For questions about the motivation behind mathematical concepts and results. These are often "why" questions.

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75
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9answers
7k views

Why do mathematicians sometimes assume famous conjectures in their research?

I will use a specific example, but I mean in general. I went to a number theory conference and I saw one thing that surprised me: Nearly half the talks began with "Assuming the generalized Riemann ...
65
votes
12answers
57k views

Why study linear algebra?

Simply as the title says. I've done some research, but still haven't arrived at an answer I am satisfied with. I know the answer varies in different fields, but in general, why would someone study ...
48
votes
7answers
5k views

What's the point of studying topological (as opposed to smooth, PL, or PDiff) manifolds?

Part of the reason I think algebraic topology has acquired something of a fearsome reputation is that the terrible properties of the topological category (e.g. the existence of space-filling curves) ...
42
votes
6answers
3k views

Motivation for spectral graph theory.

Why do we care about eigenvalues of graphs? Of course, any novel question in mathematics is interesting, but there is an entire discipline of mathematics devoted to studying these eigenvalues, so ...
36
votes
7answers
5k views

Uses of quadratic reciprocity theorem

I want to motivate the quadratic reciprocity theorem, which at first glance does not look too important to justify it being one of Gauss' favorites. So far I can think of two uses that are basic ...
30
votes
12answers
1k views

Nonobvious examples of metric spaces that do not work like $\mathbb{R}^n$

This week, I come to the end of the first year analysis, and suffer from a "crisis of motivation." With this question, I want to chase away my thought, "Why is it important to study the general ...
30
votes
10answers
3k views

What are the applications of continued fractions?

What is the most motivating way to introduce continued fractions? Are there any real life applications of continued fractions?
30
votes
3answers
2k views

Why was Sheaf cohomology invented?

Sheaf cohomology was first introduced into algebraic geometry by Serre. He used Čech cohomology to define sheaf cohomology. Grothendieck then later gave a more abstract definition of the right derived ...
28
votes
5answers
4k views

Jacobi identity - intuitive explanation

I am really struggling with understanding the Jacobi Identity. I am not struggling with verifying it or calculating commutators.. I just can't see through it. I can't see the motivation behind it (as ...
26
votes
4answers
1k views

Book ref. request: “…starting from a mathematically amorphous problem and combining ideas from sources to produce new mathematics…”

I couldn't find Charles Radin's Miles of Tiles at the local university library or the public library, and cannot afford its Amazon price right now. Thus, while sorely disappointed for the moment, I ...
26
votes
4answers
2k views

Motivation behind topology

What is the motivation behind topology? For instance, in real analysis, we are interested in rigorously studying about limits so that we can use them appropriately. Similarly, in number theory, we ...
25
votes
4answers
1k views

Fractional Calculus: Motivation and Foundations.

If this is too broad, I apologise; let's keep it focused on the basics if necessary. What's the motivation and the rigorous foundations behind fractional calculus? It seems very weird & ...
25
votes
3answers
2k views

Why are modular lattices important?

A lattice $(L,\leq)$ is said to be modular when $$(\forall a,b\in L) x \leq b \implies x \vee (a \wedge b) = (x \vee a) \wedge b,$$ where $\vee$ is the join operation, and $\wedge$ is the meet ...
20
votes
3answers
1k 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 ...
19
votes
3answers
1k views

Motivation for Eisenstein Criterion

I have been thinking about this for quite sometime. Eisentein Criterion for Irreducibility: Let $f$ be a primitive polynomial over a unique factorization domain $R$, say $$f(x)=a_0 + a_1x + a_2x^2 + ...
18
votes
1answer
826 views

Motivation for abstract harmonic analysis

I am reading Folland's A Course in Abstract Harmonic Analysis and find this book extremely exciting. However it seems Folland does not give many examples to illustrate the motivation behind much of ...
17
votes
7answers
2k views

What is the purpose of showing some numbers exist?

