I would like to ask about examples where experimentation by computers has led to major mathematical advances.

A new look

Now as the question is five years old and there are certainly more examples of mathematical advances via computer experimentation of various kinds, I propose to consider contributing new answers to the question.

Motivation

I am aware about a few such cases and I think it will be useful to gather such examples together. I am partially motivated by the recent polymath5 which, at this stage, have become an interesting experimental mathematics project. So I am especially interested in examples of successful "mathematical data mining"; and cases which are close in spirit to the experimental nature of polymath5. My experience is that it can be, at times, very difficult to draw useful insights from computer data.

Summary of answers according to categories

(Added Oct. 12, 2015)

To make the question a useful resource (and to allow additional answers), here is a quick summery of the answers according to categories. (Links are to the answers, and occasionally to an external link from the answer itself.)

1) Mathematical conjectures or large body of work arrived at by examining experimental data - Classic

2) Mathematical conjectures or large body of work arrived at by examining experimental data - Current

"Maeda conjecture"; the work of Candès and Tao on compressed sensing; Certain Hankel determinants; Weari-Phelan structure; the connection of multiple zeta values to renormalized Feynman integrals; Thistlethwaite's discovery of links with trivial Jones polynomial; The Monstrous Moonshine; McKay's account on experimentation leading to mysterious "numerology" regarding the monster. (link to the answer); Haiman conjectures on the quotient ring by diagonal invariants

3) Computer-assisted proofs of mathematical theorems

Kepler's conjecture ; a new way to tile the plane with a pentagon: advances regarding bounded gaps between primes following Zhang's proof; Cartwright and Steger's work on fake projective planes; the Seifert-Weber dodecahedral space is not Haken; the four color theorem, the proof of the nonexistence of a projective plane of order 10; Knuth's work on a class of projective planes; The search for Mersenne primes; Rich Schwartz's work; The computations done by the 'Atlas of Lie groups' software of Adams, Vogan, du Cloux and many other; Cohn-Kumar proof for the densest lattice pacing in 24-dim; Kelvin's conjecture; (NEW) $$R(5,5) \le 48$$ and $$R(4,5)=25$$;

4) Computer programs that interactively or automatically lead to mathematical conjectures.

Graffiti

5) Various computer programs which allow proving automatically theorems or generating automatically proofs in a specialized field.

Wilf-Zeilberger formalism and software; FLAGTOOLS

6) Computer programs (both general purpose and special purpose) for verification of mathematical proofs.

The verification of a proof of Kepler's conjecture.

7) Large databases and other tools

Sloane's online encyclopedia for integers sequences; the inverse symbolic calculator.

8) Resources:

Journal of experimental mathematics; Herb Wilf's article: Mathematics, an experimental science in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, genetic programming applications a fairly comprehensive website experimentalmath.info ; discovery and experimentation in number theory; Doron Zeilberger's classes called "experimental mathematics":math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/teaching.html; V.I. Arnol'd's two books on the subject of experimental mathematics in Russian, Experimental mathematics, Fazis, Moscow, 2005, and Experimental observation of mathematical facts, MCCME, Moscow, 2006

Answers with general look on experimental mathematics:

Computer experiments allow new avenues for productive strengthening of a problem (A category of experimental mathematics).

Bounty:

There were many excellent answers so let's give the bounty to Gauss...

• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Jan 17, 2010 at 8:35
• You might want to email Doron Zeilberger at Rutgers. Jan 17, 2010 at 15:39
• Indeed, Doron Zeilberger has even taught classes called "experimental mathematics": math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/teaching.html . Jan 17, 2010 at 15:50
• @Mark: URLs are automatically turned into links in comments; no need for html markup. Corrected version of the link: emis.de/journals/EM Jan 20, 2010 at 18:53
• Doron has recently posted a "videoed lecture" about experimental mathematics: math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/mamarim/mamarimhtml/future.html Apr 3, 2010 at 0:48

The Prime Number Theorem was conjectured by Gauss from looking (very hard, one can presume...) at a table of the primes $\leq10^6$. It is not with too much effort that one can read his Disquisitiones as a set of tricks to determine primality with as little work as possible, and one can understand the motivation: he was his own computer, in a way :P

(I don't know where Legendre got the statement from, but he must surely have had tables of primes too!)

