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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11answers
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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 ...
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1answer
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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 $F$ ...
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22answers
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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. ...
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1answer
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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.
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6answers
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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 ...
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9answers
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what is the definition of Mathematics ? [closed]

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 ...
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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7answers
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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 ...
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5answers
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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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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10answers
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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 ...
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1answer
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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), ...
31
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1answer
487 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 ...
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2answers
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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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1answer
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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?
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2answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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“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 ...
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16answers
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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 ...
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10answers
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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 ...
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8answers
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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 ...
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6answers
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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 ...
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1answer
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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 ...
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2answers
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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 ...
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4answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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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 ...
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8answers
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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 ...
162
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16answers
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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 ...
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32answers
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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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18answers
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Anecdotes about famous mathematicians or physicists

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. A few ...
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19answers
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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) ...
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7answers
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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 ...
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6answers
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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 ...
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4answers
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Uses of the 'Golden Ratio'

I have heard much about the numerous appearances of the ratio found in nature: 1.6180339887. Are there any actual mathematical uses that have been found of this number? What are its advantages? Just ...
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3answers
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where does the term “integral domain” come from?

Self-explanatory title really! A student today asked me why they were called integral domains -- and I realised that the word "integral" seems to be being used in a way totally unlike any other way I ...
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5answers
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history of the double root solution of $ay''+by'+cy=0$

Motivation: It is a well-known fact that $ay''+by'+cy=0$ has solutions which are found from substituting the ansatz $y=e^{\lambda t}$ into the DEqn. It turns out that we replace the calculus problem ...
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3answers
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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 $e$?
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3answers
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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 ...
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1answer
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Strange old multiplication table

Today I read an article about chalk boards from 1917 discovered in an Oklahoma school. One of the chalkboards included the following curious image: (Oklahoma City Public Schools) The article ...
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2answers
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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, ...
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33answers
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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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22answers
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Examples of mathematical discoveries which were kept as a secret

There could be several personal, social, philosophical and even political reasons to keep a mathematical discovery as a secret. For example it is completely expected that if some mathematician find ...
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16answers
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Do mathematicians, in the end, always agree?

I've been trying to study some different sciences in my life, ranging from biology to mathematics, and if I try to explain to people why I like mathematics above the others, I think the most important ...
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28answers
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What are some examples of notation that really improved mathematics? [closed]

I've always felt that the concise, suggestive nature of the written language of mathematics is one of the reasons it can be so powerful. Off the top of my head I can think of a few notational ...
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16answers
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What is the smallest unknown natural number?

There are several unknown numbers in mathematics, such as optimal constants in some inequalities. Often it is enough to some estimates for these numbers from above and below, but finding the exact ...
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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 ...