Examples and counterexamples are great ways to learn about the intricacies of definitions in mathematics. Counterexamples are especially useful in topology and analysis where most things are fairly intuitive, but every now and then one may run into borderline cases where the naive intuition may ...

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257
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27answers
15k views

Examples of apparent patterns that eventually fail

Often, when I try to describe mathematics to the layman, I find myself struggling to convince them of the importance and consequence of 'proof'. I receive responses like: "surely if the Collatz ...
173
votes
30answers
12k views

A challenge by R. P. Feynman: give counter-intuitive theorems that can be translated into everyday language

The following is a quote from Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman . The question is: are there any interesting theorems that you think would be a good example to tell Richard Feynman, as an answer to ...
156
votes
21answers
14k views

Nice examples of groups which are not obviously groups

I am searching for some groups, where it is not so obvious that they are groups. In the lectures script there are only examples like $\mathbb{Z}$ under addition and other things like that. I ...
146
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29answers
8k views

Can't argue with success? Looking for “bad math” that “gets away with it”

I'm looking for cases of invalid math operations producing (in spite of it all) correct results (aka "every math teacher's nightmare"). One example would be "cancelling" the 6s in $$\frac{64}{16}.$$ ...
79
votes
1answer
4k views

How discontinuous can a derivative be?

There is a well-known result in elementary analysis due to Darboux which says if $f$ is a differentiable function then $f'$ satisfies the intermediate value property. To my knowledge, not many ...
62
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31answers
7k views

What are some 'conceptualizations' that work in mathematics but are not strictly true?

I am having an argument with someone who thinks that it's never justified to teach something that is not strictly correct. I disagree: often, the pedagogically most efficient way to make progress is ...
52
votes
3answers
2k views

Is it possible for a function to be in $L^p$ for only one $p$?

I'm wondering if it's possible for a function to be an $L^p$ space for only one value of $p \in [1,\infty)$ (on either a bounded domain or an unbounded domain). One can use interpolation to show that ...
48
votes
8answers
2k views

Problems that become easier in a more general form.

When solving a problem, we often look at some special cases first, and then try to work our way up to the general case. It would be interesting to see some counterexamples to this mental process, ...
41
votes
12answers
2k views

Examples of results failing in higher dimensions

A number of economists do not appreciate rigor in their usage of mathematics and I find it very discouraging. One of the examples of rigor-lacking approach are proofs done via graphs or pictures ...
37
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the spectral theorem for compact self-adjoint operators on a Hilbert space actually for?

Please excuse the naive question. I have had two classes now in which this theorem was taught and proven, but I have only ever seen a single (indirect?) application involving the quantum harmonic ...
31
votes
5answers
1k views

False beliefs about Lebesgue measure on $\mathbb{R}$

I'm trying to develop intuition about Lebesgue measure on $\mathbb{R}$ and I'd like to build a list of false beliefs about it, for example: every set is measurable, every set of measure zero is ...
29
votes
17answers
5k views

Examples of mathematical induction

What are the best examples of mathematical induction available at the secondary-school level---totally elementary---that do not involve expressions of the form $\bullet+\cdots\cdots\cdots+\bullet$ ...
28
votes
1answer
2k views

An example of a division ring $D$ that is **not** isomorphic to its opposite ring

I recall reading in an abstract algebra text two years ago (when I had the pleasure to learn this beautiful subject) that there exists a division ring $D$ that is not isomorphic to its opposite ring. ...
28
votes
3answers
1k views

If every continuous $f:X\to X$ has $\text{Fix}(f)\subseteq X$ closed, must $X$ be Hausdorff?

Given a function $f:X\to X$, let $\text{Fix}(f)=\{x\in X\mid x=f(x)\}$. In a recent comment, I wondered whether $X$ is Hausdorff $\iff$ $\text{Fix}(f)\subseteq X$ is closed for every continuous ...
27
votes
9answers
5k views

Examples of nonabelian groups.

Can anybody provide some examples of finite nonabelian groups which are not symmetric groups or dihedral groups?
27
votes
5answers
2k views

An example of an easy to understand undecidable problem

I am looking for an undecidable problem that I could give as an easy example in a presentation to the general public. I mean easy in the sense that the mathematics behind it can be described, well, ...
27
votes
5answers
711 views

Why does the Hilbert curve fill the whole square?

I have never seen a formal definition of the Hilbert curve, much less a careful analysis of why it fills the whole square. The Wikipedia and Mathworld articles are typically handwavy. I suppose the ...
26
votes
3answers
601 views

Is every function with the intermediate value property a derivative?

