**30**

votes

**3**answers

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, ...

**78**

votes

**9**answers

7k 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 ...

**29**

votes

**6**answers

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 ...

**93**

votes

**25**answers

29k 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

**5**answers

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

**5**answers

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 ...

**33**

votes

**3**answers

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 ...

**27**

votes

**7**answers

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

**1**answer

737 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

**3**answers

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 ...

**38**

votes

**12**answers

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 ...

**49**

votes

**51**answers

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 ...

**32**

votes

**6**answers

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

**3**answers

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.

**38**

votes

**6**answers

4k 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 ...

**65**

votes

**11**answers

12k 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

**6**answers

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

**15**answers

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 ...

**26**

votes

**6**answers

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

**3**answers

792 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 ...

**18**

votes

**3**answers

2k views

### Some intuition behind the five lemma?

Slightly simplified, the five lemma states that if we have a commutative diagram (in, say, an abelian category)
$$\require{AMScd}
\begin{CD}
A_1 @>>> A_2 @>>> A_3 @>>> A_4 ...

**38**

votes

**5**answers

4k views

### Intuition about the cotangent complex?

Does anyone have an answer to the question "What does the cotangent complex measure?"
Algebraic intuitions (like "homology measures how far a sequence is from being exact") are as welcome as ...

**15**

votes

**3**answers

919 views

### elementary Ext^1 intuition

I am wondering what sort of basic basic intuitive meaning Ext1(M,N) has.
As a base case: if ...

**27**

votes

**6**answers

2k views

### How to think about model categories?

I've read about model categories from an Appendix to one of Lurie's papers.
What are the examples of model categories? What should be my intuition about them?
E.g. I understand the typical examples ...

**29**

votes

**11**answers

25k views

### Why is the gradient normal?

This is a somewhat long discussion so bear with me. There is a theorem that I have always been curious about from an intuitive standpoint. This is an issue that has been glossed over in most ...

**33**

votes

**4**answers

4k views

### Is there a good way to think of vanishing cycles and nearby cycles?

Once in a while I run into literature that invokes vanishing cycle machinery with a cryptic sentence like, "this follows from a standard vanishing cycle argument." Is there a good way to look at ...

**10**

votes

**5**answers

3k views

### Examples and intuition for arithmetic schemes

How should a beginner learn about arithmetic schemes (interpret this as you wish, or as a regular scheme, proper and flat over Spec(Z))? What are the most important examples of such schemes? Good ...

**28**

votes

**10**answers

8k views

### What is (co)homology, and how does a beginner gain intuition about it?

This question comes along with a lot of associated sub-questions, most of which would probably be answered by a sufficiently good introductory text. So a perfectly acceptable answer to this question ...