For example in my Analysis class the professor showed $\sqrt{2}$ exists using Archimedean properties of $\mathbb{R}$ and we showed $e$ exists. I want to know why it's important to show their existence?...
17
votes
5answers
1k views

Why study cardinals, ordinals and the like?

Why is the study of infinite cardinals, ordinals and the like so prevalent in set theory and logic? What's so interesting about infinite cardinals beyond $\aleph _0 $ and $\mathfrak{c} $? It seems ...
17
votes
4answers
4k views

An equation that generates a beautiful or unique shape for motivating students in mathematics

Could anyone here provide us an equation that generates a beautiful or unique shape when we plot? For example, this is old but gold, I found this equation on internet: $$ \large\color{blue}{ x^2+\...
17
votes
6answers
489 views

What problems, ideas or questions first got you interested in algebraic geometry?

Obviously, a lot of people are very interested in algebraic geometry. I suppose this means it is a fascinating area. However the few times I have tried to read introductory books and/or articles in ...
17
votes
2answers
844 views

Motivation behind the definition of flat module

Can someone explain what is the motivation behind the definition of a flat module? I saw the definition but I don't really know why it is important to work with these structures.
16
votes
4answers
1k views

Fun math for young, bored kids?

For 6 months, I'll be organizing, as part as my volunteer work in an NGO, math classes with small groups (~10 students, aged 16 or 17). These classes are not compulsory, but students willing to stay ...
16
votes
1answer
358 views

Motivation for the study of amoebas.

What was the primary motivation for the study of the amoebas?
15
votes
6answers
3k views

Motivation of the Gaussian Integral

I read on Wikipedia that Laplace was the first to evaluate $$\int\nolimits_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-x^2} \, \mathrm dx$$ Does anybody know what he was doing that lead him to that integral? Even better, ...
15
votes
4answers
2k views

Motivation behind the definition of GCD and LCM

According to me, I can find the GCD of two integers (say $a$ and $b$) by finding all the common factors of them, and then finding the maximum of all these common factors. This also justifies the ...
15
votes
2answers
841 views

Motivation behind the definition of Prime Ideal

Can someone explain what's the motivation behind the definition of a prime ideal? Or why is it exactly called a prime ideal? Has it anything to do it prime numbers?
15
votes
2answers
799 views

Motivating (iso)morphism of varieties

I am reading course notes on algebraic geometry, where a morphism of varieties is defined as follows ($k$ is an algebraically closed field): Let $X$ be a quasi-affine or quasi-projective $k$-...
14
votes
7answers
9k views

Why is it important to study combinatorics?

I was having a discussion with my friend Sayan Mukherjee about why we need to study combinatorics which admittedly, is not our favourite subject because we see very less motivation for it(I am not ...
14
votes
3answers
572 views

Motivation behind the definition of tangent vectors

I've been reading the book Gauge, Fields, Knots and Gravity by Baez. A tangent vector at $p \in M$ is defined as function $V$ from $C^{\infty}(M) $ to $\mathbb R$ satisfying the following properties: ...
14
votes
8answers
1k views

What is the motivation behind the study of sequences?

I was discussing some ideas with my professor and he always says that before you work on something in mathematics, you need to know the motivation for studying/working on it. A better way to put this ...
14
votes
3answers
182 views

Applications of functions of the form $f(x)^{g(x)}$

Early on in my calculus education, I learned how to take the derivative of $x^x$ by re-writing it in the form $e^{x\ln x}$. More generally, this technique is helpful in finding the derivative of ...
13
votes
2answers
725 views

Motivation of stable homotopy theory

A stable homotopy category can be obtained by modifying the category of pointed CW-complexes: objects are pointed CW-complexes, and for two CW-complexes $X$ and $Y$, we take $$\lbrace X,Y \rbrace = \...
13
votes
2answers
591 views

Why do we want probabilities to be *countably* additive?

In probability theory, it is (as far as I am aware) universal to equate "probability" with a probabilistic measure in the sense of measure theory (possibly a particularly well behaved measure, but ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

Book series like AMS' Student Mathematical Library?