As it is well known every continuous function has the intermediate value property, but even some discontinuous functions like $$f(x)=\left\{ \begin{array}{cl} \sin\left(\frac{1}{x}\right) & x\neq ...
26
votes
1answer
795 views

Counterexample Math Books

I have been able to find several counterexample books in some math areas. For example: $\bullet$ Counterexamples in Analysis, Bernard R. Gelbaum, John M. H. Olmsted $\bullet$ Counterexamples in ...
25
votes
4answers
4k views

Is every Lebesgue measurable function on $\mathbb{R}$ the pointwise limit of continuous functions?

I know that if $f$ is a Lebesgue measurable function on $[a,b]$ then there exists a continuous function $g$ such that $|f(x)-g(x)|< \epsilon$ for all $x\in [a,b]\setminus P$ where the measure of ...
25
votes
2answers
993 views

If a continuous function is positive on the rationals, is it positive almost everywhere?

I made up this question, but unable to solve it: Let $f : \mathbb R \to \mathbb R$ be a continuous function such that $f(x) > 0$ for all $x \in \mathbb Q$. Is it necessary that $f(x) > 0$ ...
24
votes
1answer
2k views

Isomorphic quotients by isomorphic normal subgroups

In this recent question, Iota asked if, given a finite group $G$ and two isomorphic normal subgroups $H$ and $K$, it would follow that $G/H$ and $G/K$ are isomorphic. This is not true (a simple ...
22
votes
5answers
749 views

Can we construct a function $f:\mathbb{R} \rightarrow \mathbb{R}$ such that it has intermediate value property and discontinuous everywhere?

Can we construct a function $f:\mathbb{R} \rightarrow \mathbb{R}$ such that it has intermediate value property and discontinuous everywhere? I think it is probable because we can consider $$ y ...
21
votes
17answers
1k views

Accidents of small $n$

In studying mathematics, I sometimes come across examples of general facts that hold for all $n$ greater than some small number. One that comes to mind is the Abel–Ruffini theorem, which states that ...
20
votes
16answers
2k views

An example for a calculation where imaginary numbers are used but don't occur in the question or the solution.

In a presentation I will have to give an account of Hilbert's concept of real and ideal mathematics. Hilbert wrote in his treatise "Über das Unendliche" (page 14, second paragraph. Here is an English ...
20
votes
8answers
2k views

Statements with rare counter-examples [duplicate]

This is a soft question. I'm searching for examples of mathmatical statements (preferably in number theory, but other topics are also fine), that seem to be true, but are actually not. Statements ...
20
votes
9answers
662 views

Continuity $\Rightarrow$ Intermediate Value Property. Why is the opposite not true?

Continuity $\Rightarrow$ Intermediate Value Property. Why is the opposite not true? It seems to me like they are equal definitions in a way. Can you give me a counter-example? Thanks
20
votes
2answers
1k views

Is there a function with infinite integral on every interval?

Could give some examples of nonnegative measurable function $f:\mathbb{R}\to[0,\infty)$, such that its integral over any bounded interval is infinite?
20
votes
7answers
480 views

Illustrative examples of a phenomenon in the logic of mathematical induction

It is said (and I myself have said) that in some cases the easiest way to prove a statement by mathematical induction is to prove a stronger statement by mathematical induction, because then one has a ...
19
votes
5answers
799 views

Can two topological spaces surject onto each other but not be homeomorphic?

Let $X$ and $Y$ be topological spaces and $f:X\rightarrow Y$ and $g:Y\rightarrow X$ be surjective continuous maps. Is it necessarily true that $X$ and $Y$ are homeomorphic? I feel like the answer to ...
19
votes
5answers
550 views

Is the closure of a Hausdorff space, Hausdorff?

$(X,\mathcal T)$ is a topological space which has a dense Hausdorff subspace. Is $X$ Hausdorff?
19
votes
2answers
850 views

Clarifying the relationship between outer measures, measures and measurable spaces: the converse direction

This is related to my measure theory class, but it's not homework. The motivation behind this post is to understand the exact relationship between the three objects mentioned in the title. ...
19
votes
2answers
530 views

Is every group the automorphism group of a group?

Suppose $G$ is a group. Does there always exist a group $H$, such that $\operatorname{Aut}(H)=G$, i. e. such that $G$ is the automorphism group of $H$? EDIT: It has been pointed out that the answer ...
19
votes
2answers
462 views

What is a metric for $\mathbb Q$ in the lower limit topology?

