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68
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16answers
15k views

What if Current Foundations of Mathematics are Inconsistent? [closed]

The title of the question is also the title of a talk by Vladimir Voevodsky, available here. Had this kind of opinion been expressed before? EDIT. Thanks to all answerers, commentators, voters, ...
51
votes
10answers
4k views

Why do Groups and Abelian Groups feel so different?

Groups are naturally "the symmetries of an object". To me, the group axioms are just a way of codifying what the symmetries of an object can be so we can study it abstractly. However, this heuristic ...
49
votes
16answers
7k views

Can a mathematical definition be wrong?

This question originates from a bit of history. In the first paper on quantum Turing machines, the authors left a key uniformity condition out of their definition. Three mathematicians subsequently ...
48
votes
8answers
5k views

Is there any formal foundation to ultrafinitism?

Ultrafinitism is (I believe) a philosophy of mathematics that is not only constructive, but does not admit the existence of arbitrarily large natural numbers. According to wikipedia, it has been ...
47
votes
3answers
6k views

Nelson's program to show inconsistency of ZF

At the end of the paper Division by three by Peter G. Doyle and John H. Conway, the authors say: Not that we believe there really are any such things as infinite sets, or that the Zermelo-Fraenkel ...
46
votes
12answers
8k views

Logic in mathematics and philosophy

What are the relations between logic as an area of (modern) philosophy and mathematical logic. The world "modern" refers to 20th century and later, and I am curious mainly about the second half of ...
43
votes
7answers
2k views

How closed-form conjectures are made?

Recently I posted a conjecture at Math.SE: $$\int_0^\infty\ln\frac{J_\mu(x)^2+Y_\mu(x)^2}{J_\nu(x)^2+Y_\nu(x)^2}\mathrm dx\stackrel{?}{=}\frac{\pi}{2}(\mu^2-\nu^2),$$ where $J_\mu(x)$ and $Y_\mu(x)$ ...
43
votes
2answers
4k views

Lawvere's “Some thoughts on the future of category theory.”

In Lecture Notes in Mathematics 1488, Lawvere writes the introduction to the Proceedings for a 1990 conference in Como. In this article, Lawvere, the inventor of Toposes and Algebraic Theories, ...
42
votes
9answers
5k views

Have we ever lost any mathematics?

The history of mathematics over the last 200 years has many occasions when the fundamental assumptions of an area have been shown to be flawed, or even wrong. Yet I cannot think of any examples where, ...
39
votes
9answers
4k views

How do they verify a verifier of formalized proofs?

In an unrelated thread Sam Nead intrigued me by mentioning a formalized proof of the Jordan curve theorem. I then found that there are at least two, made on two different systems. This is quite an ...
37
votes
30answers
8k views

nontrivial theorems with trivial proofs

A while back I saw posted on someone's office door a statement attributed to some famous person, saying that it is an instance of the callousness of youth to think that a theorem is trivial because ...
36
votes
5answers
2k views

How to resolve a disagreement about a mathematical proof?

I am having a problem which should not exist. I am reading what I believe to be an important paper by a person - let me call him/her $A$ - whom I believe to be a serious and talented mathematician. A ...
34
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8answers
3k views

Examples in mirror symmetry that can be understood.

It seems to me, that a typical science often has simple and important examples whose formulation can be understood (or at least there are some outcomes that can be understood). So if we consider ...
32
votes
5answers
3k views

Were Bourbaki committed to set-theoretical reductionism?

A set-theoretical reductionist holds that sets are the only abstract objects, and that (e.g.) numbers are identical to sets. (Which sets? A reductionist is a relativist if she is (e.g.) indifferent ...
31
votes
15answers
7k views

Is rigour just a ritual that most mathematicians wish to get rid of if they could?

"No". That was my answer till this afternoon! "Mathematics without proofs isn't really mathematics at all" probably was my longer answer. Yet, I am a mathematics educator who was one of the panelists ...
30
votes
10answers
3k views

Believing the Conjectures

In Believing the axioms (I and II), Penelope Maddy proposes five "rules of thumb" that she then uses to justify large cardinal axioms in set theory. These extrinsic rules are modeled after the ...
30
votes
6answers
4k views

Why hasn't mereology suceeded as an alternative to set theory?

