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

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About a paper of Zermelo

This about the famous article Zermelo, E., Beweis, daß jede Menge wohlgeordnet werden kann, Math. Ann. 59 (4), 514–516 (1904), available here. Edit: Springer link to the ...
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10answers
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Is zero odd or even?

Some books say even numbers start from two but if you consider the number line concept, I think zero should be even because it is in between -1 and +1 (i.e in between 2 odd numbers). What is the real ...
25
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1answer
2k views

What concept does an open set axiomatise?

In the context of metric (and in general first-countable) topologies, it's reasonably clear what a closed set is: a set $F$ is closed if and only if every convergent sequence of points in $F$ ...
150
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22answers
8k views

Why do mathematicians use single-letter variables?

I have much more experience programming than I do with advanced mathematics, so perhaps this is just a comfort thing with me, but I often get frustrated trying to follow mathematical notation. ...
6
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9answers
966 views

what is the definition of Mathematics ?

we all study mathematics , and all of us learn mathematical methods to solve problems , we learn how to prove , how to think mathematically but the question is, what is mathematics ? how can we ...
84
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1answer
7k views

Why are rings called rings?

I've done some search in Internet and other sources about this question. Why the name ring to this particular object? Just curiosity. Thanks.
40
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3answers
2k views

History of the Concept of a Ring

I am vaguely familiar with the broad strokes of the development of group theory, first when ideas of geometric symmetries were studied in concrete settings without the abstract notion of a group ...
14
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2answers
2k views

History of dot product and cosine

The fact that the dot product and the cosine of the angle between two vectors are mutually computable is easy to show (see the two sides in the two answers at Dot product in coordinates). But looking ...
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7answers
6k views

Good books on Math History

I'm trying to find good books on the history of mathematics, dating as far back as possible. There was a similar question here Good books on Philosophy of Mathematics, but mostly pertaining to ...
26
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2answers
2k views

Development of the Idea of the Determinant

While I basically understand what a determinant is, I wonder how this idea was developed? What was the principal idea behind its origination? I would like to know this so that I can have a better ...
11
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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. ...
72
votes
15answers
7k views

Why did mathematicians take Russell's paradox seriously?

Though I've understood the logic behind's Russell's paradox for long enough, I have to admit I've never really understood why mathematicians and mathematical historians thought it so important. Most ...
98
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9answers
5k views

Why do people use “it is easy to prove”?

Math is not generally what I am doing, but I have to read some literature and articles in dynamic systems and complexity theory. What I noticed is that authors tend to use (quite frequently) the ...
81
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8answers
10k views

Are half of all numbers odd?

Plato puts the following words in Socrates' mouth in the Phaedo dialogue: I mean, for instance, the number three, and there are many other examples. Take the case of three; do you not think it may ...
64
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5answers
2k views

Why does mathematical convention deal so ineptly with multisets?

Many statements of mathematics are phrased most naturally in terms of multisets. For example: Every positive integer can be uniquely expressed as the product of a multiset of primes. But this ...
47
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6answers
3k views

What kind of “symmetry” is the symmetric group about?

There are two concepts which are very similar literally in abstract algebra: symmetric group and symmetry group. By definition, the symmetric group on a set is the group consisting of all bijections ...
16
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10answers
1k views

Challenge: Demonstrate a Contradiction in Leibniz' differential notation

I want to know if the Leibniz differential notation actually leads to contradictions - I am starting to think it does not. And just to eliminate the most commonly showcased 'difficulty': For the ...
45
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6answers
4k views

Why is a full turn of the circle 360°? Why not any other number?

I was just wondering why we have 90° degrees for a perpendicular angle. Why not 100° or any other number? What is the significance of 90° for the perpendicular or 360° for a circle? I didn't ever ...
31
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2answers
6k views

Yitang Zhang: Prime Gaps

Has anybody read Yitang Zhang's paper on prime gaps? Wired reports "$70$ million" at most, but I was wondering if the number was actually more specific. *EDIT*$^1$: Are there any experts here who ...
31
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3answers
2k views

Why, historically, do we multiply matrices as we do?

Multiplication of matrices — taking the dot product of the $i$th row of the first matrix and the $j$th column of the second to yield the $ij$th entry of the product — is not a very ...
37
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1answer
3k views

Was Grothendieck familiar with Stone's work on Boolean algebras?

In short, my question is: Was Grothendieck familiar with Stone's work on Boolean algebras? Background: In an answer to Pierre-Yves Gaillard's question Did Zariski really define the Zariski ...
29
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1answer
422 views

Is the Galois group associated to a random polynomial solvable with probability 0?

Choose a random polynomial $P\in\mathbb{Z}[x]$ of degree $n$ and coefficients $\leq n$ and $\geq-n$. Let $r_1,\ldots,r_n$ be the roots of $P$ and consider ...
15
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2answers
1k views

Origins of the modern definition of topology

The modern definition of topology is 'a family of subsets of a set $X$ containing the empty set and $X$, closed under unions and finite intersections'. In Grundzüge der Mengenlehre (1914) Hausdorff ...
13
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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 ...
154
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15answers
9k views

In the history of mathematics, has there ever been a mistake?

