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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52
votes
32answers
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 ...
26
votes
9answers
5k 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 ...
15
votes
1answer
1k views

Why do people use “formal calculation” to describe informal calculations?

Many times, I see the word formal being used to describe a calculation that is not rigorous. I would think that such calculations should rather be termed informal than formal. What is the explanation ...
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 ...
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 ...
0
votes
1answer
405 views

What is the meaning of non-Hausdorff spaces in algebraic geometry [closed]

At the beginning I should warn everybody reading this post: I don't know much about algebraic geometry so specialists in this subject may see my question as ignorant. As far I understood one on the ...
57
votes
8answers
9k views

Should the formula for the inverse of a 2x2 matrix be obvious?

As every MO user knows, and can easily prove, the inverse of the matrix $\begin{pmatrix} a & b \\\ c & d \end{pmatrix}$ is $\frac{1}{ad - bc} \begin{pmatrix} d & -b \\\ -c & a ...
1
vote
6answers
2k 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 ...
1
vote
0answers
113 views

What does the Riemann–Stieltjes integral measure? [closed]

The Riemann–Stieltjes integral is a generalization of the Riemann integral, and has a definition based on a sum analogous to the Riemann sum: $$ S(P,f,g) =\sum_{k=1}^{n} f(x_k)\Delta g(x_k) $$ where ...
24
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
23
votes
13answers
5k views

Geometric imagination of differential forms

In order to explain to non-experts what a vector field is, one usually describes an assignment of an arrow to each point of space. And this works quite well also when moving to manifolds, where a ...
12
votes
1answer
208 views

How can we interpret the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of Euclidean Distance Matrices?

I asked this question in Math Stack Exchange earlier here: http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/1199380/what-is-the-intuition-behind-how-can-we-interpret-the-eigenvalues-and-eigenvec and since I ...
5
votes
2answers
288 views

Choice of fibrations is like a choice of a basis of a module

In some notes on derived stacks, in describing categories of fibrant objects, the author drops this parenthetical: (Grothendieck said in his famous letter to Quillen that the choice of $\mathscr ...
0
votes
3answers
1k 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 (?) ...
1
vote
1answer
174 views

Yang-Mills Functional and Energy

I have a question about the meaning of Yang-Mills Functional. It is stated everywhere that the Yang-Mills Functional is a measure of energy. But the formal definition of the Yang-Mills Functional is: ...
85
votes
25answers
34k 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 ...
1
vote
0answers
196 views

Intuitive Approach to Sheaf and Cech Cohomology [closed]

Sheaf and Cech cohomology $H^*(X,\mathcal{F})$ (which give the same result when applied to good enough topological spaces) are a useful generalisation of the concepts of de Rham and Dolbeault ...
7
votes
1answer
327 views

Intuitive Aproach to Dolbeault Cohomology [closed]

(Duplicated from math.stackexchange) I would like to understand an intuitive approach to the definitions of Dolbeault Cohomology (using $\partial$ and $\bar{\partial}$) similar to the one given here. ...
8
votes
1answer
419 views

Basic examples of induction on scales arguments

An important ingredient in recent progress on Euclidean harmonic analysis has been that of "inductions on scales". A few examples are the papers of Wolff, Tao, and Bourgain and Guth. Here is a ...
1
vote
0answers
136 views

Intuition for hereditary torsion theories

I'm looking for intuition and references for the definition of a hereditary torsion theory and two facts found here. First, the definition and facts: Definition. A torsion theory $(\mathcal ...
8
votes
9answers
1k 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 ...
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 ...
86
votes
16answers
10k 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 ...
73
votes
9answers
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 ...
1
vote
0answers
95 views

Role of determinant of the matrix corresponding to $i$-th Homology group.

I was thinking about the proof of the Lefschetz's Fixed point theorem and the ingeniuty of the Hopf's Trace formula, i.e. associating the trace of the matrix for deciding about the fixed points. Now ...
21
votes
4answers
1k views

Why the Dold-Thom theorem?

Dold-Thom Theorem: $$\pi_i(SP(X))\cong\tilde{H}_i(X)$$ It's pretty miraculous, no? I've seen its proof, where you show that the composition of the functors on the left-side satisfies the axioms of a ...
47
votes
15answers
12k 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 ...
13
votes
2answers
871 views
0
votes
0answers
52 views

Why Does a quadratic phase term in BNLS causes collapse?

