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

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4answers
857 views

How did the ancients view *infinitesimals*?

With some category/topos theory we can now put infinitesimals on a rigorous ground, as in Bell's A Primer of Infinitesimal Analysis, where the author introduces $\epsilon$ satisfying \begin{equation} ...
16
votes
5answers
777 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 ...
16
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2answers
929 views

Adriaan van Roomen's 45th degree equation in 1593

Adriaan van Roomen proposed a 45th degree equation in 1593(see this book, picture reference as follows): $$ \begin{gathered} f(x) = x^{45} - 45x^{43} + 945x^{41} - 12300x^{39} + 111150x^{37} - ...
16
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2answers
992 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.
16
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1answer
308 views

Who is buried in Weierstrass' tomb?

The tangent half-angle substitution often used to anti-differentiate rational functions of sine and cosine, and also sometimes used to find closed-form solutions of some differential equations, is ...
16
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1answer
504 views

History of Commutative Algebra

There are books on 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. ...
16
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5answers
859 views

Reflections on math education

Why is there such a big difference in math education between The Americas and (Europe and Asia) ? except for a few privileged who have the opportunity to access to math much earlier than the ordinary ...
16
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4answers
455 views

When was $\pi$ first suggested to be irrational?

When was $\pi$ first suggested to be irrational? According to Wikipedia, this was proved in the 18th century. Who first claimed / suggested (but not necessarily proved) that $\pi$ is irrational? I ...
16
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1answer
349 views

Motivation for the study of amoebas.

What was the primary motivation for the study of the amoebas?
16
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1answer
303 views

How and why did Weierstrass $\wp$ get its special symbol?

I kind of always hated drawing the Weierstrass $\wp$ symbol by hand, and it struck me as odd how and why it achieved its special status in the first place. After all, there are tons of other important ...
16
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1answer
242 views

$\sin$ vs. $sin$ - history and usage

One thing newcomers to TeX or MathJax often get wrong is that they write something like $sin(x)$ instead of $\sin(x)$ - the point being that common mathematical functions with names consisting of ...
15
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7answers
622 views
15
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6answers
2k views

Motivation of the Gaussian Integral

I read on Wikipedia that Laplace was the first to evaluate $$\int\nolimits_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-x^2} \, \mathrm dx$$ Does anybody know what he was doing that lead him to that integral? Even better, ...
15
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3answers
470 views

Ultrafilters - when did it start?

I am writing a paper on some of the applications of ultrafilters, especially the ones on $\mathbb{N}$. I thought that it would be interesting to include some information about how the concept got ...
15
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5answers
953 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 ...
15
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7answers
2k views

Films about math: a question about math education and motivation for learning math [closed]

I'm interested in movies about or related with mathematics or physics, I mean not documentaries which I also consider movies, but artistic or mainstream films about math. Now I have the following in ...
15
votes
2answers
1k views

Who is the “father of number theory”?

I noticed that some sources state Fermat as the father of modern number theory while others say Gauss. I am trying to start a paper on the history of number theory for a presentation, but I cannot ...
15
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3answers
1k views

When the trig functions moved from the right triangle to the unit circle?

I have to write a paper about the unit circle and I'm trying to uncover some of its origins. Also, when the trig functions were expanded to angles greater than 90° and what was the rationale behind ...
15
votes
1answer
673 views

Any branch of math can be expressed within set theory, is the reverse true?

Set theory seems to have the property of being "universal", in the sense that any branch of math can be expressed on its language. Is there any other branch of math with this property? I am asking ...
15
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1answer
572 views

Hilbert's Original Proof of the Nullstellensatz

Does anyone have a link to Hilbert's Original Proof of the Nullstellensatz, or know a book where it's printed? I'd be interested to see what it was like. I only really know the Noether normalisation ...
15
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4answers
635 views

What did Whitehead and Russell's “Principia Mathematica” achieve?

In philosophical contexts, the Principia Mathematica is sometimes held in high regard as a demonstration of a logical system. But what did Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica achieve for ...
15
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2answers
2k views

Are infinitesimals dangerous?

Amir Alexander is a historian of mathematics. His new book is entitled "Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World". See here. Two questions: (1) In what sense are ...
15
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1answer
481 views

Mendelson's $\mathit{Mathematical\ Logic}$ and the missing Appendix on the consistency of PA

In the first edition of Elliott Mendelson's classic Introduction to Mathematical Logic (1964) there is an appendix, giving a version of Schütte's (1951) variation on Gentzen's proof of the consistency ...
15
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1answer
929 views

Why are there so few Euclidean geometry problems that remain unsolved?

