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117
votes
26answers
13k views

What are some reasonable-sounding statements that are independent of ZFC?

Every now and then, somebody will tell me about a question. When I start thinking about it, they say, "actually, it's undecidable in ZFC." For example, suppose A is an abelian group such that every ...
116
votes
0answers
9k views

Ultrafilters and automorphisms of the complex field

It is well-known that it is consistent with $ZF$ that the only automorphisms of the complex field $\mathbb{C}$ are the identity map and complex conjugation. For example, we have that ...
85
votes
15answers
16k views

Why worry about the axiom of choice?

As I understand it, it has been proven that the axiom of choice is independent of the other axioms of set theory. Yet I still see people fuss about whether or not theorem X depends on it, and I don't ...
78
votes
11answers
15k views

Knuth's intuition that Goldbach might be unprovable

Knuth's intuition that Goldbach's conjecture (every even number greater than 2 can be written as a sum of two primes) might be one of the statements that can neither be proved nor disproved really ...
71
votes
9answers
11k views

Solutions to the Continuum Hypothesis

Related MO questions: What is the general opinion on the Generalized Continuum Hypothesis? Completion of ZFC ) Background The Continuum Hypothesis (CH) posed by Cantor in 1890 asserts that $ ...
60
votes
9answers
15k views

solving f(f(x))=g(x)

This question is of course inspired by the question How to solve f(f(x))=cosx and Joel David Hamkins' answer, which somehow gives a formal trick for solving equations of the form $f(f(x))=g(x)$ on a ...
56
votes
3answers
5k views

Does every non-empty set admit a group structure (in ZF)?

It is easy to see that in ZFC, any non-empty set $S$ admits a group structure: for finite $S$ identify $S$ with a cyclic group, and for infinite $S$, the set of finite subsets of $S$ with the binary ...
53
votes
5answers
3k views

Does pointwise convergence imply uniform convergence on a large subset?

Suppose $f_n$ is a sequence of real valued functions on $[0,1]$ which converges pointwise to zero. Is there an uncountable subset $A$ of $[0,1]$ so that $f_n$ converges uniformly on $A$? Is there a ...
48
votes
12answers
9k 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 ...
48
votes
5answers
8k views

Inaccessible cardinals and Andrew Wiles's proof

In a recent issue of New Scientist (16 Aug 2010), I was surprised to read that a part of Wiles' proof of Taniyama-Shimura conjecture relies on inaccessible cardinals. Here's the link: ...
44
votes
2answers
3k views

Is every sigma-algebra the Borel algebra of a topology?

This question arises from the excellent question posed on math.SE by Salvo Tringali, namely, Correspondence between Borel algebras and topology. Since the question was not answered there after some ...
43
votes
13answers
5k views

Proofs of the uncountability of the reals.

Recently, I learnt in my analysis class the proof of the uncountability of the reals via the Nested Interval Theorem. At first, I was excited to see a variant proof (as it did not use the diagonal ...
42
votes
3answers
2k views

Forcing as a new chapter of Galois Theory

There is a (very) long essay by Grothendieck with the ominous title La Longue Marche à travers la théorie de Galois (The Long March through Galois Theory). As usual, Grothendieck knew what he was ...
41
votes
15answers
10k 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 ...
40
votes
2answers
4k views

A question about ordinal definable real numbers

If ZFC (Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory with the Axiom of Choice) is consistent, does it remain consistent when the following statement is added to it as a new axiom? "There exists a denumerably ...
39
votes
4answers
2k views

How do the compact Hausdorff topologies sit in the lattice of all topologies on a set?

This question is about the space of all topologies on a fixed set X. We may order the topologies by refinement, so that τ ≤ σ just in case every τ open set is open in σ. ...
38
votes
5answers
4k views

Which graphs are Cayley graphs?

