**179**

votes

**36**answers

48k 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 ...

**241**

votes

**21**answers

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 ...

**117**

votes

**39**answers

33k 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 ...

**152**

votes

**67**answers

52k 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 ...

**132**

votes

**76**answers

43k 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.

**117**

votes

**94**answers

65k 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 ...

**37**

votes

**37**answers

14k 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

**7**answers

6k 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

**1**answer

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. ...

**122**

votes

**58**answers

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 ...

**118**

votes

**68**answers

23k 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 ...

**73**

votes

**33**answers

69k 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?

**25**

votes

**63**answers

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?

**31**

votes

**9**answers

5k 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 ...

**64**

votes

**56**answers

14k 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 ...

**36**

votes

**6**answers

12k 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 ...

**6**

votes

**5**answers

7k views

### Beginners text on calculus of variations

I want to begin learning Calculus of Variations. What texts would MathOverflow recommend? Amazon shows up quite a few options:
http://tinyurl.com/36koaq4
I work on Machine Learning, and that where ...

**156**

votes

**16**answers

60k 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 ...

**149**

votes

**77**answers

24k views

### Your favorite surprising connections in Mathematics

There are certain things in mathematics that have caused me a pleasant surprise -- when some part of mathematics is brought to bear in a fundamental way on another, where the connection between the ...

**78**

votes

**26**answers

30k 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 ...

**93**

votes

**55**answers

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 ...

**65**

votes

**31**answers

17k 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 ...

**52**

votes

**25**answers

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 ...

**84**

votes

**16**answers

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 ...

**58**

votes

**15**answers

8k 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 ...

**57**

votes

**41**answers

9k 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 ...

**37**

votes

**25**answers

7k 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 ...

**37**

votes

**19**answers

12k 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.

**256**

votes

**72**answers

95k 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 ...

**145**

votes

**136**answers

31k 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 ...

**182**

votes

**109**answers

47k 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
...

**115**

votes

**81**answers

93k 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.)

**104**

votes

**27**answers

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

**40**answers

11k 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 ...

**109**

votes

**10**answers

7k 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 ...

**80**

votes

**62**answers

25k 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 ...

**63**

votes

**27**answers

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 ...

**148**

votes

**11**answers

44k 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

**33**answers

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 ...

**36**

votes

**23**answers

11k views

### Open source mathematical software

I want some recommendation on which software I should install on my computer. I'm looking for an open source program for general abstract mathematical purposes (as opposed to applied mathematics).
I ...

**94**

votes

**32**answers

14k 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?

**53**

votes

**51**answers

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

**24**answers

8k 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.
...

**36**

votes

**30**answers

12k 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 ...

**94**

votes

**17**answers

9k views

### How does one justify funding for mathematics research?

G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology provides an answer as to why one would do mathematics, but I'm unable to find an answer as to why mathematics deserves public funding. Mathematics can be ...

**38**

votes

**26**answers

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 ...

**43**

votes

**27**answers

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 ...

**72**

votes

**13**answers

22k views

### Top specialized journals

In geometry/topology, there are (at least) three specialized journals that end up publishing a large fraction of the best papers in the subject -- Geometry and Topology, JDG, and GAFA.
What journals ...

**71**

votes

**26**answers

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. ...

**62**

votes

**16**answers

21k 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 ...