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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105
votes
45answers
19k 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 ...
212
votes
7answers
107k 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 ...
228
votes
68answers
107k 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 ...
57
votes
16answers
15k 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 ...
61
votes
9answers
7k views

Why should I believe the Mordell Conjecture?

It was Faltings who first proved in 1983 the Mordell conjecture, that a curve of genus 2 or more over a number field has only finitely many rational points. I am interested to know why Mordell and ...
101
votes
17answers
13k 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 ...
58
votes
15answers
8k 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
292 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 ...
120
votes
16answers
18k 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 ...
35
votes
10answers
10k 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 ...
41
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 ...
53
votes
51answers
18k 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 ...
66
votes
8answers
12k 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 ...
53
votes
11answers
6k views

How should one think about non-Hausdorff topologies?

In most basic courses on general topology, one studies mainly Hausdorff spaces and finds that they fit quite well with our geometric intuition and generally, things work "as they should" ...
32
votes
14answers
8k 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 ...
34
votes
8answers
6k views

What is a Lagrangian submanifold intuitively?

What are good ways to think about Lagrangian submanifolds? Why should one care about them? More generally: same questions about (co)isotropic ones. Answers from a classical mechanics point of view ...
22
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 ...
18
votes
2answers
6k 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 ...
9
votes
4answers
1k views

Coboundaries and Gluing in Cech Cohomology - Intuition?

I'm trying to develop an intuition for Cech cohomology geometrically, but am currently failing. A lot of people seem to say that the groups $H^n$ measure obstructions to gluing local sections to get ...
29
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...
25
votes
3answers
2k views

Intuition behind the ricci flow

I hope you don't shoot me for this question. I try to understand among other things the Ricci flow. However I have no idea of the intuition behind the definition. So my questions is: What is the ...
71
votes
11answers
13k 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 ...
103
votes
26answers
33k 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 ...
61
votes
5answers
8k views

What is sheaf cohomology intuitively?

What is sheaf cohomology intuitively? For local systems it is ordinary cohomology with twisted coefficients. But what if the sheaf in question is far from being constant? Can one still understand ...
57
votes
10answers
10k 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 ...
42
votes
7answers
5k views

Demystifying the Caratheodory Approach to Measurability

Nowadays, the usual way to extend a measure on an algebra of sets to a measure on a $\sigma$-algebra, the Caratheodory approach, is by using the outer measure $m^* $ and then taking the family of all ...
32
votes
11answers
29k 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 ...
39
votes
6answers
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 ...
45
votes
4answers
8k 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 ...
31
votes
2answers
3k views

Intuition for coends

Let $D$ be a co-complete category and $C$ be a small category. For a functor $F:C^{op}\times C \to D$ one defines the co-end $$ \int^{c\in C} F(c,c) $$ as the co-equalizer of $$ \coprod_{c\to ...
32
votes
3answers
5k 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 ...
27
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 ...
31
votes
6answers
3k 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 ...
29
votes
6answers
6k views

What does Mellin inversion “really mean”?

Given a function $f: \mathbb{R}^+ \rightarrow \mathbb{C}$ satisfying suitable conditions (exponential decay at infinity, continuous, and bounded variation) is good enough, its Mellin transform is ...
38
votes
4answers
6k 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, ...
12
votes
4answers
8k 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 ...
20
votes
5answers
4k 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 ...
17
votes
2answers
3k views

Intuition behind generic points in a scheme

In a scheme, each point is a generic point of its closure. In particular each closed point is a generic point of itself (the set containing it only), but that's perhaps of little interest. A point ...
28
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
29
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
14
votes
7answers
4k views

What is a complex inner product space “really”?

This is an extended re-post of a question that I have asked on MSE not a long time ago. But anyway, it seems more appropriate for MO. To begin with, in a real inner product space we have a geometric ...
11
votes
3answers
708 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 ...
18
votes
2answers
3k 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 ...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

Lemma 1 from Beilinson's “Coherent Sheaves on $\mathbb{P}^n$ and Problems of Linear Algebra”, intuition?

Consider Lemma 1 from Beilinson's paper "Coherent Sheaves on $\mathbb{P}^n$ and Problems of Linear Algebra", as follows. Let $\mathcal{C}$ and $\mathcal{D}$ be triangulated categories, $F: ...
16
votes
4answers
1k views

What is the geometric object corresponding to a subalgebra in a polynomial ring

Many introductory texts on algebraic geometry set up some sort of algebra-geometry dictionary in which radical ideals correspond to varieties, and so on. I am wondering if there is a geometric way to ...
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 ...
5
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.
7
votes
1answer
2k views

Self-intersection and the normal bundle

Let $X/k$ be a surface nonsingular and proper over an algebraically closed field $k$. Let $C \subset X$ be a nonsingular curve. Then it is clear that the self-intersection $(C \cdot C)_X$ is ...
5
votes
4answers
843 views

What is the intuition of connections for cubical sets?

I am beggining to do some work with cubical sets and thought that I should have an understanding of various extra structures that one may put on cubical sets (for purposes of this question, ...
4
votes
0answers
432 views

Relationship between R-transform and free convolution of random matrices?

I've been using the R-transform to calculate the free convolution of the eigenvalue spectra of two random matrices and I am trying to understand how it works, and in particular how it relates to ...