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A large part of my fascination in mathematics is because of some very surprising results that I have seen there.

I remember one I found very hard to swallow when I first encountered it, was what is known as the Banach Tarski Paradox. It states that you can separate a ball $x^2+y^2+z^2 \le 1$ into finitely many disjoint parts, rotate and translate them and rejoin (by taking disjoint union), and you end up with exactly two complete balls of the same radius!

So I ask you which are your most surprising moments in maths?

  • Chances are you will have more than one. May I request post multiple answers in that case, so the voting system will bring the ones most people think as surprising up. Thanks!
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closed as too localized by t.b., Zev Chonoles Sep 5 '11 at 22:18

This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

big-list usually means community wiki. For this question it applies. – Aryabhata Aug 21 '10 at 19:01
And maybe also… . – Qiaochu Yuan Aug 21 '10 at 21:21
I'm getting tired of this question being bumped every once in a while. It seems to have served its purpose and there's no need to accumulate more than 100 answers. Therefore I voted to close it. – t.b. Sep 5 '11 at 22:09

91 Answers 91

Computational instability of the Quadratic Formula. Who would have thought?

Due to this computational stability an alternative formula is also employed. Here is the relevant quote from the Wikipedia article:

“The alternative formula can reduce loss of precision in the numerical evaluation of the roots, which may be a problem if one of the roots is much smaller than the other in absolute magnitude.”

And here is the link to the full article:

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