Questions involving philosophy of mathematics

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269
votes
35answers
27k views

Do complex numbers really exist?

Complex numbers involve the square root of negative one, and most non-mathematicians find it hard to accept that such a number is meaningful. In contrast, they feel that real numbers have an obvious ...
146
votes
21answers
11k views

Is mathematics one big tautology?

Is mathematics one big tautology? Let me put the question in clearer terms: Mathematics is a deductive system: it works by starting with arbitrary axioms, and deriving therefrom "new" properties ...
122
votes
24answers
10k views

Can a coin with an unknown bias be treated as fair?

This morning, I wanted to flip a coin to make a decision but no coins were in reach. There was however an SD card on my desk: Given that I don't know the bias of this SD card, would flipping it be ...
86
votes
17answers
12k views

Is 10 closer to infinity than 1?

This may be considered a philosophy but is the number "10" closer to infinity than the number "1"?
76
votes
9answers
4k views

How far can one get in analysis without leaving $\mathbb{Q}$?

Suppose you're trying to teach analysis to a stubborn algebraist who refuses to acknowledge the existence of any characteristic $0$ field other than $\mathbb{Q}$. How ugly are things going to get for ...
63
votes
22answers
5k views

Is math built on assumptions?

I just came across this statement when I was lecturing a student on math and strictly speaking I used: Assuming that the value of $x$ equals <something>, ... One of my students just rose ...
52
votes
4answers
6k views

How do I convince someone that $1+1=2$ may not necessarily be true?

Me and my friend were arguing over this "fact" that we all know and hold dear. However, I do know that $1+1=2$ is an axiom. That is why I beg to differ. Neither of us have the required mathematical ...
49
votes
6answers
4k views

In what sense are math axioms true?

Say I am explaining to a kid, $A +B$ is the same as $B+A$ for natural numbers. The kid asks: why? Well, it's an axiom. It's called commutativity (which is not even true for most groups). How do I ...
47
votes
10answers
12k views

How is a system of axioms different from a system of beliefs?

Other ways to put it: Is there any faith required in the adoption of a system of axioms? How is a given system of axioms accepted or rejected if not based on blind faith?
45
votes
12answers
5k views

I need mathematical proof that the distance from zero to 1 is the equal to the distance from 1 to 2 [closed]

I didn't know how to phrase the question properly so I am going to explain how this came about. I know Math is a very rigorous subject and there are proofs for everything we know and use. In fact, I ...
45
votes
4answers
2k views

What is “ultrafinitism” and why do people believe it?

I know there's something called "ultrafinitism" which is a very radical form of constructivism that I've heard said means people don't believe that really large integers actually exist. Could someone ...
43
votes
16answers
4k views

Is a proof still valid if only the writer understands it?

Say that there is some conjecture that someone has just proved. Let's assume that this proof is correct--that it is based on deductive reasoning and reaches the desired conclusion. However, if ...
41
votes
3answers
977 views
40
votes
13answers
3k views

Is there such a thing as proof by example (not counter example)

Is there such a logical thing as proof by example? I know many times when I am working with algebraic manipulations, I do quick tests to see if I remembered the formula right. This works and is ...
39
votes
17answers
4k views

What's the goal of mathematics?

Are we just trying to prove every theorem or find theories which lead to a lot of creativity or what? I've already read G. H. Hardy Apology but I didn't get an answer from it.
36
votes
14answers
10k views

How big is infinity?

This might be more philosophy than math, but it’s been bothering me for a while. Question: If there’s an infinite amount of real numbers between $ 0 $ and $ 1 $, shouldn’t there be twice the ...
35
votes
8answers
4k views

Infinite sets don't exist!?

Has anyone read this article? Set theory This accomplished mathematician gives his opinion on why he doesn't think infinite sets exist, and claims that axioms are nonsense. I don't disagree with his ...
35
votes
8answers
3k views

Does mathematics require axioms?

I just read this whole article: http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~norman/papers/SetTheory.pdf which is also discussed over here: Infinite sets don't exist!? However, the paragraph which I found most ...
32
votes
17answers
3k views

Non-Scientific questions solved by mathematics

I have a general question about the applications of mathematics. What are some applications of mathematics that are not scientific, perhaps maybe literary or philosophical, or political. I am ...
31
votes
1answer
654 views

What is the role of mathematical intuition and common sense in questions of irrationality or transcendence of values of special functions?

I got the number $$\frac{\Gamma\left(\frac{1}{5}\right)\Gamma\left(\frac{4}{15}\right)}{\Gamma\left(\frac{1}{3}\right)\Gamma\left(\frac{2}{15}\right)}=0.824326275998351470388591998726842...$$ in the ...
28
votes
6answers
2k views

If all sets were finite, how could the real numbers be defined?

An extreme form of constructivism is called finitisim. In this form, unlike the standard axiom system, infinite sets are not allowed. There are important mathematicians, such as Kronecker, who ...
27
votes
5answers
1k views

What's the best way to measure mathematical ability?

Very soft question I admit, but it's something that's been bothering me for a while. I've been thinking that being self taught has the problem of accreditation. You can't evaluate a mathematician ...
26
votes
8answers
2k views

Complex analysis is more “real” than real analysis

In physics, in the past, complex numbers were used only to remember or simplify formulas and computations. But after the birth of quantum physics, they found that a thing as real as "matter" itself ...
26
votes
4answers
1k views

Is $\mathbb{N}$ impossible to pin down?

