All Questions

1097
votes
65answers
487k views

Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain

Since I'm not that good at (as I like to call it) 'die-hard-mathematics', I've always liked concepts like the golden ratio or the dragon curve, which are easy to understand and explain, but are ...
928
votes
29answers
80k views

Can I use my powers for good? [closed]

I hesitate to ask this question, but I read a lot of the career advice from MathOverflow and math.stackexchange, and I couldn't find anything similar. Four years after the PhD, I am pretty sure that ...
925
votes
31answers
130k views

How long will it take Marie to saw another board into 3 pieces?

So this is supposed to be really simple, and it's taken from the following picture: Text-only: It took Marie $10$ minutes to saw a board into $2$ pieces. If she works just as fast, how long will ...
911
votes
19answers
85k views

Is $\frac{\textrm{d}y}{\textrm{d}x}$ not a ratio?

In the book Thomas's Calculus (11th edition) it is mentioned (Section 3.8 pg 225) that the derivative $\frac{\textrm{d}y}{\textrm{d}x}$ is not a ratio. Couldn't it be interpreted as a ratio, because ...
693
votes
27answers
165k views

How to study math to really understand it and have a healthy lifestyle with free time? [closed]

Here's my problem. I'm studying math and when I really work hard, I think I understand things very good, but that comes at a big cost: in the last few years, I've had practically zero physical ...
669
votes
164answers
48k views

What was the first bit of mathematics that made you realize that math is beautiful? (For children's book) [closed]

I'm a children's book writer and illustrator, and I want to to create a book for young readers that exposes the beauty of mathematics. I recently read Paul Lockhart's essay "The Mathematician's Lament,...
661
votes
20answers
64k views

The staircase paradox, or why $\pi\ne4$

What is wrong with this? Is $\pi=4?$
641
votes
42answers
86k views

Different methods to compute $\sum\limits_{k=1}^\infty \frac{1}{k^2}$ (Basel problem)

As I have heard people did not trust Euler when he first discovered the formula (solution of the Basel problem) $$\zeta(2)=\sum_{k=1}^\infty \frac{1}{k^2}=\frac{\pi^2}{6}.$$ However, Euler was Euler ...
630
votes
0answers
33k 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 ...
618
votes
25answers
64k views

Splitting a sandwich and not feeling deceived

This is a problem that has haunted me for more than a decade. Not all the time - but from time to time, and always on windy or rainy days, it suddenly reappears in my mind, stares at me for half an ...
567
votes
13answers
149k views

Does Pi contain all possible number combinations?

I came across the following image: Which states: $\pi$ Pi Pi is an infinite, nonrepeating $($sic$)$ decimal - meaning that every possible number combination exists somewhere in pi. ...
567
votes
12answers
106k views

What's an intuitive way to think about the determinant?

In my linear algebra class, we just talked about determinants. So far I’ve been understanding the material okay, but now I’m very confused. I get that when the determinant is zero, the matrix doesn’t ...
526
votes
6answers
77k views

Why can you turn clothing right-side-out?

My nephew was folding laundry, and turning the occasional shirt right-side-out. I showed him a "trick" where I turned it right-side-out by pulling the whole thing through a sleeve instead of the ...
520
votes
7answers
34k views

Why is $1 - \frac{1}{1 - \frac{1}{1 - \ldots}}$ not real?

So we all know that the continued fraction containing all $1$s... $$ x = 1 + \frac{1}{1 + \frac{1}{1 + \ldots}} $$ yields the golden ratio $x = \phi$, which can easily be proven by rewriting it as $...
503
votes
21answers
77k views

Mathematical difference between white and black notes in a piano

The division of the chromatic scale in $7$ natural notes (white keys in a piano) and $5$ accidental ones (black) seems a bit arbitrary to me. Apparently, adjacent notes in a piano (including white or ...
482
votes
37answers
36k views

Examples of patterns that eventually fail

Often, when I try to describe mathematics to the layman, I find myself struggling to convince them of the importance and consequence of "proof". I receive responses like: "surely if Collatz is true up ...
469
votes
10answers
458k views

Is this Batman equation for real? [closed]

HardOCP has an image with an equation which apparently draws the Batman logo. Is this for real? Batman Equation in text form: \begin{align} &\left(\left(\frac x7\right)^2\sqrt{\frac{||x|-3|}{|x|-...
466
votes
21answers
76k views

What are imaginary numbers?

