically closed fields of positive characteristic

I'm taking introductory algebraic geometry this term, so a lot of the theorems we see in class start with "Let k be an algebraically closed field." One of the things that's annoyed me is that as far ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

Intuitive Example of a Jacobson Radical

Can anyone explain what a Jacobson radical is using an intuitive example? I can't quite understand Wikipedia's explanation.
25
votes
6answers
3k views

Intuition for the last step in Serre's proof of the three-squares theorem

Serre's A Course in Arithmetic gives essentially the following proof of the three-squares theorem, which says that an integer a is the sum of three squares if and only if it is not of the form 4^m (8n ...
59
votes
11answers
11k views

“Philosophical” meaning of the Yoneda Lemma

The Yoneda Lemma is a simple result of category theory, and its proof is very straightforward. Yet I feel like I do not truly understand what it is about; I have seen a few comments here mentioning ...
14
votes
6answers
1k views

Can the “physical argument” for the existence of a solution to Dirichlet's problem be made into an actual proof?

Caveat: I don't really know anything about PDEs, so this question might not make sense. In complex analysis class we've been learning about the solution to Dirichlet's problem for the Laplace ...
13
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 ...
24
votes
6answers
6k views

Intuition for Integral Transforms

It is well known that the operations of differentiation and integration are reduced to multiplication and division after being transformed by an integral transform (like e.g. Fourier or Laplace ...
11
votes
3answers
741 views

An intuitive reason why the “Rule 30” CA is random/pseudorandom?

I'm a little bit hesitant to ask this here, so please notice the tag. My hope is that someone will have a more satisfying answer than what I've heard before... A long time ago I read (perhaps ...