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

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395 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 ...
12
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2answers
318 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 ...
12
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2answers
429 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 ...
12
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1answer
856 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 ...
12
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2answers
1k 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". ...
12
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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 $\phi(m)$. ...
12
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1answer
200 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? ...
12
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3answers
399 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 – ...
12
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1answer
454 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
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1answer
464 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
281 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
469 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
982 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
308 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
444 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
165 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
181 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
235 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
342 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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0answers
382 views

How does a Lehmer Sieve work?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehmer_sieve Apparently a Lehmer Sieve was a mechanical device that used chains and pulleys to factor numbers and solve diophantine equations. It once was able to factor ...
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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 ...
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8answers
4k 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 ...
11
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5answers
444 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
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3answers
2k views

Provenance of Hilbert quote on table, chair, beer mug

All over the web one can find statements to the effect that: "One must be able to say at all times--instead of points, straight lines, and planes--tables, chairs, and beer mugs" There are many ...
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7answers
852 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
801 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
4k 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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4answers
381 views

Elementary problems that would've been hard for past mathematicians, but are easy to solve today? [closed]

I'm looking for problems that due to modern developments in mathematics would nowadays be reduced to a rote computation or at least an exercise in a textbook, but that past mathematicians (even famous ...
11
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7answers
825 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". ...
11
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4answers
356 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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4answers
1k 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 ...
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4answers
251 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
625 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
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2answers
638 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 ...
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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
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1answer
632 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
292 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 ...
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4answers
2k views

Angle brackets for tuples

I've recently noticed that use of angle brackets for writing tuples, e.g. $\langle x, y \rangle$ instead of the usual round brackets in a few books I've been reading — Lawvere's Sets for Mathematics, ...
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0answers
158 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
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3answers
4k 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 ...
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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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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 ...
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6answers
7k 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 ...
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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 ...
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3answers
752 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 ...
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2answers
597 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
561 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 ...
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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 ...
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1answer
519 views

The word “integral” in calculus unrelated to “integral” / “integer” in algebra?

I think that the word integral in calculus is nothing to do with integer or integer numbers. But why is integral is chosen for integration? In algebra, integral means related to integers, and this is ...