Use this tag for questions concerning history of mathematics, historical primacies of results, and evolution of terminology, symbols, and notations.

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What is the mathematical intuition behind àl-jàbrà?

The term algebra comes from the arabic term àl-jàbrà that means "to force", "to restore". Over centuries mathematicians, in east and west, celebrate by this term mathematical disciplines. What is ...
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1k views

“L'Hôpital's rule” vs. “L'Hospital's rule”?

I know this is not strictly a mathematical question, and I considered putting it on Linguistics SE, but I decided that seeing as this is most probably a mathematical history question, it would be ...
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2answers
1k views

Has any error ever been found in Euclid's elements?

Has any error ever been found in Euclid's elements since its publication? Or it is still perfect from the view point of modern mathematics.
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6answers
1k views

Motivation of the Gaussian Integral

I read on Wikipedia that Laplace was the first to evaluate $$\int_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-x^2} \, \mathrm dx$$ Does anybody know what he was doing that lead him to that integral? Even better, can ...
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2answers
1k views

Why is it called Sylvester's Law of Inertia?

By "Sylvester's Law of Inertia," I mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester%27s_law_of_inertia How does "Law of Inertia" with the statement of the theorem? I guess it's from physics, but... I ...
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9answers
828 views

Why did we define the concept of continuity originally, and why it is defined the way it is?

The concept of continuity is a very important idea in topology. Though I am using it all the time, but indeed I don't know what is the original purpose for us to define this concept. And I also don't ...
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5answers
767 views

In what ways has physics spurred the invention of new mathematical tools?

I came across this comment: Mathematical rigor is not a criterion that physicists have for evaluating their theories. From a mathematical perspective, the non-rigorous theories are far more ...
12
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6answers
561 views

Read old articles instead books.

I'd like to know if there is a site, or maybe a collection of books, where I can read old articles in mathematics in order to study topics directly from the source, instead reading books in the field. ...
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2answers
284 views

Before Abel's proof, what did they used for trying to find the general solution for quintics?

Whenever I read about the history of algebra, I end up with the same conclusion: They solved the general cubic, then the general quartic and then spent lots of years trying to solve the general ...
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704 views

Famous black mathematicians

Are there any famous black mathematicians? By famous, I mean in the sense of having a theorem or well-known result named after them.
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3answers
3k views

How was the Fourier Transform created?

The Fourier Transform is a very useful and ingenious thing. But how was it initiated? How did Joseph Fourier composed the Fourier Transform formula and the idea of a transformation between periodic ...
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2answers
1k views

Curious about math and Soviet Union

Why so many very good books were written by authors with Russian surnames?
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1answer
2k views

Proof of Euler's Theorem without abstract algebra?

Every proof I've seen of Euler's Theorem (that $\gcd(a,m) = 1 \implies a^{\phi(m)} \equiv 1 \pmod m$) involves the fact that the units of $\mathbb{Z}/m\mathbb{Z}$ form a group of order $\phi(m)$. ...
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981 views

History of elliptic curves

In one sense elliptic curves are a rather modern object as some of its properties have been studied only in the last century or so. But in another sense there are a very classical object for studying ...
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1answer
330 views

History of Commutative Algebra

There are books of the history of Algebraic Geometry, there are also papers about it (All had done by J.Dieudonné). But I could not find any book or paper about the history of Commutative Algebra. ...
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3answers
365 views

Is there any difference between a math invention and a math discovery? [closed]

From wikipekia: The calculus controversy was an argument between 17th-century mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz (begun or fomented in part by their disciples and associates – ...
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2answers
771 views

Why are Darboux integrals called Riemann integrals?

As far as I have seen, the majority of modern introductory real analysis texts introduce Darboux integrals, not Riemann integrals. Indeed, many do not even mention Riemann integrals as they are ...
12
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1answer
468 views

Polarization: etymology question

The polarization identity expresses a symmetric bilinear form on a vector space in terms of its associated quadratic form: $$ \langle v,w\rangle = \frac{1}{2}(Q(v+w) - Q(v) - Q(w)), $$ where $Q(v) ...
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3answers
245 views

Why “integralis” over “summatorius”?

