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

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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
748 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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2answers
1k views

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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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
379 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 ...
11
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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.
11
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4answers
491 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 ...
11
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4answers
218 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
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1answer
456 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 ...
11
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1answer
187 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
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4answers
238 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
511 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 ...
11
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1answer
322 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 ...
11
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2answers
483 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
votes
1answer
425 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 ...
11
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1answer
355 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 ...
11
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1answer
735 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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1answer
598 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
256 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
322 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
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
2k 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 ...
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10answers
1k 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
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3answers
675 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
519 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
429 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
200 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 ...
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2answers
135 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 ...
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4answers
854 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
250 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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2answers
323 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 ...
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2answers
539 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 ...
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2answers
383 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 ...
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4answers
127 views

What is a good book, or article, that explains the history of fourier analysis?

What is a good book on the history of Fourier Analysis? I'm looking for a book which explains how it came to be and what the mathematicians (or physicists) were thinking when they came up with it. If ...
10
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1answer
578 views

Riemann's thinking on symmetrizing the zeta functional equation

In the translated version of Riemann's classic On the Number of Prime Numbers less than a Given Quantity, he quickly derives the zeta functional equation through contour integration essentially as ...
10
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1answer
227 views

Does anyone know about Ramanujan's method of solving the quartic? [closed]

I have read (probably) in Kanigel's book The Man Who Knew Infinity that S. Ramanujan devised his own method of solving the Quartic Equation after he learnt to solve the Cubic Equation. Does anyone ...
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2answers
258 views

History of the matrix representation of complex numbers

It is well-known to many that $\mathbb{C}$ can be represented by matrices of the form $\left[ \begin{array}{cc} a & b \\ -b & a \end{array} \right]$. For example, see this question or this ...
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1answer
339 views

Is Hilbert's second problem about the real numbers or the natural numbers?

In his famous "23 problems" speech, Hilbert gave his second problem as follows: The axioms of arithmetic are essentially nothing else than the known rules of calculation, with the addition of the ...
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2answers
421 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? ...
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2answers
242 views

Articles on ideas in the history of mathematics notation?

I'm teaching a course this term on the history of scripts (writing systems) and rather than talking interminably about Semitic and Chinese and their spawn, I'd like to give students a more varied ...
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2answers
111 views

Infinite series for the arctangent from the tangent of half-angle formula

From Hodge's biography of Turing: He had found the infinite series for the "inverse tangent function", starting from the trigonometrical formula for $\tan\left(\frac{1}{2}x\right)$.* The ...
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1answer
94 views

Cauchy gave 1st example of a Lie algebra in 1847 & exterior product in 1853‽

I read in PDF pg. 5 of this that Cauchy gave the first example of a Lie algebra in 1847: It also claims that he invented the exterior product in 1853. Does anyone have references for this?
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1answer
136 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 ...
10
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1answer
381 views

Old versus New enunciation of Taylor's Theorem.

I am studying from Spivak' Calculus, and he states Taylor's Theorem as follows: THEOREM Let $f',\cdots,f^{(n+1)}$ be defined on $[a,x]$ and let $R_{n,a}(x)$ be defined by ...
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4answers
1k 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
185 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 ...
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0answers
108 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 ...
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0answers
270 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 ...