Greatest Hits

347
votes
78answers
157k views

Proofs without words

Can you give examples of proofs without words? In particular, can you give examples of proofs without words for non-trivial results? (One could ask if this is of interest to mathematicians, and I ...
213
votes
36answers
28k views

Conway's lesser-known results

John Horton Conway is known for many achievements: Life, the three sporadic groups in the "Conway constellation," surreal numbers, his "Look-and-Say" sequence analysis, the Conway-Schneeberger $15$-...
832
votes
257answers
229k views

Examples of common false beliefs in mathematics

The first thing to say is that this is not the same as the question about interesting mathematical mistakes. I am interested about the type of false beliefs that many intelligent people have while ...
238
votes
29answers
83k views

Mathematical games interesting to both you and a 5+-year-old child

Background: My daughter is 6 years old now, once I wanted to think on some math (about some Young diagrams), but she wanted to play with me... How to make both of us to do what they want ? I guess ...
91
votes
2answers
112k views

Perfectly centered break of a perfectly aligned pool ball rack

Imagine the beginning of a game of pool, you have 16 balls, 15 of them in a triangle <| and 1 of them being the cue ball off to the left of that triangle. Imagine that the rack (the 15 balls in a ...
169
votes
13answers
48k views

Why doesn't mathematics collapse even though humans quite often make mistakes in their proofs?

To begin with, I am aware of these questions, which seems to be related: How do I fix someone's published error?, Examples of common false beliefs in mathematics, When have we lost a body of ...
239
votes
44answers
98k views

Examples of unexpected mathematical images

I try to generate a lot of examples in my research to get a better feel for what I am doing. Sometimes, I generate a plot, or a figure, that really surprises me, and makes my research take an ...
212
votes
29answers
138k 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 ...
61
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7answers
16k views

Results that are widely accepted but no proof has appeared

The background of this question is the talk given by Kevin Buzzard. I could not find the slides of that talk. The slides of another talk given by Kevin Buzzard along the same theme are available here....
33
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8answers
199k views

The factorial of -1, -2, -3,

Well, $n!$ is for integer $n < 0$ not defined — as yet. So the question is: How could a sensible generalization of the factorial for negative integers look like? Clearly a good generalization ...
357
votes
80answers
126k 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 ...
68
votes
9answers
17k views

Nontrivially fillable gaps in published proofs of major theorems

Prelude: In 1998, Robert Solovay wrote an email to John Nash to communicate an error that he detected in the proof of the Nash embedding theorem, as presented in Nash's well-known paper "The Imbedding ...
72
votes
12answers
104k views

If you break a stick at two points chosen uniformly, the probability the three resulting sticks form a triangle is 1/4. Is there a nice proof of this?

There is a standard problem in elementary probability that goes as follows. Consider a stick of length 1. Pick two points uniformly at random on the stick, and break the stick at those points. What ...
112
votes
14answers
31k views

What are some noteworthy “mic-drop” moments in math?

Oftentimes in math the manner in which a solution to a problem is announced becomes a significant chapter/part of the lore associated with the problem, almost being remembered more than the manner in ...
192
votes
35answers
126k views

Best algebraic geometry textbook? (other than Hartshorne)

I think (almost) everyone agrees that Hartshorne's Algebraic Geometry is still the best. Then what might be the 2nd best? It can be a book, preprint, online lecture note, webpage, etc. One suggestion ...
44
votes
5answers
14k views

How and when do I learn so much mathematics?

I am about to (hopefully!) begin my PhD (in Europe) and I have a question: how did you learn so much mathematics? Allow me to explain. I am training to be a number theorist and I have only some read ...
281
votes
7answers
131k views

Philosophy behind Mochizuki's work on the ABC conjecture

Mochizuki has recently announced a proof of the ABC conjecture. It is far too early to judge its correctness, but it builds on many years of work by him. Can someone briefly explain the philosophy ...
68
votes
19answers
79k views

Reading list for basic differential geometry?

I'd like to ask if people can point me towards good books or notes to learn some basic differential geometry. I work in representation theory mostly and have found that sometimes my background is ...
291
votes
44answers
88k views

Widely accepted mathematical results that were later shown to be wrong?

Are there 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 later, possibly ...
67
votes
12answers
80k views

What practical applications does set theory have?

I am a non-mathematician. I'm reading up on set theory. It's fascinating, but I wonder if it's found any 'real-world' applications yet. For instance, in high school when we were learning the ...
367
votes
15answers
53k views

Why do roots of polynomials tend to have absolute value close to 1?

While playing around with Mathematica I noticed that most polynomials with real coefficients seem to have most complex zeroes very near the unit circle. For instance, if we plot all the roots of a ...
172
votes
46answers
92k views

Magic trick based on deep mathematics

I am interested in magic tricks whose explanation requires deep mathematics. The trick should be one that would actually appeal to a layman. An example is the following: the magician asks Alice to ...
160
votes
33answers
61k views

What is convolution intuitively?