I have recently run into this wikipedia article on mereology. I was surprised I had never heard of it before and indeed it seems to be seldom mentioned in the mathematical literature. Unlike set ...
29
votes
2answers
5k views

Is the analysis as taught in universities in fact the analysis of definable numbers?

Ten years ago when I studied in the university I had no idea about definable numbers, but I came to this concept myself. My thoughts were as follows: All numbers are divided into two classes: those ...
28
votes
7answers
5k views

Arguments against large cardinals

I started to learn about large cardinals a while ago, and I read that the existence, and even the consistency of the existence of an inaccessible cardinal, i.e. a limit cardinal which is additionally ...
28
votes
5answers
3k views

Why do categorical foundationalists want to escape set theory?

This is a question that I have seen asked passively in comments relating to the separation of category theory from set theory, but I haven't seen it addressed in full. I know that it's possible to ...
27
votes
3answers
3k views

The influence of string theory on mathematics for philosophers.

I've agreed, perhaps unwisely, to give a talk to Philosophers about string theory. I'd like to give the philosophers an overview of the status and influence of string theory in physics, which I feel ...
25
votes
15answers
5k views

Abstract Thought vs Calculation

Jeremy Avigad and Erich Reck in their remarkable historical paper "Clarifying the nature of the infinite: the development of metamathematics and proof theory" claim that one of the factors of becoming ...
23
votes
5answers
4k views

Categorical foundations without set theory

Can there be a foundations of mathematics using only category theory, i.e. no set theory? More precisely, the definition of a category is a class/set of objects and a class/set of arrows, satisfying ...
23
votes
7answers
2k views

Excellent mathematical explanations

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy there is an entry on mathematical explanation. The basic philosophical question is: What makes a proof explanatory? Two main "models" of mathematical ...
21
votes
14answers
2k views

Essential reads in the philosophy of mathematics and set theory

I am graduate student and have a decent understanding of logic and set theory. Recently I have got interested in the philosophy of mathematics and set theory. I have read a number of papers by ...
20
votes
10answers
3k views

Physics and Church–Turing Thesis

Is there constructed some set of physical laws from which we can logically obtain that any function that can be implemented in some device is Turing computable? EDIT I believe that if we restrict ...
20
votes
6answers
1k views

Interpretation of the Second Incompleteness Theorem

For simplicity, let me pick a particular instance of G\"odel's Second Incompleteness Theorem: ZFC (Zermelo-Fraenkel Set Theory plus the Axiom of Choice, the usual foundation of mathematics) does ...
19
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6answers
2k views

Can a problem be simultaneously polynomial time and undecidable?

The Robertson-Seymour theorem on graph minors leads to some interesting conundrums. The theorem states that any minor-closed class of graphs can be described by a finite number of excluded minors. As ...
19
votes
5answers
2k views

Supervenience in mathematics

I'm not quite sure if this is the right place to ask, and if this is the right way to ask, but I dare. In philosophy (of mind, e.g.) the concept of supervenience is used: "Supervenience [is] used ...
19
votes
4answers
2k views

In what ways did Leibniz's philosophy foresee modern mathematics?

Leibniz was a noted polymath who was deeply interested in philosophy as well as mathematics, among other things. From my mathematical readings I have the impression that Leibniz's stature as a ...
19
votes
3answers
3k views

Category of categories as a foundation of mathematics

In Lawvere, F. W., 1966, “The Category of Categories as a Foundation for Mathematics”, Proceedings of the Conference on Categorical Algebra, La Jolla, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1–21. ...
18
votes
9answers
4k views

Why are proofs so valuable, although we do not know that our axiom system is consistent? [closed]

As a person who has been spending significant time to learn mathematics, I have to admit that I sometimes find the fact uncovered by Godel very upsetting: we never can know that our axiom system is ...
18
votes
6answers
2k views

Philosophical Question related to Largest Known Primes

The other day while discussing math, and primes specifically, the following question came to mind, and I figured I'd ask it here to see what people's opinions on it might be. Main Question: ...
17
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4answers
1k views

Are proper classes objects?