At school I really struggled to understand the concept of imaginary numbers. My teacher told us that an imaginary number is a number which has something to do with the square root of $-1$. When I ...
444
votes
36answers
56k 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 ...
420
votes
7answers
16k views

“The Egg:” Bizarre behavior of the roots of a family of polynomials.

In this MO post, I ran into the following family of polynomials: $$f_n(x)=\sum_{m=0}^{n}\prod_{k=0}^{m-1}\frac{x^n-x^k}{x^m-x^k}.$$ In the context of the post, $x$ was a prime number, and $f_n(x)$ ...
412
votes
10answers
26k views

My son's Sum of Some is beautiful! But what is the proof or explanation?

My youngest son is in $6$th grade. He likes to play with numbers. Today he showed me his latest finding. I call it his "Sum of Some" because he adds up some selected numbers from a series of numbers, ...
384
votes
21answers
108k views

How to prove that $\lim\limits_{x\to0}\frac{\sin x}x=1$?

How can one prove the statement $$\lim_{x\to 0}\frac{\sin x}x=1$$ without using the Taylor series of $\sin$, $\cos$ and $\tan$? Best would be a geometrical solution. This is homework. In my math ...
380
votes
23answers
63k views

Proofs that every mathematician should know. [closed]

There are mathematical proofs that have that "wow" factor in being elegant, simplifying one's view of mathematics, lifting one's perception into the light of knowledge, etc. So I'd like to know what ...
379
votes
8answers
137k views

Integral $\int_{-1}^1\frac1x\sqrt{\frac{1+x}{1-x}}\ln\left(\frac{2\,x^2+2\,x+1}{2\,x^2-2\,x+1}\right) \ \mathrm dx$

I need help with this integral: $$I=\int_{-1}^1\frac1x\sqrt{\frac{1+x}{1-x}}\ln\left(\frac{2\,x^2+2\,x+1}{2\,x^2-2\,x+1}\right)\ \mathrm dx.$$ The integrand graph looks like this: $\hspace{1in}$ The ...
366
votes
16answers
43k views

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

$\displaystyle\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{n^s}$ only converges to $\zeta(s)$ if $\text{Re}(s) > 1$. Why should analytically continuing to $\zeta(-1)$ give the right answer?
360
votes
20answers
29k views

How can I evaluate $\sum_{n=0}^\infty(n+1)x^n$?

How can I evaluate $$\sum_{n=1}^\infty\frac{2n}{3^{n+1}}$$ I know the answer thanks to Wolfram Alpha, but I'm more concerned with how I can derive that answer. It cites tests to prove that it is ...
359
votes
21answers
20k views

On “familiarity” (or How to avoid “going down the Math Rabbit Hole”?)

Anyone trying to learn mathematics on his/her own has had the experience of "going down the Math Rabbit Hole". For example, suppose you come across the novel term vector space, and want to learn more ...
343
votes
8answers
38k views

Best Sets of Lecture Notes and Articles

Let me start by apologizing if there is another thread on math.se that subsumes this. I was updating my answer to the question here during which I made the claim that "I spend a lot of time sifting ...
336
votes
33answers
41k views

Pedagogy: How to cure students of the “law of universal linearity”?

One of the commonest mistakes made by students, appearing at every level of maths education up to about early undergraduate, is the so-called “Law of Universal Linearity”: $$ \frac{1}{a+b} \mathrel{\...
335
votes
14answers
304k views

Fourier transform for dummies

What is the Fourier transform? What does it do? Why is it useful (in math, in engineering, physics, etc)? This question is based on the question of Kevin Lin, which didn't quite fit at Mathoverflow. ...
329
votes
0answers
12k views

The Ring Game on $K[x,y,z]$

I recently read about the Ring Game on MathOverflow, and have been trying to determine winning strategies for each player on various rings. The game has two players and begins with a commutative ...
324
votes
18answers
35k views

Find five positive integers whose reciprocals sum to $1$

Find a positive integer solution $(x,y,z,a,b)$ for which $$\frac{1}{x}+ \frac{1}{y} + \frac{1}{z} + \frac{1}{a} + \frac{1}{b} = 1\;.$$ Is your answer the only solution? If so, show why. I was ...
315
votes
0answers
9k views

Does there exist a bijection of $\mathbb{R}^n$ with itself such that the forward map is connected but the inverse is not?