• This may be apocryphal, but I remember being told that Gauss also conjectured and proved quadratic reciprocity after expanding 1/p in base q for various pairs of primes p, q. Jan 18, 2010 at 15:58
• He must have learned special cases from Fermat, and Euler had the general statement (but not the proof) (I am not sure Euler predated Gauss here, though) Jan 18, 2010 at 16:13
• Considering Euler died when Gauss was seven or eight, I'd think that in some sense it's very likely Euler predated Gauss. (I don't know if Euler published his conjectured statement, though.) Jan 18, 2010 at 16:29
• You get 1/p as a/(q^n-1) so p is a factor of q^n-1, and the multiplicative order of q is n mod p. If (p-1)/n is even, q is a quadratic residue. Jan 18, 2010 at 21:28
• I would like to mention two "computers" of the 18th century. The first one is Anton Felkel who produced a table of primes in 1776. In scs.uiuc.edu/~mainzv/exhibitmath/exhibit/felkel.htm one can read that the Austrian artillery used his output in battles : just the paper, not numbers! In 1849 Gauss mentions in his 4 page letter to his student JF Encke that he used Vega's tables to confirm his estimate. Jurij Vega published his table of primes in 1797. Who knows if Felkel's tables were used for cartridges in 1789 when Vega commanded a battery of mortars at the battle for Belgrade. Mar 11, 2010 at 17:09

Computer experiments (in the early 1960s!) led Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer to the formulation of their conjecture, which stimulated the development of much of arithmetic geometry.

A lot of Rich Schwartz's work begins with computer experiments.

Perhaps most notably is his proof that a triangle whose largest angle is less than 100 degrees has a periodic billiard trajectory.

• I think Rich's work is also a good example of how to present computer-assisted mathematics: lots of discussion of his motivation for performing various experiments, lots of friendly-to-use Java applets... Mar 5, 2010 at 15:02
• I agree. A very good example. Mar 5, 2010 at 15:08

Another thing you might like to check out is Herb Wilf's very nice article: Mathematics, an experimental science in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, in which he talks about the interplay between theory and experiment, and the many forms it can take. To give one of his examples (or rather classes of examples), if you generate a sequence of integers, you can plug it into Sloane's database and you may find that it is a known sequence, but generated in a completely different way. In that case, you have an instant interesting conjecture -- that there is a connection. But he discusses several other kinds of example. Another one that deserves to be mentioned is the Bailey-Borwein-Plouffe amazing formula for pi.

Answer by Tim Gowers

You asked for a classification of types of experimental mathematics. I would like to mention just one class that interests me greatly (which is the class that predominates in polymath5). There are many examples of mathematical statements that become easier to prove when you strengthen them, because you have much more of a clue of what sort of proof is appropriate. To give one example, consider the following two statements.

1. For every k there exists n such that every real sequence of length n has a monotonic subsequence of length k.

2. Every real sequence of length mn+1 has an increasing subsequence of length m+1 or a decreasing subsequence of length n+1.

Even though 2 is a stronger statement, it is much easier to come up with the correct proof, because the nature of the bound gives you a big clue (particularly after you check easily that this bound is best possible).

In research mathematics, we often find ourselves with problems like 1, and we want to convert them into problems like 2. And a fantastic way of doing that, which was not available to our mathematical forebears to anything like the same extent, is to program a computer to solve the problem by brute force (or better still, with the help of clever algorithms) in small, but not too small, cases. Right now in polymath5 we are trying to find a proof using semidefinite programming, which involves coming up with a quadratic form with certain properties. Both finding the form and proving that it has the required properties seem to be difficult, but the first task is much easier than it might have been, because for pretty large n one can use a computer to find the best possible quadratic form, and one can then find out a lot from that about which forms are likely to be good and which less good.