If random variable $X$ has a probability distribution of $f(x)$ and random variable $Y$ has a probability distribution $g(x)$ then $(f*g)(x)$, the convolution of $f$ and $g$, is the probability ...
100
votes
85answers
23k views

Tweetable Mathematics

Update: Please restrict your answers to "tweets" that give more than just the statement of the result, and give also the essence (or a useful hint) of the argument/novelty. I am looking for ...
143
votes
7answers
62k views

The “Dzhanibekov effect” - an exercise in mechanics or fiction? Explain mathematically a video from a space station

The question briefly: Can one explain the "Dzhanibekov effect" (see youtube videos from space station or comments below) on the basis of the standard rigid body dynamics using Euler's equations? (Or ...
319
votes
106answers
71k views

Not especially famous, long-open problems which anyone can understand

Question: I'm asking for a big list of not especially famous, long open problems that anyone can understand. Community wiki, so one problem per answer, please. Motivation: I plan to use this list ...
133
votes
2answers
51k views

Estimating the size of solutions of a diophantine equation

A. Is there natural numbers $a,b,c$ such that $\frac{a}{b+c} + \frac{b}{a+c} + \frac{c}{a+b}$ is equal to an odd natural number ? (I do not know any such numbers). B. Suppose that $\frac{a}{b+c} + \...
127
votes
30answers
57k 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 ...
183
votes
30answers
70k views

Real-world applications of mathematics, by arxiv subject area?

What are the most important applications outside of mathematics of each of the major fields of mathematics? For concreteness, let's divide up mathematics according to arxiv mathematics categories, e.g....
186
votes
20answers
29k views

How can a mathematician handle the pressure to discover something new?

Suppose I'm an aspiring mathematician-to-be, who started doing research. Although this is really what I love doing, I found that one disturbing point is that there's always the pressure of discovering ...
171
votes
23answers
38k views

The most outrageous (or ridiculous) conjectures in mathematics

The purpose of this question is to collect the most outrageous (or ridiculous) conjectures in mathematics. An outrageous conjecture is qualified ONLY if: 1) It is most likely false (Being hopeless is ...
253
votes
110answers
67k views

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

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 ...
60
votes
6answers
10k views

Why is the Fourier transform so ubiquitous?

Many operations and equivalences in mathematics arise as some sort of Fourier transform. By Fourier transform I mean the following: Let $X$ and $Y$ be two objects of some category with products, and ...
106
votes
1answer
30k views

What is the definition of the function T used in Atiyah's attempted proof of the Riemann Hypothesis?

In Michael Atiyah's paper purportedly proving the Riemann hypothesis, he relies heavily on the properties of a certain function $T(s)$, known as the Todd function. My question is, what is the ...
288
votes
28answers
52k views

Geometric interpretation of trace

This afternoon I was speaking with some graduate students in the department and we came to the following quandary; Is there a geometric interpretation of the trace of a matrix? This question ...
68
votes
12answers
55k views

Why is the gradient normal?

This is a somewhat long discussion so please bear with me. There is a theorem that I have always been curious about from an intuitive standpoint and that has been glossed over in most textbooks I ...
45
votes
19answers
71k views

Suggestions for a good Measure Theory book

I have taken analysis and have looked at different measures, but I am currently looking at realizing a certain problem in a different light and feel that I need a better background in various measures ...
55
votes
62answers
11k views

Mathematicians with both “very abstract” and “very applied” achievements

Gödel had a cosmological model. Hamel, primarily a mechanician, gave any vector space a basis. Plücker, best known for line geometry, spent years on magnetism. What other mathematicians had so distant ...
198
votes
13answers
57k 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 ...
160
votes
58answers
79k views

Interesting mathematical documentaries

I am looking for mathematical documentaries, both technical and non-technical. They should be "interesting" in that they present either actual mathematics, mathematicians or history of mathematics. I ...
55
votes
8answers
35k views

Example of a good Zero Knowledge Proof.

I am working on my zero knowledge proofs and I am looking for a good example of a real world proof of this type. An even better answer would be a Zero Knowledge Proof that shows the statement isn't ...
151
votes
49answers
32k views

17 camels trick

The following popular mathematical parable is well known: A father left 17 camels to his three sons and, according to the will, the eldest son should be given a half of all camels, the middle son ...
152
votes
36answers
35k 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?
133
votes
21answers
26k views

Mathematical software wish list

Like many other mathematicians I use mathematical software like SAGE, GAP, Polymake, and of course $\LaTeX$ extensively. When I chat with colleagues about such software tools, very often someone has ...
188
votes
42answers
70k 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 ...
134
votes
26answers
34k views

Has philosophy ever clarified mathematics?

I've recently been reading some standard textbooks on the philosophy of mathematics, and I've become quite frustrated that (surely due to my own limitations) I don't seem to be gleaning any ...
114
votes
17answers
54k views

Periods and commas in mathematical writing

I just realized that I am a barbarian when it comes to writing. But I am not entirely sure, so this might be the right place to ask. When typing display-mode formulae do you guys add a period after ...
120
votes
5answers
51k views

Consequences of the Riemann hypothesis

I assume a number of results have been proven conditionally on the Riemann hypothesis, of course in number theory and maybe in other fields. What are the most relevant you know? It would also be nice ...
74
votes
5answers
6k views

Note rejected from arXiv: what to do next?

Short version: A note of mine was rejected by the arXiv moderation (something I didn't even know was possible) on account of being “unrefereeable”. The moderation process provides absolutely no ...
35
votes
6answers
71k views

Fourier vs Laplace transforms

In solving a linear system, when would I use a Fourier transform versus a Laplace transform? I am not a mathematician, so the little intuition I have tells me that it could be related to the boundary ...

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