Let $(X,\tau), (Y,\sigma)$ be two topological spaces. We say that a map $f: \mathcal{P}(X)\to \mathcal{P}(Y)$ between their power sets is connected if for every $S\subset X$ connected, $f(S)\subset Y$ ...
314
votes
4answers
151k 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 ...
306
votes
14answers
17k views

Can every proof by contradiction also be shown without contradiction?

Are there some proofs that can only be shown by contradiction or can everything that can be shown by contradiction also be shown without contradiction? What are the advantage/disadvantages of proving ...
304
votes
26answers
31k views

Zero to the zero power – is $0^0=1$?

Could someone provide me with a 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: $0^0\cdot0^x=1\cdot0^x$, so $0^0=1$ $...
301
votes
37answers
25k views

A challenge by R. P. Feynman: give counter-intuitive theorems that can be translated into everyday language

The following is a quote from Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman . The question is: are there any interesting theorems that you think would be a good example to tell Richard Feynman, as an answer to ...
298
votes
8answers
28k views

The length of toilet roll

Fun with Math time. My mom gave me a roll of toilet paper to put it in the bathroom, and looking at it I immediately wondered about this: is it possible, through very simple math, to calculate (with ...
295
votes
23answers
10k views

Why don't we define “imaginary” numbers for every “impossibility”?

Before the concept of imaginary numbers, the number $i = \sqrt{-1}$ was shown to have no solution among the numbers that we had, so we said $i$ to be a new type of number. How come we don't do the ...
286
votes
68answers
64k views

'Obvious' theorems that are actually false

It's one of my real analysis professor's favourite sayings that "being obvious does not imply that it's true". Now, I know a fair few examples of things that are obviously true and that can be proved ...
282
votes
17answers
33k views

Why does this innovative method of subtraction from a third grader always work?

My daughter is in year 3 and she is now working on subtraction up to 1000. She came up with a way of solving her simple sums that we (her parents) and her teachers can't understand. Here is an ...
282
votes
5answers
63k views

In Russian roulette, is it best to go first?

Assume that we are playing a game of Russian roulette (6 chambers). Assume that there is no shuffling after the shot is fired. I was wondering if you have an advantage in going first? If so, how big ...
281
votes
6answers
84k views

Multiple-choice question about the probability of a random answer to itself being correct

I found this math "problem" on the internet, and I'm wondering if it has an answer: Question: If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the probability that you will be correct? ...
275
votes
99answers
24k views

Surprising identities / equations

What are some surprising equations / identities that you have seen, which you would not have expected? This could be complex numbers, trigonometric identities, combinatorial results, algebraic ...
262
votes
38answers
44k views

One question to know if the number is 1, 2 or 3

I've recently heard a riddle, which looks quite simple, but I can't solve it. A girl thinks of a number which is 1, 2, or 3, and a boy then gets to ask just one question about the number. The girl ...
261
votes
13answers
10k views

Help with a prime number spiral which turns 90 degrees at each prime

I awoke with the following puzzle and I would like to investigate but the answer may require some programming (it may not either). I have asked on the meta site and believe the question to be ...
258
votes
31answers
27k views

Nice examples of groups which are not obviously groups

I am searching for some groups, where it is not so obvious that they are groups. In the lectures script there are only examples like $\mathbb{Z}$ under addition and other things like that. I don't ...
258
votes
11answers
25k views

Is '$10$' a magical number or I am missing something?

It's a hilarious witty joke that points out how every base is '$10$' in its base. Like, 2 = 10 (base 2) 8 = 10 (base 8) My question is if whoever invented the ...
258
votes
4answers
28k views

The Mathematics of Tetris

I am a big fan of the oldschool games and I once noticed that there is a sort parity associated to one and only one Tetris piece, the $\color{purple}{\text{T}}$ piece. This parity is found with no ...
256
votes
7answers
27k 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 ...

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