Questions tagged [mathematicians]

For questions about those who do mathematics.

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79
votes
14answers
15k views

What famous theorems or results were proven by female mathematicians?

We know that there were/are many famous female mathematicians who influenced the mathematics as we know it today, but their numbers are few compared to male mathematicians. While we have numerous ...
77
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16answers
25k views

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

What are the most glaring examples — if any — of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right?
67
votes
3answers
9k views

What evidence is there that Fermat had a proof for his Last Theorem?

Aside from the fact that Fermat was a genius, is it probable that he actually did have a proof? Some specifics that I think would point one way or another: Would the mathematics of his day allow him ...
66
votes
4answers
10k views

Why was Évariste Galois killed?

It is well known that Évariste Galois died a young man. I have heard that he died in a duel. What was the duel about? More rather what is the back story behind his death and did he really write down ...
42
votes
2answers
10k views

Did Gauss find the formula for $1+2+3+\ldots+(n-2)+(n-1)+n$ in elementary school?

I heard Gauss's primary school teacher gave some busy-work to his class: to add all the numbers between 1 and 100 up. Gauss immediately wrote 5050. His teacher was shocked, so she told him to add up ...
36
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3answers
3k views

What motivated Cantor to invent set theory?

I can't imagine mathematics without sets, but the question "what was mathematics like before there were sets" is not answerable, I think. Instead, a good answer to the title question should cover a ...
31
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38answers
9k views

Which mathematicians died very young or in a tragic way?

When I first thought of this question, I wanted to ask: If you could give one mathematician his remaining life until an average age for the time he lived in, who would you choose? However, this ...
31
votes
5answers
9k views

Who introduced the Principle of Mathematical Induction for the first time?

Can you tell me the name of the mathematician, who introduced the Principle of Mathematical Induction for the first time? (with reliable source). Please don't say De Morgan because I have read the ...
25
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1answer
4k views

How was Lagrange appointed professor of mathematics so early?

It is well-known that in 1755 Lagrange was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Artillery School in Turin. He was 19. His work up until then involves correspondence with Euler. Was he ...
24
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2answers
354 views

Weil's reaction to Deligne's proof

How did André Weil react when Pierre Deligne finally solved the most important and hardest of the Weil conjectures ? Is there any written account on this ? I guess Serre's and Grothendieck's (...
24
votes
6answers
86k views

Discovery of zero

I have read at many places that zero was discovered by Aryabhata but when i was discussing this with my mathematics teacher he told me that zero had already been discovered before Aryabhata and it was ...
23
votes
1answer
19k views

Story of Grothendieck's Prime Number

There is a story about Alexander Grothendieck and the "Grothendieck Prime" 57, which goes roughly as follows (cf. this wikipedia article): In a mathematical conversation, someone suggested to ...
22
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6answers
2k views

Why were so many pre-18th century Mathematicians polymaths?

It is well known that famous names such as Gauss, Euler and Newton were polymaths as well as their main fields of study and contributed from optics to ship building. Why was this the case in the past? ...
22
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3answers
2k views

How did Gauss become the “the prince of mathematicians”?

Gauss is probably the most famous mathematician today, his face even appears on one of European bills. But he did not have a charismatic personality, like Galois, nor was particularly interested in ...
22
votes
2answers
2k views

Hilbert's reaction to Gödel's incompleteness theorems

Is it known how Hilbert initially reacted to Gödel's incompleteness theorems upon their announcement at the Königsberg conference in 1930, or their publication in 1931?
20
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20answers
3k views

Literary works authored by mathematicians

At a first glance, Mathematics and Literature look like two completely unrelated subjects. I wonder whether there are examples of acclaimed mathematicians which wrote novels, poems, or other ...
20
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2answers
1k views

Who first considered the $f$ in $f(x)$ as an object in itself, and who decided to call it a function?

The question is in the title, but allow me to provide some background. I’m aware that Leibniz introduced the word “function” into mathematics (around 1673) and that Johann Bernoulli or Euler ...
19
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4answers
18k views

Did Abraham De Moivre really predict his own death?

