152
votes
4answers
10k views

The Integral that Stumped Feynman?

In "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!," Nobel-prize winning Physicist Richard Feynman said that he challenged his colleagues to give him an integral that they could evaluate with only complex methods ...
151
votes
13answers
111k views

Fourier transform for dummies

A vague question of Kevin Lin which didn't quite fit at Mathoverflow: So ... what is the Fourier transform? What does it do? Why is it useful (both in math and in engineering, physics, etc)? ...
150
votes
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. ...
141
votes
2answers
4k views

Can we ascertain that there exists an epimorphism $G\rightarrow H$?

Let $G,H$ be finite groups. Suppose we have an epimorphism $$G\times G\rightarrow H\times H$$ Can we find an epimorphism $G\rightarrow H$?
139
votes
1answer
4k views

Is there a 0-1 law for the theory of groups?

For each first order sentence $\phi$ in the language of groups, define : $$p_N(\phi)=\frac{\text{number of nonisomorphic groups $G$ of order} \le N\text{ such that } \phi \text{ is valid in } ...
138
votes
91answers
38k views

Which one result in mathematics has surprised you the most? [closed]

A large part of my fascination in mathematics is because of some very surprising results that I have seen there. I remember one I found very hard to swallow when I first encountered it, was what is ...
136
votes
14answers
27k views

Is computer science a branch of mathematics?

I have been wondering, is computer science a branch of mathematics? No one has ever adequately described it to me. It all seems very math-like to me. My second question is, are there any books about ...
135
votes
28answers
19k views

List of Interesting Math Videos/ Documentaries

This is an offshoot of the question on Fun math outreach/social activities. I have listed a few videos/documentaries I have seen. I would appreciate if people could add on to this list. Story of ...
133
votes
1answer
4k views

Rational roots of polynomials

Can one construct a sequence $(a_k)_{k\geqslant 0}$ of rational numbers such that, for every positive integer $n$ the polynomial $a_nX^n+a_{n-1}X^{n-1}+\cdots +a_0$ has exactly $n$ distinct rational ...
131
votes
25answers
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 ...
130
votes
27answers
18k views

Best Fake Proofs? (A M.SE April Fools Day collection) [closed]

In honor of April Fools Day 2013, I'd like this question to collect the best, most convincing fake proofs of impossibilities you have seen. I've posted one as an answer below. I'm also thinking of a ...
127
votes
11answers
43k views

What is the result of infinity minus infinity?

What is $\infty - \infty$? Is it $\infty$ or $0$ or what?
126
votes
7answers
7k views

Intuition for the definition of the Gamma function?

In these notes by Terence Tao is a proof of Stirling's formula. I really like most of it, but at a crucial step he uses the integral identity $$n! = \int_{0}^{\infty} t^n e^{-t} dt$$ coming from ...
126
votes
3answers
3k views

A Topology such that the continuous functions are exactly the polynomials

I was wondering which fields $K$ can be equipped with a topology such that a function $f:K \to K$ is continuous if and only if it is a polynomial function $f(x)=a_nx^n+\cdots+a_0$. Obviously, the ...
125
votes
6answers
23k views

Deleting any digit yields a prime… is there a name for this?

My son likes his grilled cheese sandwich cut into various numbers, the number depends on his mood. His mother won't indulge his requests, but I often will. Here is the day he wanted 100: But ...
122
votes
17answers
12k views

Why can ALL quadratic equations be solved by the quadratic formula?

In algebra, all quadratic problems can be solved by using the quadratic formula. I read a couple of books, and they told me only HOW and WHEN to use this formula, but they don't tell me WHY I can use ...
120
votes
31answers
12k views

Stopping the “Will I need this for the test” question [closed]

I am a college professor in the American education system and find that the major concern of my students is trying to determine the specific techniques or problems which I will ask on the exam. This ...
120
votes
2answers
5k views

How to show $e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ is not an integer

In this question, I needed to assume in my answer that $e^{e^{e^{79}}}$ is not an integer. Is there some standard result in number theory that applies to situations like this? Much later addendum: ...
119
votes
17answers
9k views

Zero to the zero power - Is $0^0=1$?

