6
votes
1answer
249 views

Differences in philosophy between Lie Groups and Differential Galois Theory

As far as I have heard,Sophus Lie's aim was to construct an analogue of galois theory for differential galois theory. I am familiar with lie group but not with differential galois theory. What is the ...
7
votes
5answers
909 views

Advice on choosing an area of specialization

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate question for MO, but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. I'm a second year graduate student, currently gearing up to construct a committee and syllabus for my ...
23
votes
3answers
2k views

Contemporary mathematical themes

The presence of fruitful mathematical themes suggests the unity of mathematics. What I mean by a mathematical theme here is a basic idea or guiding principle that motivates or directs the central ...
38
votes
10answers
2k views

Why is Set, and not Rel, so ubiquitous in mathematics?

The concept of relation in the history of mathematics, either consciously or not, has always been important: think of order relations or equivalence relations. Why was there the necessity of singling ...
27
votes
3answers
999 views

“Softness” vs “rigidity” in Geometry

According to common wisdom, there are structures in Geometry that have a more "topological" flavor, others that are more "geometrical", and others that are halfway between. Usually, geometries${}^*$ ...
3
votes
0answers
729 views

Which mathematical questions are objectively true or false? [closed]

Which parts of mathematics are objectively true or false like finite arithmetic and which are only true, false or undecidable relative to a particular axiom system such as Euclidean geometry? ...
2
votes
1answer
406 views

Is there a well defined subset of the integers that cannot be defined as a property of a recursive process or Turing Machine?

Is there a well defined subset of the integers that cannot be defined as a property of a recursive process or Turing Machine? I have long been intrigued by the observation that much of mathematics ...
1
vote
2answers
734 views

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic [closed]

Undoubtedly, these terms play essential roles in (pure) mathematics. My problem is that I have feelings what they mean in different fields, such as, differential geometry (abstract manifolds vs. ...
6
votes
1answer
1k views

When are technical assumptions critical? [closed]

Apart from their technical statement and proof, a usual presentation of theorems is by leading up to them with a definite motivation or intuition, for example putting the results in the wider context ...
37
votes
24answers
6k views

The concept of Duality

I have been thinking for sometime about asking this question, but because I did not want to have two "big-list" questions open at the same time, I did not ask this one. Now its time has come. ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

Did Joseph Doob prove that random sequences don't exist?

In the book "The Mathematical Experience" it says: "An infinite [binary] sequence $x_1, x_2, \ldots$ is called random in the sense of von Mises if every infinite sequence $x_{n_1}, x_{n_2}, ...
16
votes
5answers
1k views

Why are finiteness conditions important (and how to recognize them)?

I think everybody here has met lots of finiteness conditions, like those requiring a vector space to be finite dimensional, an abelian group to be finitely generated, a ring to be Noetherian, a ...
27
votes
13answers
3k views

Surprising and Useful Physical Intuition for Mathematical Objects

I believe I.M. Gelfand said that when beginning to learn a new subject, one should learn it like a physicist. In this spirit, what are some helpful and surprising physical intuitions accompanying ...
43
votes
29answers
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 ...
58
votes
52answers
18k views

Theorems that are 'obvious' but hard to prove

There are several well-known mathematical statements that are 'obvious' but false (such as the negation of the Banach--Tarski theorem). There are plenty more that are 'obvious' and true. One would ...
47
votes
12answers
4k views

What makes four dimensions special?

Do you know properties which distinguish four-dimensional spaces among the others? What makes four-dimensional topological manifolds special? What makes four-dimensional differentiable manifolds ...
69
votes
16answers
15k views

What recent discoveries have amateur mathematicians made?

E.T. Bell called Fermat the Prince of Amateurs. One hundred years ago Ramanujan amazed the mathematical world. In between were many important amateurs and mathematicians off the beaten path, but what ...
12
votes
4answers
989 views

How and how much do the notations and diagrams influence our understanding of mathematical concepts?

How and how much do the notations and diagrams influence our understanding of mathematical concepts? This question was stimulated by the MathOverflow questions Thinking and Explaining and ...
49
votes
11answers
4k views

Why certain diophantine equations are interesting (and others are not) ?

It is quite clear why certain differential equations, among the jungle of possible diff equations that is possible to conceive, are studied: some come from physical problems, or from "spontaneous" ...
5
votes
4answers
863 views

Hecke-algebras in your field of mathematics

(How) do Hecke-algebras arise naturally in your field of mathematics and why are they important? How would you define them and how do you think about them? e.g. generators and relations, functions ...
71
votes
18answers
6k views

How do you decide whether a question in abstract algebra is worth studying?

