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

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1answer
439 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 = ...
12
votes
1answer
391 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 ...
12
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3answers
270 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 ...
12
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1answer
448 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 ...
12
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1answer
875 views

Why is logistic equation called “logistic”?

The logistic function solves the logistic ODE which is the continuous version of the logistic map. However, I was not able to find why any of these things are called "logistic".
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2answers
296 views

What meaning did Riemann assign to $dx$?

Detlef Laugwitz wrote a monumental biography of Riemann. The book was translated into English by Shenitzer. Laugwitz discusses Riemann's fundamental essay Uber die Hypothesen, welche der Geometrie ...
12
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1answer
411 views

history of the contraction mapping technique

If $|f(x)-f(y)| \leq k|x-y|$ for all $x,y$ then $f$ is Lipschitz with constant $k$, if $k<1$ then $f$ is called a contraction mapping. The beautiful result that a fixed point is associated to a ...
12
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1answer
163 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
176 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
234 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 ...
12
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1answer
184 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 ...
11
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11answers
2k views

Good examples for mathemathical problems/statements that are easely solvable/provable in one theory and hard to solve/prove in another

Let $P$ be a mathematical statement or a mathematical problem. I am looking for a couple of nice examples for $P$ that satisfy the following criteria: Given two (or more) mathematical points of view ...
11
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5answers
389 views

How did Euler realize $x^4-4x^3+2x^2+4x+4=(x^2-(2+\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}+\alpha)(x^2-(2-\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}-\alpha)$?

How did Euler find this factorization? $$\small x^4 − 4x^3 + 2x^2 + 4x + 4=(x^2-(2+\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}+\alpha)(x^2-(2-\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}-\alpha)$$ where $\alpha = \sqrt{4+2\sqrt{7}}$ I know that ...
11
votes
7answers
837 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
1k views

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 ...
11
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3answers
771 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...
11
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3answers
3k 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 ...
11
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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 ...
11
votes
2answers
390 views

Motivation for introducing algebraic topology?

What kind of topological questions does algebraic topology answer where point set topology is not enough? Phrased differently: Where is the line (or maybe intersection) between point set topology ...
11
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4answers
285 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 ...
11
votes
1answer
191 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? ...
11
votes
4answers
249 views

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

Who was the first to prove $\lim_{x \to 0}\frac{\sin{x}}{x}=1$?
11
votes
3answers
562 views

How was the first log table put together?

Henry Briggs compiled the first table of base-$10$ logarithms in 1617, with the help of John Napier. My question is: how did he calculate these logarithms? How were logarithms calculated back then? ...
11
votes
2answers
550 views

What do Greek Mathematicians use when they use our equivalent Greek letters in formulas and equations?

Like for example, it's common to use the Greek letter $\theta$ to represent an angle right? So what would a Greek person doing math use to represent an angle? Would they also use $\theta$? Or is there ...
11
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3answers
2k 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
votes
1answer
619 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
votes
1answer
273 views

Isaac Newton did number theory?!

I was reading Whiteside's article called "Newton the Mathemtician", where he says that Newton did Number Theory (e.g. inverstigating which numbers are expressible as a sum of two cubes). If this is ...
11
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1answer
333 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 ...
11
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0answers
208 views

Why is $J$ sometimes used to denote $\mathbb{Z}_{>0}$?

In older books, such as Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis and Herstein's Topics in Algebra, I've noticed that authors tended to use $J$ to denote $\mathbb{Z}_{>0}$. Does anyone have any ...
11
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0answers
138 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 ...
10
votes
3answers
3k views

What is the meaning of the expression Q.E.D.? Is it similar to ■ appearing at the end of a theorem?

I am curious about the meaning of the word Q.E.D. that is often written after a proof of a theorem (some math books use this convention). Edit: Is it similar to the box being placed after a proof of ...
10
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2answers
2k 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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8answers
3k views

Why are derivatives specified as d/dx?

Is the purpose of the derivative notation d/dx strictly for symbolic manipulation purposes? I remember being confused when I first saw the notation for derivatives - it looks vaguely like there's ...
10
votes
10answers
2k views

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 ...
10
votes
6answers
6k views

Why do we need vectors and who invented it?

It is natural to understand the need for scalars (numbers), but why did we invent vectors? Who invented it and for what? EDIT: As George Lowther pointed out, the problem is too broad; I added the ...
10
votes
2answers
1k views

Who discovered the first explicit formula for the n-th prime?

I just found out on Wolfram that there is a formula for the n-th prime in terms of elementary functions. I wonder who found it and if he was rewarded for this. The formula (here) is: Also shown at ...
10
votes
3answers
700 views

Who introduced the notation $x^2$?

In the book 'Problem Solving and Number Theory' I read The law of quadratic reciprocity was discovered for the first time, in a complex form, by L. Euler who published it in his paper ...
10
votes
2answers
547 views

Where, specifically, did Principia Mathematica fail?

I'm very fascinated by the book Principia Mathematica. From what I've learned so far, Principia Mathematica set out to be, essentially, the bible of mathematics and logic, from which all mathematical ...
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2answers
499 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 ...
10
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7answers
654 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". ...
10
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6answers
1k views

Historical textbook on group theory/algebra

Recently I have started reading about some of the history of mathematics in order to better understand things. A lot of ideas in algebra come from trying to understand the problem of finding ...
10
votes
1answer
216 views

Old vs. Modern Galois theory

The original Galois theory was developed to answer the question of the expressibility of the roots of polynomial equations with arithmetic operations and radicals. However it seems that later ...
10
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2answers
144 views

Origin of well-ordering proof of uniqueness in the FToArithmetic

In the Appendix to Ivan Niven's book "Numbers: Rational and Irrational", he proves the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic (FToA) without using Euclid's Lemma that if a prime divides a product, then it ...
10
votes
1answer
807 views

What is the name of the $\in$ symbol and where does it come from?

It looks like a lower-case epsilon, but the Wikipedia page on epsilon states that they are not the same. Does this symbol have a typographic identification outside of mathematics? Where did the ...
10
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4answers
917 views

What was the notation for functions before Euler?

According to the Wikipedia article, [Euler] introduced much of the modern mathematical terminology and notation, particularly for mathematical analysis, such as the notion of a mathematical ...
10
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1answer
265 views

Serge Lang and categories

I was told that (Serge) Lang has never fallen in love with categories, to use a polite euphemism. Other people claim that, in some occasion, he has even declared his lack of interest in the subject in ...
10
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1answer
197 views

What was the planned topic of Gödel's second paper on incompleteness?

Gödel's incompleteness theorems first appeared together in a paper titled (translated to English) "On formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems I," with the Roman ...
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2answers
337 views

A quote from Arnold

Arnold said the following in a talk on teaching: Jacobi noted, as mathematics' most fascinating property, that in it one and the same function controls both the presentations of a whole number as ...
10
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2answers
584 views

Varieties as schemes

Some questions about schemes and varieties, one really basic. I follow the definitions as given in Hartshorne. Firstly, my main question. I understood that Grothendiecks introduction of schemes ...
10
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2answers
385 views

What's the history of the result that $p_{n+1} < p_n^2$, and how difficult is the proof?

In Edsger Dijkstra's monograph "Notes on Structured Programming", he describes a simple imperative program for generating an array of the first $n$ primes. For each prime $p_n$, it finds the next ...