Mathematical intuition is the instinctive impression regarding mathematical ideas which originate naturally without regard to formal mathematical proofs. It may or may not stem from a cognitive rational process.

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What's an intuitive way to think about the determinant?

In my linear algebra class, we just talked about determinants. So far I’ve been understanding the material okay, but now I’m very confused. I get that when the determinant is zero, the matrix doesn’t ...
163
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28answers
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Too old to start math

I'm sorry if this question goes against the meta for posting questions - I attached all the "beware, this is a soft-question" tags I could. This is a question I've been asking myself now for some ...
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7answers
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Intuition for the definition of the Gamma function?

In these notes by Terence Tao is a proof of Stirling's formula. I really like most of it, but at a crucial step he uses the integral identity $$n! = \int_{0}^{\infty} t^n e^{-t} dt$$ coming from ...
100
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5answers
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In (relatively) simple words: What is an inverse limit?

I am a set theorist in my orientation, and while I did take a few courses that brushed upon categorical and algebraic constructions, one has always eluded me. The inverse limit. I tried to ask one of ...
90
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2answers
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Does a four-variable analog of the Hall-Witt identity exist?

Lately I have been thinking about commutator formulas, sparked by rereading the following paragraph in Isaacs (p.125): An amazing commutator formula is the Hall-Witt identity: ...
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Different kinds of infinities?

Can someone explain to me how there can be different kinds of infinities? I was reading "the man who loved only numbers" and came across the concept of countable and uncountable infinities, but ...
76
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4answers
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What are the Axiom of Choice and Axiom of Determinacy?

Would someone please explain: What does the Axiom of Choice mean, intuitively? What does the Axiom of Determinancy mean, intuitively, and how does it contradict the Axiom of Choice? as simple ...
68
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40answers
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What are some examples of a mathematical result being counterintuitive?

As I procrastinate studying for my Maths Exams, I want to know what are some cool examples of where math counters intuition. My first and favorite experience of this is Gabriel's Horn that you see in ...
68
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12answers
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Why is compactness so important?

I've read many times that 'compactness' is such an extremely important and useful concept, though it's still not very apparent why. The only theorems I've seen concerning it are the Heine-Borel ...
67
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16answers
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How do you explain the concept of logarithm to a five year old?

Okay I understand that it cannot be explained to a 5 year old. But, how do you explain the logarithm to primary school students?
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10answers
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Intuition behind Matrix Multiplication

If I multiply two numbers, say $3$ and $5$, I know it means add $3$ to itself $5$ times or add $5$ to itself $3$ times. But If I multiply two matrices, what does it mean ? I mean I can't think it ...
53
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9answers
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What makes elementary functions elementary?

Is there a mathematical reason (or possibly a historical one) that the "elementary" functions are what they are? As I'm learning calculus, I seem to focus most of my attention on trigonometric, ...
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Intuitive explanation of Cauchy's Integral Formula in Complex Analysis

There is a theorem that states that if $f$ is analytic in a domain $D$, and the closed disc {$ z:|z-\alpha|\leq r$} contained in $D$, and $C$ denotes the disc's boundary followed in the positive ...
49
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5answers
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Why “characteristic zero” and not “infinite characteristic”?

The characteristic of a ring (with unity, say) is the smallest positive number $n$ such that $$\underbrace{1 + 1 + \cdots + 1}_{n \text{ times}} = 0,$$ provided such an $n$ exists. Otherwise, we ...
49
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7answers
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Intuition in algebra?

My algebra background: I've had 2 undergrad semesters of algebra, a reading course in Galois Theory, a graduate course in commutative algebra and one in algebraic geometry, and I've done (most of) ...
47
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4answers
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Connection between Fourier transform and Taylor series

Both Fourier transform and Taylor series are means to represent functions in a different form. My question: What is the connection between these two? Is there a way to get from one to the other (and ...
47
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4answers
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Why do we care about dual spaces?