• I claim 2 is harder to prove: you have to actually think, rather than apply Ramsey's theorem. Apr 28, 2017 at 9:59

The proof of the four color theorem, the proof of the nonexistence of a projective plane of order 10, the proof of the Kepler conjecture, the search for Mersenne primes, the discovery of the Lorenz attractor and the Feigenbaum constant among others are examples. These are in the wikipedia article on experimental mathematics with other examples. There is also a journal of experimental mathematics. Also there are some videos here from June and July of 2008 about experimental mathematics. Many of them are about the Landen transformation.

Donald Knuth comments in one of his papers on the key role of the use of computers in making his paper possible.

D. E. Knuth, A class of projective planes. Transactions of the American Mathematical Society 115 (1965) 541–549.

Basically what happened was that Knuth used a computer to study an example and once he saw how that example worked he was able to see what was going on in general.

This is a common way that "experimental" mathematics can work. Doing experiments can lead to examples that provide the proof of how some general construction can be implemented.

I have one personal experience with experimental mathematics. It started with a computer assisted simple proof of a result that every five dimensional polytope contains a 2-dimensional face which is a triangle or a quadrangle. It turns out that the negation of this theorem implies a certain number of inequalities for the so called flag numbers which together with known inequalities lead to a contradiction. At the end the proof can be checked easily by hand.

The next step was with Gunter Meisinger and Peter Kleinschmidt (see this paper), and we made a computer program called FLAGTOOLS that was able to prove automatically theorem of a similar type. At a later stage we tried to let the program test systematically for such theorems. Among the theorems we proved is the following: that there is a finite list of 3-polytopes so that every 9-polytope has a face from that list. Some similar work for quasisimplicial polytopes which had additional features of automations were carried out by Shahar Lovett.

Overall, it was difficult to use the automatic systems to obtain unanticipated "meaningful" or "interesting" results, and this had become harder the higher the level of automation was.

(Update:) One theorem proved by Gunter Meisinger, Peter Kleinschmidt and me was that every 9-polytope has a 3-face with at most 77 facets. The proof was transformed into art by artist Bernard Venet.

• Your paper with Meisinger and Kleinschmidt talks about quotients of polytopes. Where can I learn the details of this idea? Jan 26, 2010 at 21:57
• A quotient of a polytope P corresponds to an interval in the face lattice: all the faces that contain a face G and are contained in a face H. The set of these faces are the set of faces of a polytope Q of dmension dim G - dim H - 1. Intervals of the form [emptyset, F] simply correspond to the faces of F. Polyope duality allow you to think easily about intervals of the form [F,P]. Jan 26, 2010 at 22:30

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the Mandelbrot set yet, arguably the most famous new mathematical object of the last 30 years, at least among the general public. Benoit Mandelbrot discovered it in 1979 as a result of computer experiments. He says that when he first saw it he was so surprised by its appearance that he thought it must be the result of a computer malfunction. In his book Fractals and Chaos, Mandelbrot argues that his discovery of the Mandelbrot set contributed to the revival of experimental mathematics and led to a general change in the attitude of mathematicians to experiments in mathematics. On page 25 he writes:

"The culture of mathematics during the 1960s and 1970s

Within that culture the Mandelbrot set could not have been discovered. Hence its discovery marked a historical departure. Today -- but not yesterday -- only a minority among mathematicians would agree with the opinion due to someone who did not discover that set, that the study of M reflects "a rather infantile and somewhat dull mathematical sensibility" (Brooks 1989)."

