Questions that are about research in mathematics, or about the job of a research mathematician, without being mathematical problems or statements in the strictest sense. In other words, questions that can be answered without making computations or applying theorems and axioms.

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186
votes
36answers
50k 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 ...
117
votes
39answers
35k 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. Poincaré's 3d sphere characterization or the search to prove ...
31
votes
1answer
2k views

Why is there a connection between enumerative geometry and nonlinear waves?

Recently I encountered in a class the fact that there is a generating function of Gromov--Witten invariants that satisfies the Korteweg--de Vries hierarchy. Let me state the fact more precisely. ...
118
votes
94answers
66k 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 ...
155
votes
67answers
54k 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 ...
37
votes
37answers
15k 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 ...
37
votes
7answers
7k 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 ...
133
votes
76answers
45k 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.
242
votes
21answers
30k 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 differ, ...
75
votes
33answers
71k 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?
24
votes
63answers
13k 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?
64
votes
59answers
15k views

Pseudonyms of famous mathematicians

Many mathematicians know that Lewis Carroll was quite a good mathematician, who wrote about logic (paradoxes) and determinants. He found an expansion formula, which bears his real name (Charles ...
158
votes
16answers
61k views

What's a mathematician to do? [closed]

I have to apologize because this is not the normal sort of question for this site, but there have been times in the past where MO was remarkably helpful and kind to undergrads with similar types of ...
122
votes
58answers
25k views

What are your favorite instructional counterexamples?

Related: question #879, Most interesting mathematics mistake. But the intent of this question is more pedagogical. In many branches of mathematics, it seems to me that a good counterexample can be ...
93
votes
55answers
17k 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 ...
64
votes
31answers
18k 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 ...
85
votes
16answers
7k 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 ...
62
votes
16answers
22k views

What is the definition of “canonical”?

I just received a referee report criticizing that I would too often use the word "canonical". I have a certain understanding of what "canonical" should stand for, but the report shows me that other ...
37
votes
25answers
8k 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 ...
38
votes
19answers
13k 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.
261
votes
72answers
97k 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 ...
144
votes
136answers
32k 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 ...
184
votes
109answers
49k 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 ...
121
votes
81answers
97k 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.)
120
votes
68answers
24k 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 ...
104
votes
27answers
15k 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 ...
113
votes
40answers
12k views

Generalizing a problem to make it easier

One of the many articles on the Tricki that was planned but has never been written was about making it easier to solve a problem by generalizing it (which initially seems paradoxical because if you ...
111
votes
10answers
8k views

What non-categorical applications are there of homotopical algebra?

(To be honest, I actually mean something more general than 'homotopical algebra' - topos theory, $\infty$-categories, operads, anything that sounds like its natural home would be on the nLab.) More ...
81
votes
62answers
26k 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 ...
64
votes
27answers
7k 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 ...
154
votes
11answers
46k views

Have any long-suspected irrational numbers turned out to be rational?

The history of proving numbers irrational is full of interesting stories, from the ancient proofs for $\sqrt{2}$, to Lambert's irrationality proof for $\pi$, to Roger Apéry's surprise demonstration ...
72
votes
33answers
12k 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 ...
54
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 ...
45
votes
35answers
13k views

Most intricate and most beautiful structures in mathematics

In the December 2010 issue of Scientific American, an article "A Geometric Theory of Everything" by A. G. Lisi and J. O. Weatherall states "... what is arguably the most intricate structure known to ...
52
votes
25answers
9k 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 ...
38
votes
26answers
7k views

Examples of seemingly elementary problems that are hard to solve?

I'm looking for a list of problems such that a) any undergraduate student who took multivariable calculus and linear algebra can understand the statements, (Edit: the definition of understanding here ...
44
votes
27answers
14k 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 ...
70
votes
26answers
11k views

What are some famous rejections of correct mathematics?

Dick Lipton has a blog post that motivated this question. He recalled the Stark-Heegner Theorem: There are only a finite number of imaginary quadratic fields that have unique factorization. ...
84
votes
17answers
23k 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 ...
62
votes
25answers
5k views

What could be some potentially useful mathematical databases?

This is a soft question but it's not meant as a big-list question. I have recently been asked whether I want to provide feedback at the pre-beta stage on a forthcoming website that will provide a ...
58
votes
12answers
3k 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
4answers
5k views

Mathematically mature way to think about Mayer–Vietoris

This question is short but to the point: what is the "right" abstract framework where Mayer-Vietoris is just a trivial consequence?
56
votes
11answers
6k views

Why are matrices ubiquitous but hypermatrices rare?

I am puzzled by the amazing utility and therefore ubiquity of two-dimensional matrices in comparison to the relative paucity of multidimensional arrays of numbers, hypermatrices. Of course ...
35
votes
21answers
7k views

Nontrivial question about Fibonacci numbers?

I'm looking for a nontrivial, but not super difficult question concerning Fibonacci numbers. It should be at a level suitable for an undergraduate course. Here is a (not so good) example of the sort ...
30
votes
8answers
4k views

Ubiquity of the push-pull formula

The push-pull formula appears in several different incarnations. There are, at least, the following: 1) If $f \colon X \to Y$ is a continous map, then for sheaves $\mathcal{F}$ on $X$ and $\mathcal{G}...
56
votes
6answers
7k 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 ...
29
votes
3answers
1k 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${}^*$ ...
17
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 ...
36
votes
6answers
13k 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 "...
33
votes
10answers
4k views

Is there a mathematical axiomatization of time (other than, perhaps, entropy)?

Since Euclid's axiomatization of space, we have developed a sophisticated mathematical model of space. Given a category of structures (measures), local space is modeled the spectrum of measurements ...