Questions that ask about some aspect of mathematical research or study which doesn't involve the actual mathematics. In general, soft questions can be answered without using mathematical reasoning.

learn more… | top users | synonyms

50
votes
36answers
20k views

Most interesting mathematics mistake?

Some mistakes in mathematics made by extremely smart and famous people can eventually lead to interesting developments and theorems, e.g. Poincare's 3d sphere charaterization or the search to prove ...
186
votes
21answers
21k 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 ...
110
votes
33answers
27k views

Widely accepted mathematical results that were later shown wrong?

I wonder if there are any examples in the history of mathematics of a mathematical proof that was initially reviewed and widely accepted as valid, only to be disproved a significant amount of time ...
35
votes
37answers
11k views

Major mathematical advances past age fifty [closed]

From A Mathematician’s Apology, G. H. Hardy, 1940: "I had better say something here about this question of age, since it is particularly important for mathematicians. No mathematician should ever ...
93
votes
72answers
30k views

Best online mathematics videos?

I know of two good mathematics videos available online, namely: Sphere inside out (part I and part II) Moebius transformation revealed Do you know of any other good math videos? Share.
79
votes
59answers
17k views

Which math paper maximizes the ratio (importance)/(length)?

My vote would be Milnor's 7-page paper "On manifolds homeomorphic to the 7-sphere", in Vol. 64 of Annals of Math. For those who have not read it, he explicitly constructs smooth 7-manifolds which are ...
55
votes
31answers
13k views

Quick proofs of hard theorems

Mathematics is rife with the fruit of abstraction. Many problems which first are solved via "direct" methods (long and difficult calculations, tricky estimates, and gritty technical theorems) later ...
17
votes
63answers
10k views

What's your favorite equation, formula, identity or inequality? [closed]

Certain formulas I really enjoy looking at like the Euler-Maclaurin formula or the Leibniz integral rule. What's your favorite equation, formula, identity or inequality?
39
votes
35answers
6k views

Examples of theorems with proofs that have dramatically improved over time

I am looking for examples of theorems that may have originally had a clunky, or rather technical, or in some way non-illuminating proof, but that eventually came to have a proof that people consider ...
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 ...
110
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 ...
111
votes
67answers
33k views

Awfully sophisticated proof for simple facts [closed]

It is sometimes the case that one can produce proofs of simple facts that are of disproportionate sophistication which, however, do not involve any circularity. For example, (I think) I gave an ...
71
votes
82answers
57k views

Do good math jokes exist? [closed]

Have a good joke? Share. I know this is subjective, but the principle "should be of interest to mathematicians" trumps. (I hope.)
30
votes
20answers
7k views

Open source mathematical software.

I want some recomendation on which software I should install on my computer, an open source program for general abstract mathematical purposes (as opposed to applied mathematics). I would likely use ...
76
votes
26answers
9k views

How To Present Mathematics To Non-Mathematicians?

(Added an epilogue) I started a job as a TA, and it requires me to take a five sessions workshop about better teaching in which we have to present a 10 minutes lecture (micro-teaching). In the last ...
49
votes
23answers
20k views

What are the most misleading alternate definitions in taught mathematics?

I suppose this question can be interpreted in two ways. It is often the case that two or more equivalent (but not necessarily semantically equivalent) definitions of the same idea/object are used in ...
54
votes
34answers
43k views

Mathematicians who were late learners?-list [closed]

It is well-known that many great mathematicians were prodigies. Were there any great mathematicians who started off later in life?
68
votes
30answers
10k views

Most harmful heuristic?

What's the most harmful heuristic (towards proper mathematics education), you've seen taught/accidentally taught/were taught? When did handwaving inhibit proper learning?
69
votes
16answers
4k views

Does Physics need non-analytic smooth functions?

Observing the behaviour of a few physicists "in nature", I had the impression that among the mathematical tools they use a lot (along with possibly much more sofisticated maths, of course), there is ...
28
votes
9answers
4k views

Non-computational software useful to mathematicians

The MathOverflow question Open source mathematical software contains a list of programs that are useful to perform various computational tasks, such as computer algebra systems. However, evaluating ...
66
votes
15answers
13k 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 ...
49
votes
15answers
6k 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 ...
45
votes
6answers
5k views

Still Difficult After All These Years

I think we all secretly hope that in the long run mathematics becomes easier, in that with advances of perspective, today's difficult results will seem easier to future mathematicians. If I were ...
31
votes
25answers
6k views

Theorems for nothing (and the proofs for free) [closed]

Some theorems give far more than you feel they ought to: a weak hypothesis is enough to prove a strong result. Of course, there's almost always a lot of machinery hidden below the waterline. Such ...
28
votes
6answers
7k views

“Industry”/Government jobs for mathematicians

Suppose that you graduate with a good PhD in mathematics, but don't necessarily want to go into academia, with the post-doc years that this entails. Are there any other options for continuing to do ...
13
votes
8answers
3k views

What is the “right” definition of a ring?

This is somewhat related to Greg's question about groups and abelian groups. Suppose you met someone who was well-acquainted with groups, but who was unwilling to accept rings as a meaningful object ...
27
votes
19answers
4k views

Do names given to math concepts have a role in common mistakes by students?