• My understanding is that John Hubbard discovered the set and described it to Mandelbrot, who had access to much better computers. Jun 6, 2010 at 19:29
• The Mandelbrot set was first discovered in 1978 by Robert Brooks and Peter Matelski (The dynamics of 2-generator subgroups of PSL(2,C), in "Riemann Surfaces and Related Topics", ed. Kra and Maskit, Ann. Math. Stud. 97, 65–71, ISBN 0-691-08264-2) They drew a crude but recognizable picture of it in their paper. So the statement that it could not have been discovered in the mathematical culture of the 1970s is simply false: it WAS discovered in the mathematical culture of the 1970s! Aug 15, 2010 at 14:12
• Thanks for the correction. The paper by Brooks and Matelski is available online. The picture of the Mandelbrot set is on the second last page. math.harvard.edu/archive/118r_spring_05/docs/brooksmatelski.pdf Aug 15, 2010 at 18:10
• @VictorProtsak Your anecdote is still somewhat correct - As I understand, Hubbard drew pictures of parameter spaces (I think) for Newton's method of cubic polynomials, and Mandelbrot told him at the time that this inspired him to make his pictures of what is now called the Mandelbrot set. Sep 24, 2015 at 11:48
• It's maybe worth making it explicit that the Brooks whom Mandelbrot quotes disapprovingly is the same Brooks who actually did discover the "Mandelbrot set" before Mandelbrot did, which makes his characterization of Brooks as "someone who did not discover that set" particularly obnoxious. Dec 11, 2015 at 12:13

Also V.I. Arnol'd is quite enthusiastic about the experimental mathematics. In particular, he wrote two books on the subject in Russian, Experimental mathematics, Fazis, Moscow, 2005, and Experimental observation of mathematical facts, MCCME, Moscow, 2006, where, I guess, one could find a number of examples of the kind you ask for. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, neither of these books was translated into English so far.

• Arnol'd gave some lectures at Berkeley a couple years ago. I remember he mentioned something about generating random numbers by standing at the side of a road and taking note of license plate numbers of cars that went by. Jan 18, 2010 at 18:35
• His book Experimental mathematics was just published in English by AMS. ams.org/bookstore-getitem/item=mcl-16 Oct 11, 2015 at 20:16

The Monstrous Moonshine relationships between the Monster group (the largest sporadic finite simple group) and modular functions were investigated after observations of several numerical coincidences:

Several of the lowest coefficients of the Fourier expansion of the $$j$$ modular function are small sums of the smallest dimensions of irreducible representations of the Monster group. For example, the linear term is $$196884q$$, and the two smallest irreducible representations of the Monster group have dimensions $$1$$ and $$196883$$. The quadratic coefficient is the sum of the dimensions of the three smallest irreducible representations. This led to the conjecture of the existence and then the construction of an infinite graded vertex algebra on which the Monster acts whose pieces have dimensions equal to the Fourier coefficients of $$j$$.

I'm not sure whether computers were involved historically, but this was a shocking pattern of numerical coincidences of a type which is much easier to find now with tools like Sloane's online encyclopedia of integer sequences.

Also, it was noted that the primes $$p$$ such that $$\mathbb H^2/\Gamma_0(p)^*$$ has genus zero are precisely the primes dividing the order of the Monster group.

• +1, but a couple notes: The j function observation was due to McKay, the genus zero observation was due to Ogg, and the moonshine module is a vertex algebra, but not an algebra in the usual sense of the word. Jan 19, 2010 at 20:56
• Thanks for the correction, Scott. I thought about leaving this example for an expert in the area to write up, but it was just too neat to wait. Jan 19, 2010 at 22:36

A fairly classical (and pretty dated at that) example is the study of solitons which was to a large extent triggered by solving numerically the so-called Fermi--Pasta--Ulam chain and then of its continuous limit, the Korteweg--de Vries equation. It would not be much of exaggeration to say that the whole modern theory of integrable systems grew out of this. For more details see e.g. the Wikipedia entry on solitons and the first chapter of the book Solitons in Mathematics and Physics by Alan Newell.

John Conway initially thought that his cellular automata game of Life could not lead to an unlimited number of active cells starting from a finite number of cells.