Could someone provide me with good explanation of why $0^0 = 1$? My train of thought: $x > 0$ $0^x = 0^{x-0} = 0^x/0^0$, so $0^0 = 0^x/0^x = ?$ Possible answers: $0^0 * 0^x = 1 * 0^x$, so ...
116
votes
19answers
7k views

Are there any open mathematical puzzles?

Are there any (mathematical) puzzles that are still unresolved? I only mean questions that are accessible to and understandable by the complete layman and which have not been solved, despite serious ...
116
votes
14answers
18k views

What's the intuition behind Pythagoras' theorem?

Today we learned about Pythagoras' theorem. Sadly, I can't understand the logic behind it. $A^{2} + B^{2} = C^{2}$ $C^{2} = (5 \text{ cm})^2 + (7 \text{ cm})^2$ $C^{2} = 25 \text{ cm}^2 + 49 ...
116
votes
2answers
46k views

What is the intuitive relationship between SVD and PCA

Singular value decomposition (SVD) and principal component analysis (PCA) are two eigenvalue methods used to reduce a high-dimensional dataset into fewer dimensions while retaining important ...
114
votes
1answer
7k views

Evaluate $ \int_{0}^{\frac{\pi}{2}}\frac{1}{(1+x^2)(1+\tan x)}\,\mathrm dx$

Evaluate the following integral$$\int_{0}^{\Large\frac{\pi}{2}}\frac{1}{(1+x^2)(1+\tan x)}\,\mathrm dx$$ My Attempt: Let $$\tag1 I = \int_{0}^{\Large\frac{\pi}{2}}\frac{1}{(1+x^2)(1+\tan ...
113
votes
18answers
11k views

How to put 9 pigs into 4 pens so that there are an odd number of pigs in each pen?

So I'm tutoring at the library and an elementary or pre K student shows me a sheet with one problem on it: Put 9 pigs into 4 pens so that there are an odd number of pigs in each pen. I tried to ...
113
votes
3answers
15k views

Why can a Venn diagram for 4+ sets not be constructed using circles?

This page gives a few examples of Venn diagrams for 4 sets. Some examples: Thinking about it for a little, it is impossible to partition the plane into the $16$ segments required for a complete ...
112
votes
1answer
3k views

Does the open mapping theorem imply the Baire category theorem?

A nice observation by C.E. Blair1, 2, 3 shows that the Baire category theorem for complete metric spaces is equivalent to the axiom of (countable) dependent choice. On the other hand, the three ...
110
votes
22answers
17k views

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 ...
110
votes
3answers
8k views

Is 2048 the highest power of 2 with all even digits (base ten)?

I have a friend who turned 32 recently. She has an obsessive compulsive disdain for odd numbers, so I pointed out that being 32 was pretty good since not only is it even, it also has no odd factors. ...
110
votes
0answers
5k views

A short proof for $\dim(R[T])=\dim(R)+1$?

If $R$ is a commutative ring, it is easy to prove $\dim(R[T]) \geq \dim(R)+1$. For noetherian $R$, we have equality. Every proof I'm aware of uses quite a bit of commutative algebra and non-trivial ...
108
votes
9answers
4k views

What does $2^x$ really mean when $x$ is not an integer?

We all know that $2^5$ means $2\times 2\times 2\times 2\times 2 = 32$, but what does $2^\pi$ mean? How is it possible to calculate that without using a calculator? I am really curious about this, so ...
108
votes
6answers
8k views

How can you prove that a function has no closed form integral?

I've come across statements in the past along the lines of "function $f(x)$ has no closed form integral", which I assume means that there is no combination of the operations: addition/subtraction ...
106
votes
10answers
15k views

How can a piece of A4 paper be folded in exactly three equal parts?

This is something that always annoys me when putting an A4 letter in a oblong envelope: one has to estimate where to put the creases when folding the letter. I normally start from the bottom and on ...
105
votes
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 ...
104
votes
9answers
10k views

Why is cos(90)=0.4 in WebGL?