Dear MO-community, I am not sure how mature my view on this is and I might say some things that are controversial. I welcome contradicting views. In any case, I find it important to clarify this in my ...
191
votes
21answers
22k views

Thinking and Explaining

How big a gap is there between how you think about mathematics and what you say to others? Do you say what you're thinking? Please give either personal examples of how your thoughts and words ...
7
votes
4answers
2k views

Applications of Math: Theory vs. Practice

I have a problem: I learned about a lot of the applications of mathematics from academics. Neither they nor I have had much contact with the "real world" to go and see for ourselves how mathematics ...
5
votes
3answers
1k views

Graphical representation of mathematical structures (in the spirit of unified modeling language)

In software engineering the unified modeling language ("UML") is a well established technique for providing overview of complex systems and an efficient means of communicating about them. There are ...
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 ...
63
votes
24answers
27k 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 ...
32
votes
13answers
2k views

Equality vs. isomorphism vs. specific isomorphism

This question prompted a reformulation: What is a really good example of a situation where keeping track of isomorphisms leads to tangible benefit? I believe this to be a serious question because ...
24
votes
1answer
1k views

Are there any “homotopical spaces” ?

This is a somewhat vague question; I don't know how "soft" it is, and even if it makes sense. [Edit: in the light of the comments, we can state my question in a formally precise way, that is: "Is ...
12
votes
5answers
1k views

Are rings really more fundamental objects than semi-rings?

The discovery (or invention) of negatives, which happened several centuries ago by the Chinese, Indians and Arabs, has of course be of fundamental importance to mathematics. From then on, it seems ...
24
votes
5answers
4k views

Mathematics of path integral: state of the art

I was told that one of the most efficient tools (e.g. in terms of computations relevant to physics, but also in terms of guessing heuristically mathematical facts) that physicists use is the so called ...
20
votes
12answers
6k views

Why are tensors a generalization of scalars, vectors, and matrices?

Take two vector spaces $V$ and $W$ over a field $F$. One may form the tensor product $V\otimes W$ and it fulfills an universal property. Elements of $V\otimes W$ are called tensors and they are linear ...
19
votes
7answers
2k views

Why is it useful to classify the vector bundles of a space?

It seems to me that vector bundles are useful because they allow us to bring to bear all of the linear algebra we know to aid in the study of topological spaces. Now, I've read somewhere that it is ...
3
votes
3answers
1k views

Why is 2 so odd? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Is there a high-concept explanation for why characteristic 2 is special? There are so many results on primes that either fail for $p=2$ or are not known to be true for ...
6
votes
11answers
2k views

Various concepts of “closure” or “completion” in mathematics

Out of idle curiosity, I'm wondering about all the various idempotent constructions we have in mathematics (they seem to be generally referred to as a "closure" or "completion"), and how some of them ...
7
votes
5answers
3k views

Analogies between analogies

"A mathematician is a person who can find analogies between theorems; a better mathematician is one who can see analogies between proofs and the best mathematician can notice analogies between ...
13
votes
4answers
2k views

Category theory and model theory as “natural” counterparts

I am aware of the profound discussion of the relationship between category theory and model theory (e.g. at The n-Category Café) but do wonder why category theory (CT) is not opposed to model theory ...
9
votes
2answers
693 views

What are important examples of filtered/graded rings in physics?

Hi, what comes to the mind of a physicist, when he hears words like filtered ring and associated graded? What do these guys describe? What are basic/typical/illuminating examples in physics? Of ...
19
votes
6answers
2k views

Generalizations of “standard” calculus

We have the usual analogy between infinitesimal calculus (integrals and derivatives) and finite calculus (sums and forward differences), and also the generalization of infinitesimal calculus to ...
29
votes
21answers
5k views

What are some slogans that express mathematical tricks?

Many "tricks" that we use to solve mathematical problems don't correspond nicely to theorems or lemmas, or anything close to that rigorous. Instead they take the form of analogies, or general methods ...
13
votes
27answers
2k views

Justifying a theory by a seemingly unrelated example

Here is a topic in the vein of Describe a topic in one sentence and Fundamental examples : imagine that you are trying to explain and justify a mathematical theory T to a skeptical mathematician ...
29
votes
7answers
4k views

Why is it useful to study vector bundles?

I have this question coming from an earlier Qiaochu's post. Some answers there, especially David Lehavi's one, were drawing the analogy bundles and varieties versus modules and rings. So I am just ...
7
votes
3answers
676 views

“Right” Way of Introducing Modular Forms to Undergraduate Audience?

I am giving an extremely short talk (~12 minutes) in a few weeks in which I need to be able to introduce and motivate the idea of a classical modular form to an audience of undergraduates in as short ...
49
votes
16answers
7k views

Why is it a good idea to study a ring by studying its modules?

This is related to another question of mine. Suppose you met someone who was well-acquainted with the basic properties of rings, but who had never heard of a module. You tell him that modules ...
111
votes
130answers
26k views

Fundamental Examples

It is not unusual that a single example or a very few shape an entire mathematical discipline. Can you give examples for such examples? (One example, or few, per post, please) I'd love to learn about ...
5
votes
5answers
700 views

Visual representation of mathematical research interrelationships

I remember seeing a visualization in the form of a 2d (nodal) graph of all areas of academia, with math, physics and engineering over in one section, connecting in an arc to the central area of ...
41
votes
50answers
10k views

Describe a topic in one sentence. [closed]

When you study a topic for the first time, it can be difficult to pick up the motivations and to understand where everything is going. Once you have some experience, however, you get that good ...