Computer experimentation by Bill Gosper led to the discovery in 1970 of the Gosper Glider Gun, a finite collection of cells which leads to a recurring state which continues to emit "spaceships" or "bullets" which continue out into the periphery infinitely. I can't find a link to the specifics of the discovery beyond the remark that Gosper won a 50$US reward from Conway for making this finding. The glider gun was also used in constructions involving the manipulations of the "bullets" in such a way as to form a computational apparatus, ultimately proving the Turing-completeness of Conway's Life. I do know that a lot of random configuration discovery was done for the Life cellular automaton and for other CA by creating random patterns, then masking the lattice with a pattern which blanked out the peripheral cell values and left the random pattern alone in the center of the screen, and then allowed the CA rules to run. Escapees such as gliders would continue their motion into the blanked areas and be easily discerned in a simulation. The first glider-type pattern was discovered by tracing the evolution of the finite starting patterns. David Eppstein also appears to have written a program that helps in finding these spaceship types of pattern, which should also count as mathematical discoveries and exploration via computer programs. :gfind A program by David Eppstein which uses de Bruijn graphs to search for new spaceships. It was with gfind that Eppstein found the weekender, and Paul Tooke later used it to find the dragon. It is available at http://www.ics.uci.edu/~eppstein/ca/gfind.c (C source code only). • I'm hardly the only one to have written programs to search for CA patterns. See ics.uci.edu/~eppstein/ca/search.html for a partial listing of others. Sep 2, 2010 at 17:21 • @david, Hi, I wasn't saying you were the only one. I remembered learning about Gosper's glider gun in a class and whilst hunting for references for the year in which it occurred, I found a page that also mentioned some of your programs. The glider gun showed that it was possible for a finite starting state to continue to expand infinitely. Sep 3, 2010 at 0:18 Thistlethwaite's discovery of links with trivial Jones polynomial (MR1831681) should be mentioned here. He apparently discovered them "during the course of a routine computer ennumeration." Later he and Eliahou and Kauffman (MR1928648) were able to recognize these links as part of an infinite family of links with trivial Jones polynomial. Further, it's my impression that the calculation that these Jones polynomials are trivial doesn't use computers. The re-launching of this question is quite timely, as experimental math was behind a beautiful recent discovery of a new way to tile the plane with a pentagon. Previously only 14 such tilings were known. The new and 15th tiling announced a few weeks ago was discovered by Casey Mann, Jennifer McLoud and David Von Derau using a computer search: https://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2015/aug/10/attack-on-the-pentagon-results-in-discovery-of-new-mathematical-tile https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagonal_tiling • Does every computer search qualify as "experimental math"? Aug 30, 2015 at 23:24 • @Gerry Myerson: Yes. Aug 30, 2015 at 23:41 • @Gerry Myerson: furthermore, the boundary between "normal" and "experimental" math is becoming increasingly blurry, and the distinction between experimental and "rigorous" is becoming increasingly unhelpful. E.g., computer experimentation has played a key role in most of my papers. None of these are "experimental math" papers--they all have formal theorems with human-readable proofs. But the work that led me to these theorems was largely experimental. My point is that much of normal math research is "experimental." Certainly when you do a computer search, you are doing experimental math. Aug 31, 2015 at 0:01 • I had that a computer-aided proof that there does not exist any more tiling has been given by Rao, see arxiv.org/abs/1708.00274. Jan 30, 2021 at 7:42 One should surely also mention the Riemann hypothesis since Riemann computed a few zeros of the zeta function by hand and observed that they were on the critical line. I guess that this contributed to his statement, together with the functional equation, of course. (I hope that I did not overlook this response in the many previous answers, sorry otherwise). Another experimental result with a happy ending is the birth of random matrix theory by Wigner who guessed the circular law after computer experiments if I am not mistaken. Both subjects have been recently linked experimentally. Didn't the work of Candès and Tao on compressed sensing begin by a computer experiment by