When I first took linear algebra, we never learned about dual spaces. Today in lecture we discussed them and I understand what they are and everything, but I don't really understand why we want to ...
46
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12answers
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I need mathematical proof that the distance from zero to 1 is the equal to the distance from 1 to 2 [closed]

I didn't know how to phrase the question properly so I am going to explain how this came about. I know Math is a very rigorous subject and there are proofs for everything we know and use. In fact, I ...
46
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4answers
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Algebra: Best mental images

I'm curious how people think of Algebras (in the universal sense, i.e., monoids, groups, rings, etc.). Cayley diagrams of groups with few generators are useful for thinking about group actions on ...
46
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3answers
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How to think of the group ring as a Hopf algebra?

Given a finite group $G$ and a field $K$, one can form the group ring $K[G]$ as the free vector space on $G$ with the obvious multiplication. This is very useful when studying the representation ...
44
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6answers
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The Intuition behind l'Hopitals Rule

I understand perfectly well how to apply l'Hopital's rule, and how to prove it, but I've never grokked the theorem. Why is it that we should expect that $$\lim_{x\to a}\frac{f(x)}{g(x)}=\lim_{x \to ...
44
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1answer
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Thurston's 37th way of thinking about the derivative

In Thurston's superb essay On proof and progress in mathematics, he makes this observation: Of course there is always another subtlety to be gleaned, but I would like to at least think that I ...
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Do you prove all theorems whilst studying?

When you come across a new theorem, do you always try to prove it first before reading the proof within the text? I'm a CS undergrad with a bit of an interest in maths. I've not gone very far in my ...
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14answers
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Surprising Generalizations

I just learned (thanks to Harry Gindi's answer on MO and to Qiaochu Yuan's blog post on AoPS) that the chinese remainder theorem and Lagrange interpolation are really just two instances of the same ...
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7answers
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Algebraic Intuition for Homological Algebra and Applications to More Elementary Algebra

I am taking a course next term in homological algebra (using Weibel's classic text) and am having a hard time seeing some of the big picture of the idea behind homological algebra. Now, this sort of ...
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Intuitive meaning of Exact Sequence

I'm currently learning about exact sequences in grad sch Algebra I course, but I really can't get the intuitive picture of the concept and why it is important at all. Can anyone explain them for me? ...
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5answers
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Intuition for the Importance of Modular Forms

I am learning about modular forms for the first time this term and am just starting to wrap my head around what might be the big picture of things. I was wondering if the following interpretation of ...
34
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7answers
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How can I understand and prove the “sum and difference formulas” in trigonometry? (cos(a ± b) = …, etc.)?

The "sum and difference" formulas often come in handy, but it's not immediately obvious that they would be true. \begin{align} \sin(\alpha \pm \beta) &= \sin \alpha \cos \beta \pm \cos \alpha ...
34
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5answers
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Intuitive interpretation of the Laplacian

Just as the gradient is "the direction of steepest ascent", and the divergence is "amount of stuff created at a point", is there a nice interpretation of the Laplacian (a.k.a. divergence of gradient)? ...
34
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2answers
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Geometric intuition for the tensor product of vector spaces

First of all, I am very comfortable with the tensor product of vector spaces. I am also very familiar with the well-known generalizations, in particular the theory of monoidal categories. I have ...
33
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8answers
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Why do we restrict the definition of Lebesgue Integrability?

The function $f(x) = \sin(x)/x$ is Riemann Integrable from $0$ to $\infty$, but it is not Lebesgue Integrable on that same interval. (Note, it is not absolutely Riemann Integrable.) Why is it we ...
33
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1answer
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How does one see Hecke Operators as helping to generalize Quadratic Reciprocity?

My question is really about how to think of Hecke operators as helping to generalize quadratic reciprocity. Quadratic reciprocity can be stated like this: Let $\rho: Gal(\mathbb{Q})\rightarrow ...
32
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6answers
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Tricks to remember Fatou's lemma

For a sequence of non-negative measurable functions $f_n$, Fatou's lemma is a statement about the inequality $\int \liminf_{n\rightarrow \infty} f_n \mathrm{d}\mu \leq \liminf_{n\rightarrow ...
32
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4answers
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Understanding the intuition behind math

I'm currently a Calculus III student. I enjoy math a lot, but only when I understand its beauty and meaning. However, so many times I have no idea what it is I am learning about, althought I am still ...
30
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4answers
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Can someone explain the Yoneda Lemma to an applied mathematician?