Every group presentation determines the corresponding Cayley graph, which has a node for each group element, and arrows labeled with the generators to get from one group element to another. My main ...
36
votes
8answers
4k views

Succinctly naming big numbers: ZFC versus Busy-Beaver

Years ago, I wrote an essay called Who Can Name the Bigger Number?, which posed the following challenge: You have fifteen seconds. Using standard math notation, English words, or both, name a single ...
36
votes
1answer
1k views

When does $A^A=2^A$ without the axiom of choice?

Assuming the axiom of choice the following argument is simple, for infinite $A$ it holds: $$2\lt A\leq2^A\implies 2^A\leq A^A\leq 2^{A\times A}=2^A.$$ However without the axiom of choice this doesn't ...
35
votes
7answers
2k views

How would one even begin to try to prove that a simple number-theoretic statement is undecidable?

This question is closely related to this one: Knuth's intuition that Goldbach might be unprovable. It stems from my ignorance about non-standard models of arithmetic. In a comment on the other ...
35
votes
5answers
3k views

What's wrong with the surreals?

Of all the constructions of the reals, the construction of the surreals seems the most elegant to me. It seems to immediately capture the total ordering and precision of Dedekind cuts at a ...
35
votes
4answers
2k views

The origin of sets?

The history of set theory from Cantor to modern times is well documented. However, the origin of the idea of sets is not so clear. A few years ago, I taught a set theory course and I did some digging ...
34
votes
2answers
12k 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 ...
33
votes
4answers
2k views

Which topological spaces admit a nonstandard metric?

My question is about the concept of nonstandard metric space that would arise from a use of the nonstandard reals R* in place of the usual R-valued metric. That is, let us define that a topological ...
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 ...
32
votes
0answers
1k views

Set-theoretic reformulation of the invariant subspace problem

The invariant subspace problem (ISP) for Hilbert spaces asks whether every bounded linear operator $A$ on $l^2$ (with complex scalars) must have a closed invariant subspace other than $\{0\}$ and ...
31
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 ...
31
votes
4answers
2k views

How far is Lindelöf from compactness?

A while ago I heard of a nice characterization of compactness but I have never seen a written source of it, so I'm starting to doubt it. I'm looking for a reference, or counterexample, for the ...
31
votes
7answers
2k views

Is the ultraproduct concept fundamentally category-theoretic?

Once again, I would like to take advantage of the large number of knowledgable category theorists on this site for a question I have about category-theoretic aspects of a fundamental logic concept. ...
31
votes
6answers
2k views

Distinct well-orderings of the same set

An easy consequence of the Erdős-Dushnik-Miller theorem $\kappa\to(\kappa,\omega)^2$ is the following, that will denote $(*)$ (it appears as an exercise in Kunen's book, it was probably mentioned ...
30
votes
3answers
3k views

What the heck is the Continuum Hypothesis doing in Weibel's Homological Algebra?

On page 98 of Weibel's An Introduction to Homological Algebra he mentions that the ring $R = \prod_{i=1}^\infty \mathbb{C}$ has global dimension $\geq 2$ with equality iff the continuum hypothesis ...
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 ...
30
votes
6answers
2k views

Is the non-triviality of the algebraic dual of an infinite-dimensional vector space equivalent to the axiom of choice?

If $V$ is given to be a vector space that is not finite-dimensional, it doesn't seem to be possible to exhibit an explicit non-zero linear functional on $V$ without further information about $V$. The ...
30
votes
1answer
2k views

Does $2^X=2^Y\Rightarrow |X|=|Y|$ imply the axiom of choice?