Candès that gave results "too good to be true"? See: http://www.ams.org/samplings/math-history/hap7-pixel.pdf When I was an undergrad, Jon Borwein showed me the inverse symbolic calculator. You type in a number, and the inverse calculator tells you what it 'thinks' your number is, for example$\pi^2$. I thought it was a useful tool for experimenting. For example, if you have a series or integral which you can't evaluate exactly, you can evaluate it numerically and plug it into the inverse calculator to see if it spits out a 'meaningful' answer. You then have something that you can actually try to prove. This isn't a very deep application, but there is more information on this page for experimental mathematics. Edit. My original link to the inverse symbolic calculator appears to be dead. Here is a link to another working version (thanks to Houshalter for the pointer). I am familiar with a few more examples of various types. I think that in order to be useful we can think about various different types of "computer aided experimental mathematics". A) Conjectures obtained from computer experimentations. 1. A famous example is Feigenbaum's discovery: (Quote from the wikipedia article) "Some mathematical mappings involving a single linear parameter exhibit the apparently random behavior known as chaos when the parameter lies within certain ranges. As the parameter is increased towards this region, the mapping undergoes bifurcations at precise values of the parameter. At first there is one stable point, then bifurcating to an oscillation between two values, then bifurcating again to oscillate between four values and so on. In 1975, Dr. Feigenbaum, using the small HP-65 calculator he had been issued, discovered that the ratio of the difference between the values at which such successive period-doubling bifurcations occur tends to a constant of around 4.6692... He was then able to provide a mathematical proof of that fact, and he then showed that the same behavior, with the same mathematical constant, would occur within a wide class of mathematical functions, prior to the onset of chaos. For the first time, this universal result enabled mathematicians to take their first steps to unravelling the apparently intractable "random" behavior of chaotic systems. This "ratio of convergence" is now known as the first Feigenbaum constant." 2. There are various mathematical packages with more "general-purpose" experimentation in various fields and some of those have led to interesting conjectures. B) Computerized proof 1. Also here there are several examples of different nature. In some cases (like Hales proof of the density packing conjecture) verifying the proof requires full replication of the experiment. In some other cases, like the proof of Cohn and Kumar for the densest lattice in 24 dimensions, in Optimality and uniqueness of the Leech lattice among lattices (Annals, 2009), checking an automated proof can be carried out (again usually using computers) with less effort compared to the effort in finding the proof. 2. There are computer packages which allow more "general-purpose" forming-conjectures-and-proving-them in various (still quite restricted) areas. • As You mention Computer packages for computerized proofs I would to point example of Mizar system, which is formal language (very near natural one) system for proof checking. Proofs are written in a way which is easily readable by a human. Now it comes with very huge library of computerized proofs, and it is very interesting for example to see how it looks like the graph of theorems connections, and which are important whilst which are hard to prove etc. cs.ru.nl/~freek/mizar/mml.ps.gz general description is available here: cs.ru.nl/~freek/mizar Feb 11, 2010 at 20:00 Thurston's geometrization program began with Bob Riley's computer experiments - Thurston's intuition was actually initially the opposite (he did not believe that the figure eight knot could be hyperbolic until he saw the experimental result). • wow! I did not know that... Sep 3, 2015 at 12:49 The solution of the Kepler's conjecture by Hales deserves a special answer since it gives an important example both for a proof to a mathematical theorem massively using computers, and 15 years later by an impressive project for demonstrating a formal proof for the conjecture that could be automatically verified. The problem and the first project which in part was carried out by Hales with Ferguson is described in the Notices AMS paper "Cannonballs and Honeycombs" Another reference is a 2002 ICM survey A Computer Verification of the Kepler Conjecture. The published account of the second project - The Flyspeck project can be found in the paper A formal proof of the Kepler