I have trouble following the category-theoretic statement and proof of the Yoneda Lemma. Indeed, I followed a category theory course for 4-5 lectures (several years ago now) and felt like I understood ...
30
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4answers
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Why do we look at morphisms?

I am reading some lecture notes and in one paragraph there is the following motivation: "The best way to study spaces with a structure is usually to look at the maps between them preserving structure ...
30
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3answers
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Intuition behind Snake Lemma

I've been struggling with this for some time. I can prove the Snake Lemma, but I don't really “understand” it. By that I mean if no one told me Snake Lemma existed, I would not even ...
30
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2answers
838 views

Intuitive reasoning why are quintics unsolvable

I know that quintics in general are unsolvable, whereas lower-degree equations are solvable and the formal explanation is very hard. I would like to have an intuitive reasoning of why it is so, ...
29
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5answers
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Dominoes and induction, or how does induction work?

I've never really understood why math induction is supposed to work. You have these 3 steps: Prove true for base case (n=0 or 1 or whatever) Assume true for n=k. Call this the induction ...
29
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3answers
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Why the emphasis on Projective Space in Algebraic Geometry?

I have no doubt this is a basic question. However, I am working through Miranda's book on Riemann surfaces and algebraic curves, and it has yet to be addressed. Why does Miranda (and from what little ...
28
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20answers
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Could you explain why $\frac{d}{dx} e^x = e^x$ “intuitively”?

As the title implies, It is seems that $e^x$ is the only function whoes derivative is the same as itself. thanks.
28
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13answers
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Formerly good at math, but after 12 years I've lost most of my skills. Now I need them once again. Any advice to grow them back?

I love math, and I used to be very good at it. The correct answers came fast and intuitively. I never studied, and redid the demonstration live for the tests (sometimes inventing new ones). I was the ...
28
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5answers
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The Meaning of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus

I am currently taking an advanced Calculus class in college, and we are studying generalizations of the FTC. We just started on the version for Line Integrals, and one can see the explicit symmetry ...
27
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3answers
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Why is the Jordan Curve Theorem not “obvious”?

I am horribly confused about Jordan's Curve Theorem (henceforth JCT). Could you give me some reason why should the validity of this theorem be in doubt? I mean for anyone who trusts the eye theorem is ...
27
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6answers
2k views

Motivation for spectral graph theory.

Why do we care about eigenvalues of graphs? Of course, any novel question in mathematics is interesting, but there is an entire discipline of mathematics devoted to studying these eigenvalues, so ...
27
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6answers
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How to develop intuition in topology?

Is there any efficient trick (besides doing exercises) to develop intuition in topology? The question is general but i would like to add my view of things. I started to teach myself topology through ...
26
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Intuitive Understanding of the constant “e”

Potentially related-questions, shown before posting, didn't have anything like this, so I apologize in advance if this is a duplicate. I know there are many ways of calculating (or should I say ...
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6answers
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Intuition behind conjugation in group theory

I am learning group theory, and while learning automorphisms, I came across conjugation as an example in many textbooks. Though the definition itself, (and when considering the case of abelian ...
26
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5answers
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What is an intuitive explanation for $\operatorname{div} \operatorname{curl} F = 0$?

I am aware of an intuitive explanation for $\operatorname{curl} \operatorname{grad} F = 0$ (a block placed on a mountainous frictionless surface will slide to lower ground without spinning), and was ...
26
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8answers
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Looking for an intuitive explanation why the row rank is equal to the column rank for a matrix

I am looking for an intuitive explanation as to why/how row rank of a matrix = column rank. I've read the proof at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rank_of_a_linear_transformation and I understand the ...