A useful source of counterexamples in topology is $\mathbb R_\ell$, the set $\mathbb R$ together with the lower limit topology generated by half-open intervals of the form $[a,b)$. For example this ...
18
votes
2answers
795 views

“Pseudo-Cauchy” sequences: are they also Cauchy?

I tried to prove something but I could not, I don't know if it's true or not, but I did not found a counterexample. Let $(a_n)$ be a sequence in a general metric space such that for any fixed $k ...
17
votes
6answers
800 views

If $f$ is continuous at $a$, is it continuous in some open interval around $a$?

If $f: \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R}$ is continuous at $a$, is it continuous in some open interval around $a$?
17
votes
4answers
1k views

Leaving out one of the Peano Axioms

What happens if you leave N4 (from Ross' book) out of the Peano axioms which states that if $n$ and $m$ in $\mathbb{N}$ have the same successor, then $n = m$?
17
votes
2answers
2k views

Comparing the Lebesgue measure of an open set and its closure

Let $E$ be an open set in $[0,1]^n$ and $m$ be the Lebesgue measure. Is it possible that $m(E)\neq m(\bar{E})$, where $\bar{E}$ stands for the closure of $E$?
17
votes
3answers
3k views

Discontinuous linear functional

I'm trying to find a discontinuous linear functional into $\mathbb{R}$ as a prep question for a test. I know that I need an infinite-dimensional Vector Space. Since $\ell_2$ is infinite-dimensional, ...
17
votes
2answers
738 views

A (non-artificial) example of a ring without maximal ideals

As a brief overview of the below, I am asking for: An example of a ring with no maximal ideals that is not a zero ring. A proof (or counterexample) that $R:=C_0(\mathbb{R})/C_c(\mathbb{R})$ is a ...
17
votes
3answers
841 views

Examples of math contest problems that can be solved in a 'cheap' way?

What are some examples of math contest problems that can be solved by using a nonrigorous, 'cheap' shortcut? For instance, a problem on the 2011 AMC went: A raft and a motorboat left dock A and ...
17
votes
2answers
333 views

If the tensor power $M^{\otimes n} = 0$, is it possible that $M^{\otimes n-1}$ is nonzero?

Let $M$ be a module over a commutative ring $R$. It is possible that $M \otimes M = 0$ if $M$ is nonzero, for example when $R = \mathbb{Z}$ and $M = \mathbb{Q}/ \mathbb{Z}$. What about when higher ...
17
votes
3answers
515 views

Smash product of pointed spaces is not associative

I've read many times that the smash product of pointed topological spaces is not associative, for example $\mathbb{N} \wedge (\mathbb{Q} \wedge \mathbb{Q})$ is not homeomorphic to $(\mathbb{N} \wedge ...
17
votes
2answers
736 views

Proof that a certain subset of the reals is not a ring

Let $A = \{x \sin x : x \in \mathbb{Z}\} \subset \mathbb{R}$. Is $A$ a ring under the usual addition and multiplication operations of $\mathbb{R}$? It looks like it's not, but I can't find something ...
17
votes
2answers
412 views

Basic counterexample re: preimages of ideals

I'm trying to think of an example of a homomorphism of commutative rings $f:A\rightarrow B$ and ideals $I,J$ of $B$ such that $f^{-1}(I)+f^{-1}(J)$ is not a preimage of any ideal of $B$. I can't seem ...
16
votes
6answers
2k views

Uncountable closed set of irrational numbers

Could you construct an actual example of a uncountable set of irrational numbers that is closed (in the topological sense)? I can find countable examples that are closed, like $\{ \sqrt{2} + ...
16
votes
1answer
352 views

Examples of universal constructions in probability theory

I am looking for more examples of universal constructions in probability theory. Like the construction a of Gaussian space from a real Hilbert space, or a Poisson jump process from a measurable space ...
15
votes
10answers
2k views

Polygons with equal area and perimeter but different number of sides?

Let's say we have two polygons with different numbers of sides. They can be any sort of shape, but they have to have the same area, and perimeter. There could be such possibilities, but can someone ...
15
votes
5answers
274 views

Looking for Cover's hubris-busting ${\mathbb R}^{N\gg3}$ counterexamples

In lecture 4 of his Introduction to Dynamical Linear Systems course, right after interpreting the inner product in ${\mathbb R}^N$ in terms of the cosine of the subtended angle, Stanford's Stephen ...
15
votes
4answers
1k views

Is a vector space over a finite field always finite?

Definition of a vector space: Let $V$ be a set and $(\mathbb{K}, +, \cdot)$ a field. $V$ is called a vector space over the field $\mathbb{K}$ if: V1: $(V, +)$ is a commutative group V2: $\forall ...