The Generalized Continuum Hypothesis can be stated as $2^{\aleph_\alpha}=\aleph_{\alpha+1}$. We know that GCH implies AC (Jech, The Axiom of Choice, Theorem 9.1 p.133). In fact, a relatively weak ...
30
votes
1answer
2k views

Dual Schroeder-Bernstein theorem

This question was motivated by the comments to Dual of Zorn's Lemma? Let's denote by the Dual Schroeder-Bernstein theorem (DSB) the statement For any sets $A$ and $B$, if there are ...
29
votes
13answers
3k views

Cardinalities larger than the continuum in areas besides set theory

It seems that in most theorems outside of set theory where the size of some set is used in the proof, there are three possibilities: either the set is finite, countably infinite, or uncountably ...
29
votes
4answers
2k views

Can the symmetric groups on sets of different cardinalities be isomorphic?

For any set X, let SX be the symmetric group on X, the group of permutations of X. My question is: Can there be two nonempty sets X and Y with different cardinalities, but for which SX is isomorphic ...
29
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 ...
29
votes
3answers
2k views

The set-theoretic multiverse as a (bi)category

Joel Hamkin's The set-theoretic multiverse has featured in MO questions before, e.g., here and here. But I was wondering about the best category theoretic angle to take on it. In the paper Joel ...
27
votes
4answers
7k views

Non Borel sets without axiom of choice

This is a simple doubt of mine about the basics of measure theory, which should be easy for the logicians to answer. The example I know of non Borel sets would be a Hamel basis, which needs axiom of ...
27
votes
4answers
3k views

Is “all categorical reasoning formally contradictory”?

In the December 2009 issue of the newsletter of the European Mathematical Society there is a very interesting interview with Pierre Cartier. In page 33, to the question What was the ontological ...
27
votes
2answers
849 views

Continuous functions $f$ with $f(A)$ linearly independent when $A$ is independent

Is there any characterization of continuous functions $f : \Bbb{R}\longrightarrow \Bbb{R}$ such that for any linearly independent set $A$ (over the rationals) $f(A)$ is also linearly independent ?
27
votes
4answers
2k views

A principle of mathematical induction for partially ordered sets with infima?

Recently I learned that there is a useful analogue of mathematical induction over $\mathbb{R}$ (more precisely, over intervals of the form $[a,\infty)$ or $[a,b]$). It turns out that this is an old ...
27
votes
3answers
1k views

Even XOR Odd Infinities?

Modular Arithmetic (MA) has the same axioms as first order Peano Arithmetic (PA) except $\forall x (Sx \ne 0)$ is replaced with $\exists x(Sx = 0)$. ...
27
votes
2answers
1k views

On the difference between two concepts of even cardinalities: Is there a model of ZF set theory in which every infinite set can be split into pairs, but not every infinite set can be cut in half?

An interesting question has arisen over at this math.stackexchange question about two concepts of even in the context of infinite cardinalities, which are equivalent under the axiom of choice, but ...
26
votes
14answers
2k views

What are interesting families of subsets of a given set?

Motivation The usual starting point of both Topology and Measure Theory is the definition of a family of subsets of a set $S$. Indeed, one defines a topology on $S$ to be a family of subsets ...
26
votes
5answers
4k views

Completion of ZFC

I attended a talk given by W. Hugh Woodin regarding the Ultimate L axiom and I wanted to verify my current understanding of what the search for this axiom means. I find it to be a fascinating topic ...
26
votes
2answers
2k views

What interesting/nontrivial results in Algebraic geometry require the existence of universes?

Brian Conrad indicated a while ago that many of the results proven in AG using universes can be proven without them by being very careful (link). I'm wondering if there are any results in AG that ...
26
votes
1answer
782 views

Is there a computable ordinal encoding the proof strength of ZF? Is it knowable?

In comments on Quora (see, for example, here, here, here), Ron Maimon has repeatedly expressed the strong opinion that Hilbert's program was not killed by Gödel's results in the way typically ...
26
votes
3answers
2k views

“Simpler” statements equivalent to Con(PA) or Con(ZFC)?

Given any reasonable formal system F (e.g., Peano Arithmetic or ZFC), we all know that one can construct a Turing machine that runs forever iff F is consistent, by enumerating the theorems of F and ...