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 ...
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Too old to start math [closed]

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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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 ...
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6answers
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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 ...
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What's the intuition behind Pythagoras' theorem?

Today we learned about Pythagoras' theorem. Sadly, I can't understand the logic behind it. $A^{2} + B^{2} = C^{2}$ $C^{2} = (5 \text{ cm})^2 + (7 \text{ cm})^2$ $C^{2} = 25 \text{ cm}^2 + 49 \...
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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 ...
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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: $$[x,y^{-1},z]^y[y,z^...
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What Does it Really Mean to Have 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" by Paul Hoffman and came across the concept of countable and uncountable ...
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What did Alan Turing mean when he said he didn't fully understand dy/dx?

Alan Turing's notebook has recently been sold at an auction house in London. In it he says this: Written out: The Leibniz notation $\frac{\mathrm{d}y}{\mathrm{d}x}$ I find extremely difficult ...
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Why does factoring eliminate a hole in the limit?

$$\lim _{x\rightarrow 5}\frac{x^2-25}{x-5} = \lim_{x\rightarrow 5} (x+5)$$ I understand that to evaluate a limit that has a zero ("hole") in the denominator we have to factor and cancel terms, and ...
92
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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 ...
87
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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 ...
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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 ...
82
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19answers
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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?
81
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41answers
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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 ...
73
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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 ...
71
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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 ...
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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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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 ...
64
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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) ...
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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)?
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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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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 a}\...
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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 ...
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What are Some 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 \infty}(...
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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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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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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 ...
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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 ...
51
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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 ...
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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 ...
47
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What should be the intuition when working with compactness?

I have a question that may be regarded by many as duplicate since there's a similar one at MathOverflow. The point is that I think I'm not really getting the idea on compactness. I mean, in $\mathbb{R}...
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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 ...
44
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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 \...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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? ...
42
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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 hypothesis....
42
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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 ...
41
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
38
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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 ...
37
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13answers
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Why do differentiation rules work? What's the intuition behind them? (Not asking for proofs)

Differentiation rules have been bugging me ever since I took Basic Calculus. I thought I'd develop some intuitive understanding of them eventually, but so far all my other math courses (including ...
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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 groups),...
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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 "...
36
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Why is the area under a curve the integral?

I understand how derivatives work based on the definition, and the fact that my professor explained it step by step until the point where I can derive it myself. However when it comes to the area ...
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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 ...
36
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A proof of the Isoperimetric Inequality - how does it work?

Here is a nice proof of the isoperimetric inequality (equality part ommited): Isoperimetric Inequality If $\gamma$ is any simple closed piecewise $C^1$ curve of length $l$, with it's interior having ...
35
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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.