I was just wondering whether or not there have been mistakes in mathematics. Not a conjecture that ended up being false, but a theorem which had a proof that was accepted for a nontrivial amount of ...
44
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20answers
4k views

Theorems' names that don't credit the right people

The point of this question is to compile a list of theorems that don't give credit to right people in the sense that the name(s) of the mathematician(s) who first proved the theorem doesn't (do not) ...
32
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7answers
1k views

Why are topological spaces interesting to study?

In introductory real analysis, I dealt only with $\mathbb{R}^n$. Then I saw that limits can be defined in more abstract spaces than $\mathbb{R}^n$, namely the metric spaces. This abstraction seemed ...
36
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6answers
3k views

How hard is the proof of $\pi$ or e being transcendental?

I understand that $\pi$ and e are transcendental and that these are not simple facts. I mean, I have been told that these results are deep and difficult, and I am happy to believe them. I am curious ...
16
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2answers
1k views

De Moivre's Theorem. Motivation and origins.

I've purchased "A Source Book in Mathematics" some time ago and I'm still baffled by De Moivre's paper on his formula. We all know the famous $$\{\cos(x) + i \sin(x)\}^n = \cos(nx)+i \sin(nx)$$ but ...
8
votes
3answers
993 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 ...
18
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1answer
7k views

Who discovered this number-guessing paradox?

In this math.se post I described in some detail a certain paradox, which I will summarize: $A$ writes two distinct numbers on slips of paper. $B$ selects one of the slips at random (equiprobably), ...
14
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8answers
1k 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 ...
9
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3answers
1k 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 ...
7
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1answer
2k views

How were Hyperbolic functions derived/discovered?

Trig functions are simple ratios, but what does Cosh, Sinh and Tanh compute? How are they related to euler's number anyway?
7
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3answers
399 views

How was $e$ first calculated?

I understand how $\pi$ is calculated, but I am interested in references that explain when and how the natural exponent $e$ was developed. What mathematical principles are behind the value of $e$?
5
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3answers
716 views

On the origins of the (Weierstrass) Tangent half-angle substitution

The Weierstrass substitution is great for transforming complex trig integrals into simpler rational functions. Wikipedia suggests that it wasn't invented by Weierstrass, since Euler was already ...
18
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4answers
4k views

Origin of the dot and cross product?

Most questions usually just relate to what these can be used for, that's fairly obvious to me since I've been programming 3D games/simulations for a while, but I've never really understood the inner ...
9
votes
2answers
674 views

Notation for intervals

I have frequently encountered both $\langle a,b \rangle$ and $[a,b]$ as notation for closed intervals. I have mostly encountered $(a,b)$ for open intervals, but I have also seen $]a,b[$. I recall ...
9
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2answers
375 views

The history of set-theoretic definitions of $\mathbb N$

What representations of the natural numbers have been used, historically, and who invented them? Are there any notable advantages or disadvantages? I read about Frege's definition not long ago, ...
101
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33answers
10k views

Can you provide me historical examples of pure mathematics becoming “useful”?

I'm trying to think/know about something but I don't know if my basis premise is plausible, here we go. Sometimes when I'm talking with people about pure mathematics, they usually dismiss it because ...
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32answers
16k views

Examples of mathematical results discovered “late”

What are examples of mathematical results that were discovered surprisingly late in history? Maybe the result is a straightforward corollary of an established theorem, or maybe it's just so simple ...
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3answers
6k views

A 1,400 years old approximation to the sine function by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I

The approximation $$\sin(x) \simeq \frac{16 (\pi -x) x}{5 \pi ^2-4 (\pi -x) x}\qquad (0\leq x\leq\pi)$$ was proposed by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I, a seventh-century Indian mathematician. I ...
38
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13answers
12k views

Anecdotes about famous mathematicians or physicists

Hey there, I'm not sure whether this question suits this website, however, I don't know where else I could ask it. It is no mathematical problem or something similar, still I hope it won't be closed. ...
32
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4answers
2k views

Understanding the intuition behind math

I'm currently a Calculus III student. I enjoy math a lot, but only when I understand its beauty and meaning. However, so many times I have no idea what it is I am learning about, althought I am still ...
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11answers
5k views

Good books on Philosophy of Mathematics

Where can I learn more about the implications, meta discussions, history and the foundations of mathematics? Is Russell's Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy a good start?
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7answers
1k views

Original works of great mathematicians

In almost every mathematical text there is a line as This was first proved by Gauss or This formula first appeared in a work of Riemann, but for me it's more like My friend told me once that... For ...
26
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4answers
2k views

Is mathematical history written by the victors?

The question is the title of a recent piece in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, by twelve authors (of which I am one). The contention is that traditional history of mathematics is ...
26
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4answers
6k views

Why are so many of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics about number theory?

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... Have ...
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3answers
1k views

What is the origin of the expression “Yoneda Lemma”?

Thank you very much in advance for telling where the expression “Yoneda Lemma” comes from. EDIT 1. On page -14 of Reprints in Theory and Applications of Categories, No. 3, 2003. Abelian Categories, ...
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2answers
703 views

Motivation for/history of Jacobi's triple product identity

I'm taking a short number theory course this summer. The first topic we covered was Jacobi's triple product identity. I still have no sense of why this is important, how it arises, how it might have ...