conjecture. For more information and links, see Hales homepage. I don't think any precise theorems have fallen out yet, but the computations done by the 'Atlas of Lie groups' software of Adams, Vogan, du Cloux and many others has "completely changed the way [they] look at the field" Edit: Jeff Adams agreed to give a lecture this semester where he would outline what surprising facts have been discovered, what conjectures have been made, what statements have been proved, etc. by looking at Atlas data. If this happens I'll post some kind of summary here. (Answer by John Mckay:) That the product of two conjugate (type 2A) involutions of the monster, M lies in 9 conjugacy classes with order given by the coefficients of the highest root in affine E8, namely {1,2,3,4,5,6,4,2,3} -- and similarly for E7 and E6 with 2.Baby and 3.F24' respectively -- was experimental with very little evidence. See my note in Nature 305, 672, 20th Oct 1983 on numerology. (GK: Indeed this is a very important example in the history of mathematics. Here is the Nature's paper) I will add two examples of conjectures from quantum topology based on computer data. 1. The slope conjecture: Quantum topology associates a sequence of rational numbers to a rational homology sphere $$M$$ as coefficients of an invariant called the Ohtsuki series. The slope conjecture states that the ratios of adjacent coefficients of powers $$(q+1)^n$$ in the Ohtsuki series of a rational homology sphere (except $$S^3$$) asymptotically grows linearly in $$n$$ and that the slope satisfies certain conditions. I believe it is still wide open. It was discovered by Lawrence and Jacoby in this paper by examining computer-generated plots such as the following: 1. Mysterious fish-like graph: Let $$v_2$$ and $$v_3$$ denote the $$\mathbb{R}$$-valued Vassiliev invariants of knots of degree $$2$$ and $$3$$ respectively, normalized appropriately. Willerton, following Okuda, plotted the values of $$\left(\frac{v_2}{n^2},\frac{v_3}{n^3}\right)$$ for certain families of knots with fixed crossing number, and obtained the following mysterious "fish-like graph": This led to a slew of results and conjectures, as described in Ohtsuki's problem list. To the best of my knowledge, the although there are partial results, the appearance of the fish-like graph is still a mystery. • That's an octopus not a fish! May 1, 2016 at 22:25 If I am not mistaken, the connection of multiple zeta values to renormalized Feynman integrals was discovered through computations (by David Broadhurst). Here is a survey of ongoing computer research around this field (from 1996). A fake projective plane is a smooth compact complex surface with the same Betti numbers as$\mathbb{P}^2(\mathbb{C})$. Mumford (MR0527834) built the first one in the late 70s using$p$-adic uniformization. Klingler (MR1990668) and, independently, Yeung (MR2128300 with erratum MR2559112), showed that they necessarily corresponded to arithmetic lattices in$\mathrm{PU}(2,1)$. (That they live in$\mathrm{PU}(2,1)$follows from Yau's Theorem MR0451180; they do the arithmeticity.) Prasad and Yeung (MR2289867) then gave the list of arithmetic constructions which could possible create such a beast. Using a computer experiment, Cartwright and Steger gave presentations for all the fundamental groups, giving a complete classification. They have recent announcement in Comptes Rendus #348, 11-13. Their presentations also allow one to show that the congruence subgroup property doesn't hold for certain commensurability classes of lattices for which it was previously unknown. In fact, these lattices are a few of the `simplest' examples for which the congruence subgroup problem remained mysterious. (Serre conjectures in his paper on$\mathrm{SL}_2$, MR0272790, that it fails for all$\mathbb{R}\$-rank one groups.)

The Shimura-Taniyama-Weil conjecture (now a theorem) and the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjectures were based on examples.

Graffiti is a computer program which makes conjectures in various subfields of mathematics, particularly graph theory. (And also in chemistry.) It was written by written by Siemion Fajtlowicz. Here is a 1989 article about it.

Some of the advances regarding bounded gaps between primes following Zhang's proof were using computers and computations quite substantially. This applies to progress in polymath8, to Meynard's paper, and to progress in polymath8b. See this paper for a general perspective of these advances.

According to this obituary of Edward Lorenz in Plus Magazine, he discovered the seemingly chaotic behaviour of the Lorenz attractor when a small change (due to rounding) in the boundary conditions in a numerical simulation gave rise to hugely different solutions.