Many of us presume that mathematics studies objects. In agreement with this, set theorists often say that they study the well founded hereditarily extensional objects generated ex nihilo by the ...
17
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8answers
3k views

To what extent is it true that “number theory = mathematics”? [closed]

In a thought-provoking answer to this MO question, Kevin Buzzard and several commentators have described a multitude of ways in which number theory is related to other parts of mathematics. It seems ...
17
votes
8answers
1k views

The Importance of ZF

It seems as though many consider ZF to be the foundational set of axioms for all of mathematics (or at least, a crucial part of the foundations); when a theorem is found to be independent of ZF, it's ...
16
votes
7answers
4k views

What is Realistic Mathematics?

This post is partially about opinions and partially about more precise mathematical questions. Most of this post is not as formal as a precise mathematical question. However, I hope that most readers ...
16
votes
2answers
643 views

Age of Stochasticity?

One user on MSE made an interesting question, which was unanswered so I suggested him to post it here but he refused for personal reasons and said I could ask it here. The question is this: Today ...
15
votes
10answers
1k views

Can you prove equivalence without being able to calculate it?

In mathematics we often seek to classify objects up to an equivalence relation, where two objects A and B are said to be equivalent if there exists a map $f:A\rightarrow B$ satisfying certain ...
15
votes
12answers
2k views

2D Problems Which are Easier to Solve in 3D

It sometimes happens that 1D problems are easier to solve by somehow adding a dimension. For example, we convert linear differential equations for a real unknown to a complex unknown (to use complex ...
15
votes
2answers
2k views

Question arising from Voevodsky's talk on inconsistency

This question arises from the talk by Voevodsky mentioned in this recent MO question. On one of his slides, Voevodsky says that a general formula even with one free variable describes a subset of ...
15
votes
2answers
2k views

Universe view vs. Multiverse view of Set Theory

Here I refer to Hamkins' slides: http://lumiere.ens.fr/~dbonnay/files/talks/hamkins.pdf particularly, to the "Universe view simulated inside Multiverse", p. 22. My question is: is it very unsound ...
15
votes
1answer
974 views

Martin's “Philosophical Issues about the Hierarchy of Sets”

Some months ago (October 2010), in the context of the Workshop on Set Theory and the Philosophy of Mathematics, Professor Donald A. Martin gave a talk entitled "Philosophical issues about the ...
14
votes
10answers
1k views

An example of a proof that is explanatory but not beautiful? (or vice versa)

This question has a philosophical bent, but hopefully it will evoke straightforward, mathematical answers that would be appropriate for this list (like my earlier question about beautiful proofs ...
14
votes
2answers
2k views

Should there be a true model of set theory?

As I understand it, there is a program in set theory to produce an ultimate, canonical model of set theory which, among other things, positively answers the Continuum Hypothesis and various questions ...
14
votes
6answers
1k views

Extensional theorems mostly used intensionally

Some theorems are stated and proved extensionally, but in practice are almost always used intensionally. Let me give an example to make this clear -- integration by parts: $$ \int_a^b f(x)g'(x)ds = ...
14
votes
1answer
639 views

How is Fredkin and Toffoli's Conservative Logic related to Linear Logic?

In the answers to this question, Timothy Gowers asks: I've been interested in this question for some time. I haven't put any serious thought into it, so all I can offer is a further question ...
13
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7answers
2k views

Is no proof based on “tertium non datur” sufficient any more after Gödel?

There are many proofs based on a "tertium non datur"-approach (e.g. prove that there exist two irrational numbers a and b such that a^b is rational). But according to Gödel's First Incompleteness ...
13
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3answers
866 views

Are there examples of nonconstructive metaproofs?

This came up in a question on the xkcd forums. Is it possible to have a nonconstructive metaproof, i.e. a proof that there exists a proof in some formal system which does not construct said proof? Are ...
13
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2answers
2k views

Clarification of Gödel's second incompleteness theorem

I am sorry for the following question, because the actual answer to this question is in the beautiful works of Feferman and Jeroslow, but, unfortunately, I havn't any time to go into that specific ...