Perhaps this question overlaps with similar ones, ... but I want to focus on a particular possible cause of confusion. I notice that students are often confused by the concepts of "infinite" and ...
24
votes
19answers
8k views

Math paper authors' order

It seems in writing math papers collaborators put their names in the alphabetical order of their last name. Is this a universal accepted norm? I could not find a place putting this down formally.
16
votes
7answers
2k views

Does your dissertation matter for industry research jobs?

Suppose Mr A. is a graduate student who, for some reason, does not want to go into teaching or academic research. Mr A. did a Doctoral dissertation, but it is in a narrow area. This area is not ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

Proof of the Reidemeister theorem

While preparing for my introduction to topology course, I've realized that I don't know where to find a detailed proof of the Reidemeister theorem (two link diagrams give isotopic links, iff they can ...
2
votes
1answer
397 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 ...
174
votes
71answers
73k views

Video lectures of mathematics courses available online for free

It can be difficult to learn mathematics on your own from textbooks, and I often wish universities videotaped their mathematics courses and distributed them for free online. Fortunately, some ...
138
votes
108answers
37k views

What are some examples of colorful language in serious mathematics papers? [closed]

The popular MO question "Famous mathematical quotes" has turned up many examples of witty, insightful, and humorous writing by mathematicians. Yet, with a few exceptions such as Weyl's "angel of ...
73
votes
97answers
49k views

Famous mathematical quotes [closed]

Some famous quotes often give interesting insights into the vision of mathematics that certain mathematicians have. Which ones are you particularly fond of? Standard community wiki rules apply: one ...
54
votes
61answers
21k views

Favorite popular math book [closed]

Christmas is almost here, so imagine you want to buy a good popular math book for your aunt (or whoever you want). Which book would you buy or recommend? It would be nice if you could answer in the ...
86
votes
59answers
15k views

Jokes in the sense of Littlewood: examples? [closed]

First, let me make it clear that I do not mean jokes of the "abelian grape" variety. I take my cue from the following passage in A Mathematician's Miscellany by J.E. Littlewood (Methuen 1953, p. 79): ...
156
votes
11answers
11k views

Refereeing a Paper [closed]

I've refereed at least a dozen papers in my (short) career so far and I still find the process completely baffling. I'm wondering what is actually expected and what people tend to do... Some things ...
57
votes
27answers
6k views

Good papers/books/essays about the thought process behind mathematical research

Papers in mathematics are generally written as if the major insights suddenly appeared, unbidden, in a notebook on the researcher's desk and then were fleshed out into the final paper. While this is ...
41
votes
11answers
4k views

What is Quantization ?

I would like to know what quantization is, I mean I would like to have some elementary examples, some soft nontechnical definition, some explanation about what do mathematicians quantize?, can we ...
92
votes
22answers
9k views

Why do so many textbooks have so much technical detail and so little enlightenment? [closed]

I think/hope this is okay for MO. I often find that textbooks provide very little in the way of motivation or context. As a simple example, consider group theory. Every textbook I have seen that ...
48
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 ...
40
votes
44answers
12k views

An example of a beautiful proof that would be accessible at the high school level?

The background of my question comes from an observation that what we teach in schools does not always reflect what we practice. Beauty is part of what drives mathematicians, but we rarely talk about ...
54
votes
39answers
12k views

Counterexamples in Algebra?

This is certainly related to "What are your favorite instructional counterexamples?", but I thought I would ask a more focused question. We've all seen Counterexamples in Analysis and Counterexamples ...
58
votes
35answers
10k views

Theorems with unexpected conclusions [closed]

I am interested in theorems with unexpected conclusions. I don't mean an unintuitive result (like the existence of a space-filling curve), but rather a result whose conclusion seems disconnected from ...
64
votes
62answers
20k views

Which mathematicians have influenced you the most? [closed]

There are mathematicians whose creativity, insight and taste have the power of driving anyone into a world of beautiful ideas, which can inspire the desire, even the need for doing mathematics, or can ...
58
votes
24answers
5k views

Modern Mathematical Achievements Accessible to Undergraduates

While there is tremendous progress happening in mathematics, most of it is just accessible to specialists. In many cases, the proofs of great results are both long and use difficult techniques. Even ...
39
votes
11answers
9k views

Most striking applications of category theory?

What are the most striking applications of category theory? I'm trying to motivate deeper study of category theory and I have only come across the following significant examples: Joyals ...
41
votes
25answers
7k views

Cocktail party math [closed]

Ok, hotshots. You're at a party, and you're chatting with some non-mathematicians. You tell them that you're a mathematician, and then they ask you to elaborate a bit on what you study, or they ask ...
50
votes
15answers
6k views

Are there examples of non-orientable manifolds in nature?

Whilst browsing through Marcel Berger's book "A Panoramic View of Riemannian Geometry" and thinking about the Klein bottle, I came across the sentence: "The unorientable surfaces are never discussed ...
34
votes
26answers
11k views

A Book You Would Like to Write

Writing a book from the beginning to the end is (so I heard) a very hard process. Planning a book is easier. This question is dual in a sense to the question "Books you would like to read (if somebody ...