I had the joy of discovering AMS' Student Mathematical Library book series today, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how enticing some of the titles seem: exciting and expositionary, a perfect ...
12
votes
2answers
1k views

How can I motivate myself to study math every morning? [closed]

I am jobless, so I have relatively plenty of time though life is short. I started studying math and some other things every day because I want to become an artificial intelligence researcher. When I'...
11
votes
2answers
733 views

Motivation behind the ingredients of First Cohomology group $H^1$

I started reading the Cohomology theory of groups. But I am not able to get any intuition or motivation behind the following : It is concerned with the formal definitions of crossed and principal ...
11
votes
9answers
652 views

Motivation for the Definition of Compact Space

A compact topological space is defined as a space, $C$, such that for any set $\mathcal{A}$ of open sets such that $C \subseteq \bigcup_{U\in \mathcal{A}} U$, there is finite set $\mathcal{A'} \...
11
votes
1answer
623 views

How to motivate the axioms for the inner product

Typically, one doesn't just write down lists of axioms and then sees if there are enough interesting examples that satisfy them; they evolve over time, usually from a couple of very important/...
10
votes
5answers
2k views

Why is the tensor product constructed in this way?

I've already asked about the definition of tensor product here and now I understand the steps of the construction. I'm just in doubt about the motivation to construct it in that way. Well, if all that ...
10
votes
4answers
4k views

Order of nontrivial elements is 2 implies Abelian group

If the order of all nontrivial elements in a group is 2, then the group is Abelian. I know of a proof that is just from calculations (see below). I'm wondering if there is any theory or motivation ...
10
votes
5answers
1k views

Motivation behind the definition of complete metric space

What is motivation behind the definition of a complete metric space? Intuitively,a complete metric is complete if they are no points missing from it. How does the definition of completeness (in ...
10
votes
1answer
864 views

History behind Exact Sequences.

I am very much interested in listening to the history behind the exact sequence. We know that the exact sequence is sequence of objects with morphisms such that image of one morphism equals to the ...
9
votes
4answers
1k views

Topological groups, why need them?

I'm reading through Munkres and Armstrong's books on topology. However, I find topological groups to be really complicated objects! I feel they are twice as hard to deal with then just groups and ...
9
votes
3answers
465 views

What's a good motivating example for the concept of a slice category?

What nice example can one give a beginner to really motivate the idea of a slice category, before they've met the more general notion of a comma category? There's the toy example of a poset category ...
9
votes
2answers
182 views

Demonstrating the value of abstracting away from elements/subsets to maps

Given a set $S$, here are 5 ways of thinking about elements of $S$, in increasing abstraction: an actual element, e.g. $s\in S$ an inclusion map, e.g. $i_s:\{s\}\hookrightarrow S$ an ...
8
votes
4answers
892 views

Why the axioms for a topological space are those axioms?

This question might have even been asked here before, I don't really know, so sorry if it's duplicate. I've started to study topological spaces and I've found the axioms for such spaces kind of hard ...
8
votes
2answers
143 views

What is Representation Theory?

I'm beginning a course that uses representation theory, but I do not really understand what that is about. In the text I am following, I have the following definition: A representation of the Lie ...
8
votes
1answer
182 views

Representation theory approach VS Module theory approach?

Given an associative algebra $A$, there is a correspondence between representations of $A$ and left $A-$ modules. Thus, one can study the representation theory of an associative algebra via its left ...
8
votes
3answers
189 views

Motivation for definition of Mobius function

Why is the Mobius function defined the way it is? \begin{align*} \mu(n) = \begin{cases} (-1)^r & \text{ if $n$ is square-free and is of the form }n=p_1p_2\ldots p_r\\ 0 & \text{ if $n$ is not ...
8
votes
0answers
127 views

Why is Fourier Analysis effective for studying uniform distributions

On his great expository article about the naturality of the Zeta function in number theory, Tim Gowers makes the following claim: When it comes to the primes, we find that we do not have a good ...