It is written that Johann Bernoulli suggested to Leibniz that he (Leibniz) change the name of his calculus from "calculus summatorius" to "calculus integralis", but I cannot find their correspondence ...
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1answer
155 views

Original Formulation of Hilbert's 14th Problem

I have a problem seeing how the original formulation of Hilbert's 14th Problem is "the same" as the one found on wikipedia. Hopefully someone in here can help me with that. Let me quote Hilbert first: ...
12
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1answer
165 views

Who is responsible for the analytical/topological proof of FTA?

The fundamental theorem of algebra asserts: Theorem Let $P$ be a polynomial of degree $\geq 1$ in $\Bbb C$. Then there exists a $z_1\in\Bbb C$ such that $P(z_1)=0$. The proof sketch goes as ...
12
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2answers
226 views

Lie and Weierstrass' visualization of complex functions

I am reading Whittaker and Watson's A Course of Modern Analysis. In the third chapter where they discuss different ways to visualize functions that map the complex plane to the complex plane, they ...
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1answer
493 views

successful absurd formalities

Has anyone published in print or on a web site or elsewhere a compilation of successful illogical formal arguments? By those I mean arguments that follow a form in disregard of the legality of its ...
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0answers
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Is Dover publishing Moore's book on the Axiom of Choice? [closed]

Dover is publishing a paperback edition of Gregory H. Moore's Zermelo's Axiom of Choice: Its Origins, Development, and Influence. It's supposed to come out March 20th and is available for pre-order at ...
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7answers
760 views

What's the hard part of zero?

A lot of textbooks said it was hard for human to accept zero when it was first introduced. How could it be? It seems to me as natural as positive integer which represent there is no elements at all.
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5answers
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What is the meaning of set-theoretic notation {}=0 and {{}}=1?

I'm told by very intelligent set-theorists that 0={} and 1={{}}. First and foremost I'm not saying that this is false, I'm just a pretty dumb and stupid fellow who can't handle this concept in his ...
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3answers
711 views

History of notation: “!”

Does anyone know where the factorial "!" symbol came from? I can't decide if it is my favorite or least favorite notation in mathematics...
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3answers
2k views

how exactly did calculus change our understanding of the world?

I am taking calculus course and I keep wondering if this is really necessary. I know it is the cornerstone of modern science but what I don't understand is why and how. Was it impossible to pursue ...
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2answers
1k views

Motivation for Tom Lehrer's song “Lobachevsky”?

I am trying to understand the motivation for the jingle about plagiarism written by Tom Lehrer. A YouTube version can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL4vWJbwmqM . Where does history ...
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2answers
704 views

Fermat's Last Theorem: implications (there is no new proof)

I am not experienced in Number Theory but what I know is that some results of this filed are applicable in other areas, e.g. algebra. For sure FLT made (and makes) people be interested in Number ...
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3answers
358 views

What have been some of the most revolutionary philosophical shifts in perspective in mathematics?

Often times, great revolutions in mathematics come from shifts in philosophical perspective. The shift from extrinsic to intrinsic geometry yields manifolds (and much else). The shift in focus from ...
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3answers
4k views

How did the square root get its shape?

I was wondering when in history did people start use the $\sqrt{}$ sign for square root, what did they use before, and why this curious nomenclature is adopted.
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4answers
442 views

Why the terminology “monoid”?