Stillwell mentions in his book Mathematics and its History that: Most of the really old unsolved problems in mathematics, in fact, are simple questions about the natural numbers... What is it ...
15
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2answers
412 views

Who was the first to use dual space?

Who was the first person who used the dual space? In which paper / book did he or she use the dual space? Who was the first who called it dual space and in which paper / book?
14
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8answers
2k views

Reference request: is mathematics discovered or created?

I have to write a short monograph as an assignment for a course on the philosophy of science. Being a math student, of course I want to opt for something math-related. After some initial ideas which ...
14
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2answers
3k 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 ...
14
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3answers
602 views

Why is the word associative used to represent the concept of the associative property?

For the commutative property ... According to wikipedia: The word "commutative" is a combination of the French word commuter meaning "to substitute or switch" and the suffix -ative meaning ...
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2answers
2k 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.
14
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2answers
2k 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 the name "Law of Inertia" fit with the statement of the theorem? I guess it's from ...
14
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3answers
7k 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.
14
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5answers
913 views

Purpose of the Peano Axioms

Wikipedia says the Peano Axioms are a set of axioms for the natural numbers. Is the purpose of the axioms to create a base on which we can build the rest of mathematicas formally? If this is true ...
14
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2answers
2k views

Curious about math and Soviet Union

Why so many very good books were written by authors with Russian surnames?
14
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4answers
6k 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 ...
14
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2answers
226 views

Was there some prior idea that inspired both Fermat & Descartes to invent coordinates?

It seems incredible to me that both Descartes & Fermat could have both simultaneously discovered such a novel & significant idea, without there being some single prior idea that they both ...
14
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2answers
2k views

Why is “h” used for entropy?

Why is the letter "h" (or "H") used to denote entropy in information theory, ergodic theory, and physics (and possibly other places)? Edit: I'm looking for an explanation of the original use of "H". ...
14
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3answers
2k 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 ...
14
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3answers
812 views

Who gave you the epsilon?

Who gave you the epsilon? is the title of an article by J. Grabiner on Cauchy from the 1980s, and the implied answer is "Cauchy". On the other hand, historian I. Grattan-Guinness points out in his ...
14
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1answer
7k views

Dantzig's unsolved homework problems

From Wikipedia: An event in George Dantzig's life became the origin of a famous story in 1939 while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Near the beginning of a class for which Dantzig ...
14
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1answer
3k views

Did Albert Einstein contribute to math?

Many great scientists have made important contributations to many related fields. Gauss, Euler and Newton each made many contributions to both math and physic. One of the great scientists of last ...
14
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1answer
400 views

Why are proofs written in first person plural? Were they ever written differently?

It's probably a silly question but it interests me when was the convention of writing proofs in first person plural introduced? Is there any historical examples of a different POV for proof writing?
14
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1answer
578 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) ...
14
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1answer
985 views

History of Lagrange Multipliers

How did Lagrange discover Lagrange multipliers? Also, was it related to his work on the calculus of variations? And how did he originally understand/implement the technique?
14
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1answer
226 views

History of the point at infinity?

I'm curious to learn more about the history of the introduction of the concept of the point at infinity into mathematics. The sum of my knowledge of the historical aspect is from this paragraph (which ...
14
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1answer
567 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 ...
13
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2answers
2k views

Hardy / Wright's intro to number theory is highly praised but has no exercises

"An introduction to the theory of numbers, G.H Hardy, E.M. Wright, revised by D.R. Heath-Brown, J.H. Silverman. Originally published 1938. Sixth edition 2008 with a foreword by Andrew Wiles" is AFAIK ...
13
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2answers
1k views

How to evaluate trigonometric functions by pen and paper?

How did people determined the values of trigonometric functions before calculators, like e.g. $\sin 37^\circ$ up to five decimal places? Was that possible to find before series were invented?
13
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9answers
1k views

Interviews of famous modern mathematicians

I was wondering, are there any good collections of interviews of famous modern mathematicians? It can be text interviews, or audio or video recordings. I am not sure what exactly I mean by "modern". ...
13
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6answers
643 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. ...
13
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4answers
859 views

How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers?

Question: How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers? And how did Newton, Euler, and other famous mathematicians thought about this concept? I know that existence of numbers is a ...