At the last point of his life, he noted that he slept 15 minutes extra every night then he calculated that he would die on the day that the extra 15 minutes a night accumulated to 24 hours. That day ...
19
votes
6answers
2k views

Claims of mathematical breakthroughs while in an altered state of consciousness?

A similar question is found below: Scientific progress claimed to be caused by dreaming Has anyone ever made similar claims regarding other altered states of consciousness, besides dreaming? I know ...
19
votes
2answers
17k views

How did Ramanujan learn to do mathematics?

Did Ramanujan have any formal training in mathematics? I read that he did not. Then how did he learn to do mathematics? Mathematics does not come from instinct. You have to learn the basic facts. How ...
19
votes
3answers
512 views

What was the connection between David Hilbert and Stefan Banach?

The so-called "Hilbert space" is named after mathematician David Hilbert. Later, this was generalized into "Banach spaces" by Stefan Banach. My understanding is that Hilbert was ...
18
votes
1answer
3k views

Is the story about Fermat's writing on a margin true?

Is there any evidence that Fermat wrote on the margin of a book "I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition that this margin is too narrow to contain." Everyone ...
17
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3answers
3k views

What does it mean by “d-ism of Leibniz” and “dotage of Newton” in simple English?

I am reading this article by Donald E. Knuth and get stuck by this sentence: Our mathematical language continues to improve, just as “the d-ism of Leibniz overtook the dotage of Newton” in past ...
17
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3answers
2k views

Source for Hilbert's famous quote “Mathematics in Göttingen? There really is none anymore”

Reportedly this was uttered at a banquet in which Hilbert was seated next to the new Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust, in response to Rust inquiring as to the state of mathematics in Göttingen now ...
17
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1answer
4k views

Was Kolmogorov enraged after learning about the Karatsuba multiplication algorithm?

Some years ago, I read that Kolmogorov was so enraged that Karatsuba disproved one of his conjectures that he terminated his seminar shortly thereafter. This Wikipedia page claims that Kolmogorov was ...
17
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3answers
4k views

Who created topology, and when, and what problems led to this creation?

Who created topology, when did that happen, and how was it discovered?
17
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0answers
701 views

Did Kontsevich start a lecture with “one I will not define, the other nobody knows how to define, and we will be proving that they are equivalent”?

The story was circulating in early 2000s, so presumably it happened in 1990s. Kontsevich, it goes, opened a lecture course on mirror symmetry with:"This course is about two categories. One I will not ...
15
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1answer
3k views

Which mathematician traveled to and moved in with each collaborator?

I remember a video, perhaps a Numberphile episode where a mathematician was described who would simply move in to the home of a collaborator with which they were engaged to so that they could work ...
15
votes
1answer
312 views

What kind of mathematical education did Leibniz have?

It doesn't seem that he began his life in mathematics. Does anyone know how it came to be ? What did he read ?
15
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1answer
525 views

Did du Bois-Reymond invent the diagonal argument before Cantor?

The Wiki article on Cantor's diagonal argument mentions that the first use of a diagonal argument was in the work of Paul du Bois-Reymond in 1875. This would be one year after Cantor's first proof of ...
14
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7answers
3k views

Mathematical results that became known long after their authors passed away

Liouville published Galois' work a decade after the death of this singular mathematician. Are there other cases of results being rescued by the mathematical community long after their authors were ...
14
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3answers
2k views

Grothendieck's Approach to Solving Problems

Alexander Grothendieck is known to have revolutionized several areas of mathematics. His insights were very deep, original and revolutionary. Time after time he showed that he could see in ways that ...
14
votes
2answers
989 views

Where did John Wallis get the idea for $\infty$?

I read in an offhand comment in Amir Alexander's 2014 book Infinitesimal (p.280), that John Wallis introduced the symbol $\infty$ for infinity. Was there any logic, reason, or precedent for this ...
14
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3answers
948 views

3 Poles and 3 Texans who had read “Principia Mathematica”

To quote Bertrand Russell, "My Philosophical Development", Simon and Schuster, N.Y., 1959, p. 86: I used to know of only six people who had read the later parts of the book [Principia Mathematica]...
13
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1answer
654 views

Was Pólya’s “How To Solve It” originally written in German or English (or some other language)?