I've heard a couple of times that in the Biharmonic Nonlinear Schrodinger Equation, $i\psi_z + \Delta ^2 \psi + |\psi | ^{2\sigma } \psi =0 $, $\psi (x, 0) = \psi _0 (x) \in H^2( \mathbb{R} ^d ) $ ...
53
votes
9answers
7k 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
236 views

Compositional inversion and generating functions in algebraic geometry

The exponential generating function of the graded dimension of the cohomology ring of the moduli space of n-pointed curves of genus zero satisfying the associativity equations of physics (the WDVV ...
27
votes
13answers
6k views

Examples of using physical intuition to solve math problems

For the purposes of this question let a "physical intuition" be an intuition that is derived from your everyday experience of physical reality. Your intuitions about how the spin of a ball affects ...
6
votes
2answers
356 views

Twist in identification with singular cohomology

Let $X$ be a smooth projective variety over $\mathbb{Q}$ and $$V = H^m(X(\mathbb{C}), \mathbb{Q} \cdot (2\pi i)^r)$$ Then I've seen people write the comparison with complex cohomology (an isomorphism ...
88
votes
25answers
25k 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
4answers
6k 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 ...
53
votes
26answers
4k views

Proof synopsis collection

I hate to keep going with the big lists, but the question about one-sentence summaries of topics/areas spurred this question...and I just can't help myself! Definition (Fraleigh): A proof synopsis ...
6
votes
2answers
506 views

Can we define an “empirically generic” real number?

Summary: My question, in a nutshell, is how we should intuitively imagine a generic real number (as opposed to a random one), and whether we can construct numbers which empirically behave like generic ...
15
votes
1answer
1k views

Intuition for the Hardy space $H^1$ on $R^n$

the standard intuition for Lebesgue spaces $L^p(\mathbb R^n)$ for $p \in [1,\infty]$ are measurable functions with certain decay properties at infinity or at the singularities. In particular, a ...
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 ...
6
votes
5answers
609 views

What makes a set random?

There are many results in number theory, where the existence of some $B \subseteq \mathbb{N}$ with certain properties is proved by a probabilistic argument employing "random sets". One such example ...
107
votes
16answers
14k 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 ...
7
votes
6answers
427 views

Do you have examples of such “transitive” elements?

(I've asked the same question at the MSE, so far with no answers, so I thought I'd try it here as well. If there's some clash with any site rules, please let me know and I'll abide.) Let $A$ be a set ...
27
votes
2answers
1k views

A geometric characterization for arithmetic genus

Let $X$ be a smooth projective variety over $\mathbb{C}$. The following information is all equivalent (any of these numbers can be computed by a linear equation from any of the others): the ...
25
votes
11answers
20k 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 ...
186
votes
7answers
92k views

Philosophy behind Mochizuki's work on the ABC conjecture

Mochizuki has recently announced a proof of the ABC conjecture. It is far too early to judge its correctness, but it builds on many years of work by him. Can someone briefly explain the philosophy ...
4
votes
1answer
181 views

what characterizes a characteristic function of a probability measure in separable Hilbert spaces?

As we all know on real line $\mathbb{R}$, the following is valid A $\mathbb{C}$-valued function $\varphi$ is a characteristic function of a probability measure on $\mathbb{R}$ if and only if ...
11
votes
2answers
463 views

References for particular topics related to Langlands

I have never really concentrated on Langlands, which explains my poor level of understanding of it. But I have read quite a few introductory papers related to Langlands, and to the circle of ideas ...
14
votes
1answer
1k views

Intuition of law of iterated logarithm?

Let $X_i$ be iid random variables with $EX_i = 0$ and $Var X_i=1$ and $S_n=X_1+\cdots+X_n$. Then the law of the iterated logarithm says almost everywhere we have ...
32
votes
2answers
1k views

Meaning/Origin of Seiberg-Witten Equations/Invariants

Having now seen and "understood" (quotes necessary) the Seiberg-Witten equations on a closed oriented Riemannian 4-manifold $X$, I have no real understanding of where they came from. We take an ...
11
votes
3answers
605 views

What is the intuition behind the definition of cuspidal representations?

Let $\mathbb{G}$ be a reductive group defined over a number field $K$, let $Z$ be its center, and let $\mathbb{A}:=\mathbb{A}_K$ be the ring of adeles of $K$. Reasonably, we care about the ...