As I am not a native English speaker, I sometimes am bothered a little with the word "monoid", which is by definition a semigroup with identity. But why this terminology? I searched some ...
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2answers
447 views

History of Algebraic Geometry: Motivation behind definition of schemes

I am trying to read an article by Jean Dieudonne which talks about development of Algebraic Geometry. The article was being published in the journal "Advances in Mathematics" Volume 3, Issue 3, Pages ...
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4answers
180 views

The origin of the function $f(x)$ notation

What are the historical origins of the $f(x)$ notation used for functions? That is when did people start to use this notation instead of just thinking in terms of two different variables one being ...
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1answer
169 views

Why is $e$ the Identity?

Some authors use $e$ to be the identity element of a group instead of $1$. What is the origin of this notation? Was this before or after we used $e$ to represent the base of the natural logarithm? ...
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4answers
228 views

Who was the first to prove $\lim_{x \to 0} \frac{\sin{x}}{x}=1 $?

Who was the first to prove $\lim_{x \to 0}\frac{\sin{x}}{x}=1$?
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3answers
1k views

Why has the Perfect cuboid problem not been solved yet?

Why hasn't Perfect Cuboid Problem been solved yet, whereas (possibly) more nontrivial ones such as FLT and Sphere packing have been solved? I understand that calling some problems more nontrivial ...
11
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1answer
442 views

Journals of math history?

In a related question to this one, in what journals do math historians publish their article in? Brian M. Scott provided a link to Judy Grabiner's, who is a math historian, home page and it seems that ...
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1answer
259 views

What is “inner” about the inner product?

The inner product I am asking about is the one that generalizes the dot product for an arbitrary inner product space. Why is it called an "inner" product? Is there an outer product? Who named it ...
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1answer
387 views

Fibonacci, compositions, history

There are three basic families of restricted compositions (ordered partitions) that are enumerated by the Fibonacci numbers (with offsets): a) compositions with parts from the set {1,2} (e.g., 2+2 = ...
11
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1answer
389 views

Sperner's theorem on antichains - where does it come from?

Sperner proved in 1927 (the paper was published in 1928) his theorem stating that the maximal size of an antichain of subsets of $[n]$ is $\binom{n}{n/2}$. In the introduction to his paper, he ...
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1answer
534 views

Why is $i$ called “imaginary”?

I was reading this question, and, after reading the responses, I felt like I had a much better understanding about how they're just another type of number definition. Why, then, are they called ...
11
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1answer
311 views

Hao Wang's $\mathfrak S$ system/$\Sigma$ system: a “transfinite type” theory that avoids the Goedel's theorems.

Long ago, while I was reading a book ($*$) about the various way to build set theories (Zermelo-Freankel, Von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel, and type theories), I read about a variant of type theory with ...
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2answers
1k views

Which symbol should be used for an empty set?

Currently, a discussion started on the German Wikipedia article for Empty Set (the German discussion), whether $\emptyset$ or $\varnothing$ should be used or is more common as a symbol for an empty ...
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10answers
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Good (Auto)Biographies of von Neumann and other physicists/mathematicians

Which is the "best" biography of von Neumann available to the casual reader (math undergrad)? Also, other than the Ulam book, which other good biographies of physicists/mathematicians can be ...
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2answers
1k views

Why the name 'FACTORIAL'?

Factorial is defined as $n! = n(n-1)(n-2)\cdots 1$ But why mathematicians named this thing as FACTORIAL? Has it got something to do with factors?
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5answers
542 views

What are reasons why some symbols in mathematical logic are not standardized?

Why is so hard to find a standardisation regarding symbolism and/or terminology in Mathematical Logic ? We see again and again students asking if e.g. $\rightarrow$ and $\implies$ means the same ...
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2answers
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Motivation for Napier's Logarithms

In the wikipedia article on logarithms, I am clueless about the approach and motivation for the following computations done by Napier (and the mysterious appearance of Euler's number) in this section. ...
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366 views

In what senses are archimedean places infinite?

According to Bjorn Poonen's notes here (§2.6), we should add the archimedean places of a number field $K$ to $\operatorname{Spec} \mathscr{O}_K$ in order to get a good analogy with smooth projective ...