I seem to fail at googling a simple question: In which language did Pólya originally write “How To Solve It” (or “Schule des Denkens”, as is the German title)? Did he translate the book himself to ...
13
votes
2answers
469 views

When did the people start using the portraits of the two Euclids interchangeably?

According to the folks of Wikipedia, this is the portrait of Euclid of Alexandria (the "Father of Geometry"): Yet, I read several years ago on MathOverflow that the individual in the ...
13
votes
4answers
334 views

Why did Newton want lines to be generated by continued motion of points rather than by apposition of parts?

The following passage has been extracted from the Newton's (John Stewart's English translated version) "Sir Issac Newton's two Treatises: Of the Quadrature of Curves, and Analysis by equations of an ...
13
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1answer
1k views

Did Grothendieck really say that he felt “clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track”?

Here I found the following quote, attributed to the great Grothendieck: Since then I’ve had the chance in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome, to meet quite a number of people, both among my ...
12
votes
3answers
548 views

What resources are available for lives of recent mathematicians besides E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics?

I am about halfway through reading E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics, and I absolutely love it. I'm a mathematician, and I enjoy learning about the lives behind the names that I know and use so often. (I ...
12
votes
1answer
299 views

Who blocked publication of “Mathematics in USSR. 1958-1967”?

A while ago, in USSR there were published two very voluminous collections entitled "Mathematics in USSR for 30 years. 1917-1947" and "Mathematics in USSR for 40 years. 1917-1957". These collections ...
12
votes
1answer
12k views

Who invented short and long division?

I am curious who came up with algorithms that we use today to manually solve mathematical division problems, such as short or long division; how were they established or standardized that way and why?...
12
votes
2answers
663 views

How did Grothendieck encounter and adopt the categorical language?

Apparently the first mathematical publication of Grothendieck where he uses the terms “functor” and “category” in the technical sense is the Kansas report. From where Grothendieck had knowledge of ...
12
votes
0answers
267 views

Who was that forgetful mathematician?

Who was the (Japanese?) mathematician who said in a lecture that a certain conjecture still remained to be proved, and one of the students present told him that he (the mathematician) had already ...
12
votes
0answers
269 views

What was the typical format of a 16th century mathematical debate?

In The Equation that Couldn't be Solved, Mario Livio writes of academia in 16th century Bologna. Apparently, mathematicians would take part in public debates, sometimes involving solving problems. ...
11
votes
6answers
2k views

Why was modern science and mathematics a European phenomenon?

Of course much of this can be debated on what you mean by the word “modern” But most of us would agree that the Arabic World and places like India were the leading mathematical and ...
11
votes
5answers
2k views

Who gets credit for the real numbers?

If Simon Stevin already pioneered the unending decimal representation for every number (rational, surd, etc.) at the end of the 16th century, why do Cantor and Dedekind (who certainly gave a more ...
11
votes
1answer
253 views

What were Hilbert's weekly 1933 lectures on “matters of general intellectual interest” about?

Saunders Mac Lane says he attended Hilbert's weekly lectures on "matters of general intellectual interest" around 1931 or 1933 (Saunders Mac Lane: A Mathematical Autobiography p. 44). I believe these ...
11
votes
2answers
376 views

History of various definitions of topology

I have been reading Point Set Topology for a while, and turns out that there are various possible ways to define a topology. Most popular one is using open set axioms. Another one is using closure ...
10
votes
5answers
641 views

Mathematics PhD dissertations that opened a new field of research

I propose this as a companion wiki page to the one about PhD dissertations which contain a solution to an open problem in the style of big-list questions, thinking ...
10
votes
2answers
4k views

The history and motivation of eigenvectors

I want to understand more about the history of eigenvectors. Was the discovery of eigenvectors inspired from an application to achieve a result in a historical context, was there a phenomenon which ...

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