I don't know if this is appropriate for math.stackexchange, or whether philosophy.stackexchange would have been a better bet, but I'll post it here because the content is somewhat technical. In ZFC, ...
25
votes
3answers
939 views

Rejecting infinity

I've heard about mathematicians who defend a strictly finite conception of mathematics, with no room for infinity. I wonder, how is it possible for these people to do this? Are there any concepts that ...
25
votes
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 ...
25
votes
2answers
661 views

A few questions about intuitionistic mathematics

I have to write a paper on Intuitionism for my Philosophy of Science class and I'm struggling with a few concepts I have encountered in my self-study. The (intuitive) characterization of valid ...
23
votes
9answers
4k 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?
22
votes
6answers
2k views

What are natural numbers?

What are the natural numbers? Is it a valid question at all? My understanding is that a set satisfying Peano axioms is called "the natural numbers" and from that one builds integers, rational ...
21
votes
10answers
2k views

How can Zeno's dichotomy paradox be disproved using mathematics?

A brief description of the paradox taken from Wikipedia: Suppose Sam wants to catch a stationary bus. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must ...
21
votes
1answer
2k views

$e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ and ultrafinitism

I was reading the following article on Ultrafinitism, and it mentions that one of the reasons ultrafinitists believe that N is not infinite is because the floor of $e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ is not computable. ...
21
votes
3answers
1k views

What did Gauss think about infinity?

I have someone who is begging for a conversation with me about infinity. He thinks that Cantor got it wrong, and suggested to me that Gauss did not really believe in infinity, and would not have ...
20
votes
5answers
664 views

What does it mean for a set to exist?

Is there a precise meaning of the word 'exist', what does it mean for a set to exist? And what does it mean for a set to 'not exist' ? And what is a set, what is the precise definition of a set?
19
votes
1answer
451 views

Is there any mathematical meaning in this set-theoretical joke?

Recently I heard a joke: If an object exists, mathematicians call it a set and study it. But if an object does not exist, mathematicians call it a proper class and study it anyway. I wonder, ...
15
votes
5answers
683 views

Definition of definition

I was wondering if there is a good way to "define" what definition means exactly in mathematics. Since the answers may be subjective or philosophical, I want to ask only for references on this topic. ...
15
votes
1answer
353 views

Are there areas of mathematics (current or future) that cannot be formalized in set theory?

I often read that ZFC can formalize "most" of everyday mathematics, but I could never find an example which it cannot. The closest I got is differential geometry (DF), where some article mentions that ...
14
votes
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 ...
14
votes
3answers
295 views

Mathematical Notation and its importance

You can see how mathematical notation evolved during the last centuries here. I think everyone here knows that a bad notation can change an otherwise elementar problem into a difficult problem. Just ...
14
votes
1answer
312 views

What lessons have mathematicians drawn from the existence of non-standard models?

So, as someone whose knowledge of mathematics has always come from studying it with an eye towards philosophical/foundational issues and studying it with other philosophers (who are not primarily ...
13
votes
7answers
1k views

What mathematical questions or areas have philosophical implications outside of mathematics?

Please list both the problem/area and justify why it is important philosophically. This question doesn't cover questions that are only important within the philosophy of mathematics itself.
13
votes
6answers
2k views

What philosophical consequence of Goedel's incompleteness theorems?

I want to write a philosophical essay centered about Goedel's incompleteness theorem. However I cannot find any real philosophical consequences that I can write more than half a page about. I read the ...
13
votes
5answers
2k views

Why does Benford's Law (or Zipf's Law) hold?

Both Benford's Law (if you take a list of values, the distribution of the most significant digit is rougly proportional to the logarithm of the digit) and Zipf's Law (given a corpus of natural ...
13
votes
4answers
690 views

How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers?

Question: How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers? And how did Newton, Euler, and other famous mathematicians thought about this concept? I know that existence of numbers is a ...
13
votes
4answers
218 views

Which mathematical ideas most influenced the way you think?

This is not a question about how you use a formula or mathematical method to solve quantitative problems - that is applied mathematics. Rather, I'd like to hear how deeper ideas gained through the ...
13
votes
2answers
502 views

Proofs from the “Ugly Book”

There is a famous saying in mathematics from Paul Erdős: "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book." "The Book" is an imaginary book in which God had written down the best ...
12
votes
7answers
2k views

Why do statements which appear elementary have complicated proofs?

The motivation for this question is : http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/4066/rationals-of-the-form-fracpq-where-p-q-are-primes-in-a-b and some other problems in Mathematics which looks as if ...
12
votes
6answers
527 views

Is it possible to alternate the law of mathematics?

I am freelance writer. Recently I have been planning a science fiction - just planning, nothing solid yet - and I was wondering would it be possible for some other universes that have different set of ...
12
votes
2answers
199 views

Founding Arithmetic on geometry

In the past I found some fleeting references that some (Frege in his later years being one of them) tried to found arithmetic not on set-theory and logic but on geometry and logic. Unfortunedly Frege ...
12
votes
3answers
363 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
votes
1answer
359 views

What underlies formal logic (or math, generally)?

I read a useful definition of the word understanding. I can't recall it verbatim, but the notion was that understanding is 'data compression': understanding happens when we learn one thing that ...