I'm a graphical artist who is completely out of my depth on this site. However, I'm dabbling in WebGL (3D software for internet browsers) and trying to animate a bouncing ball. Apparently we can ...
104
votes
5answers
7k views

What do modern-day analysts actually do?

In an abstract algebra class, one learns about groups, rings, and fields, and (perhaps naively) conceives of a modern-day algebraist as someone who studies these sorts of structures. One learns about ...
103
votes
11answers
11k views

Do we know if there exist true mathematical statements that can not be proven?

Given the set of standard axioms (I'm not asking for proof of those), do we know for sure that a proof exists for all unproven theorems? For example, I believe the Goldbach Conjecture is not proven ...
103
votes
5answers
6k views

Symmetry of function defined by integral

Define a function $f(\alpha, \beta)$, $\alpha \in (-1,1)$, $\beta \in (-1,1)$ as $$ f(\alpha, \beta) = \int_0^{\infty} dx \: \frac{x^{\alpha}}{1+2 x \cos{(\pi \beta)} + x^2}$$ One can use, for ...
102
votes
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 ...
102
votes
6answers
8k views

What's 4 times more likely than 80%?

There's an 80% probability of a certain outcome, we get some new information that means that outcome is 4 times more likely to occur. What's the new probability as a percentage and how do you work it ...
101
votes
10answers
17k views

Why does $1+2+3+\dots = -\frac{1}{12}$?

$\displaystyle\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^s}$ only converges to $\zeta(s)$ if $\text{Re}(s) > 1$. Why should analytically continuing to $\zeta(-1)$ give the right answer?
101
votes
5answers
6k views

In (relatively) simple words: What is an inverse limit?

I am a set theorist in my orientation, and while I did take a few courses that brushed upon categorical and algebraic constructions, one has always eluded me. The inverse limit. I tried to ask one of ...
100
votes
29answers
31k views

Best book ever on Number Theory

Which is the single best book for Number Theory that everyone who loves Mathematics should read?
99
votes
6answers
138k views

How many sides does a circle have?

My son is in 2nd grade. His math teacher gave the class a quiz, and one question was this: If a triangle has 3 sides, and a rectangle has 4 sides, how many sides does a circle have? My first ...
98
votes
10answers
7k views

Are mathematical articles on Wikipedia reliable?

I know that Wikipedia gets a bad rap, and it seems like some teachers of mine have nothing better to do in class than harp on about the Great Academic Pastime of calling Wikipedia untrustworthy, but ...
97
votes
4answers
7k views

Can someone explain the math behind tessellation?

Tessellation is fascinating to me, and I've always been amazed by the drawings of M.C.Escher, particularly interesting to me, is how he would've gone about calculating tessellating shapes. In my ...
96
votes
6answers
3k views

What remains in student's mind

I'm a first year graduate student of mathematics and I have an important question. I like studying math and when I attend, a course I try to study in the best way possible, with different textbooks ...
95
votes
20answers
21k views

Monty hall problem extended.

I just learned about the Monty Hall problem and found it quite amazing. So I thought about extending the problem a bit to understand more about it. In this modification of the Monty Hall Problem, ...
95
votes
7answers
4k views

Does a “cubic” matrix exist?

Well, I've heard that a "cubic" matrix would exist and I thought: would it be like a magic cube? And more: does it even have a determinant - and other properties? I'm a young student, so... please ...
95
votes
9answers
8k views

How do I sell out with abstract algebra?

My plan as an undergraduate was unequivocally to be a pure mathematician, working as an algebraist as a bigshot professor at a bigshot university. I'm graduating this month, and I didn't get into ...
95
votes
1answer
20k views

Can $x^{x^{x^x}}$ be a rational number?

If $x$ is a positive rational number, but not an integer, then can $x^{x^{x^x}}$ be a rational number ? We can prove that if $x$ is a positive rational number but not an integer, then $x^x$ can ...

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