Questions tagged [mathematics]

For questions about the quantitative study of topics such as numbers, structure, space, and change, carried out by investigating patterns.

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19
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2answers
1k views

Pythagoras vs. the idea of Pythagoras

Maybe we need some replies on current scholarly thinking. (Judging from some replies here, many of us are still using the myths current 100 years ago.) Is it true (as I have heard) that most, if not ...
8
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1answer
992 views

Is there a 'lost calculus'?

Are there any 'lost' theorems of calculus that could be used to 'simplify' it? For example, are there ways to calculate derivatives without using limits, maybe by some forgotten methods in calculus?
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3answers
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Why is “Cardano's Formula” (wrongly) attributed to him?

Apparently, Cardano had learned a formula for solving cubic equations from Tartaglia, who had sworn him to secrecy, and in any event, not to publish it without giving Tartaglia due credit. Cardano ...
28
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2answers
1k views

When and how was the geometric understanding of gauge theories developed?

In theoretical physics, the modern perspective on gauge theory is that it is most elegantly described in the 'language' of differential geometry. I am interested in the history behind these ideas. ...
21
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2answers
2k views

Historically, how did people define multiplication for negative numbers?

Which were the first mathematical developments to state that the product of two negative numbers is a positive number, and what was their justification for this choice? I am not interested in a modern ...
16
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2answers
958 views

Was 18th century algebra more symbolic/formal than the modern conception?

I've found Lagrange's Sur la résolution des équations algébriques to be a very confusing and difficult read, and I think I'm starting to see why: it seems that Lagrange thinks of algebra in a much ...
20
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3answers
1k views

What was the motivation for the development of modern, intrinsic, differential geometry?

I know that tensor calculus was developed around the same time as general relativity. Tensor calculus was the prime way to deal with geometric objects, based on expliciting all coordinates and doing ...
4
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4answers
1k views

How were irrational numbers accepted by mathematicians?

What was behind accepting the existence of irrational numbers historically? Especially numbers that are not constructible on the real number line, say for example $\sqrt[3]{2}$. Was it a (somewhat) ...
7
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1answer
265 views

Viète's Relevance and his Connection to Euler

Viète's equations are used in some proofs of the Basel problem, which was allegedly solved by Euler. Viète's equations include the following: given a polynomial, $$a_0 + a_1x+a_2x^2 + ... + a_nx^n$$ ...
34
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4answers
4k views

Whose shoulders did Newton stand on?

In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Newton wrote: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Do we know which giants Newton was referring to? And was he referring to a ...
10
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2answers
1k views

Was Euler's theorem in differential geometry motivated by matrices and eigenvalues?

I am teaching a class on elementary differential geometry and I would like to know, for myself and for my students, something more about the history of Euler Theorem and Euler equation: the curvature ...
7
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1answer
396 views

When do we see for the first time the use of the Cartesian coordinates?

I want to see an exact image of the first use of the Cartesian plane. I guess it came the first time with Descartes.
11
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1answer
2k views

The origin of quadratic equation in actual practice

I read that in ancient times the quadratic equation of this kind $$x^2+10x=39$$ had been solved long ago. I read that this kind of equation originated in the geometric question of "Given an area of 39,...
17
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1answer
5k views

What was the historical context of the development of Taylor series?

I knew about linear approximations, quadratic approximations and the use of Taylor polynomials to approximate a function. Furthermore, I was aware of other applications of Taylor polynomials and the ...
31
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4answers
2k views

Current ways of thinking in the History of Mathematics

As a research mathematician, working in number theory, who is interested in the history of his own field, I have done some reading in the History of Mathematics, particularly that of Ancient Greek and ...
47
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3answers
3k views

Which came first, the natural logarithm or the base of the natural logarithm?

The natural logarithm function ($\ln x$) and the base of the natural logarithm function ($e$) are both extremely useful. They're also both closely related: $\ln (e^x)=x$, and $e^{\ln x}=x$. But which ...
25
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2answers
748 views

Did Galileo's writings on infinity influence Cantor?

To what extent was Cantor motivated by Galileo's paradox? More generally, to what extent were late 19th century mathematicians motivated by, or even aware of, Galileo's paradox? This is an issue I've ...
22
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2answers
936 views

When did it become understood that irrational numbers have non-repeating decimal representations?

I know that the notion of irrational number (in one form or another) goes back to the Pythagoreans, and therefore far predates the decimal system, and certainly the representation of non-integer ...
22
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3answers
4k views

When was zero actually introduced in mathematics?

Children learn counting things, naturally like, 1, 2, 3, ... and so on. Because it seems obvious to them. But, zero is something we need to teach them about. As far as my understanding goes zero was ...
17
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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 ...
3
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1answer
824 views

How was geometry historically used to solve polynomial equations?

I'm researching historical use of geometry to find solutions to polynomial equations. I'd like to ask for those familiar with this topic, could you describe the use of geometry by early mathematicians ...
4
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2answers
510 views

Cartesian coordinate system in Newton's work

In the english translation of Newton's work "Enumeratio linearum tertii ordinis" by C.R.M. Talbot, we can see in a figure the depiction of a Cartesian coordinate system pretty much as we know it today:...
8
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5answers
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Has a digit ever been used to represent the number “10”?

Ten is special to humans, as there are 10 fingers on two hands, and fingers are still the basic counting medium for people. So, was there any digit representing the number "10" in a positional system ...
16
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2answers
5k views

What is the etymology behind sine, cosine, tangent, etc.?

I heard somewhere that it was actually a mistake in translation. What's the correct story?
26
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3answers
4k views

How did Napier come to invent logarithms?

What was Napier's original logic, leading to his invention of logarithms? In other words, how did Napier, using the mathematics that was available at that time, derive them?
30
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3answers
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Why did the ancient Greeks originally become interested in conic sections?

How much is known, or can be conjectured, about why the Greeks originally became interested in the somewhat arbitrary construction of intersecting a plane with a cone? The folklore that I've heard is ...
22
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1answer
800 views

Why were geometers dissatisfied with the parallel postulate?

Euclid himself already treats it with gloves, it has an unusually precise formulation, and is not used in the first 28 propositions of the Elements. Why? Did he doubt it? It's not like Euclid was a ...
11
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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 ...
16
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2answers
9k views

Origin of 360 degrees?

This is by far one of the most challenging and popular HSM questions on the Net. Proofs are, countless discussions about it in math forums. The answers only led to two theories, which Wikipedia does a ...
13
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1answer
11k 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?...
10
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1answer
3k views

Who discovered the power rule for derivatives?

Who discovered the general rule for differentiating polynomials, in particular that the derivative of $x^n$ is $n x^{n-1}$, and when? I appreciate the answer may not be a clear-cut individual and year,...
23
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4answers
3k views

Irrationality of the square root of 2

We know that Pythagoreans in Ancient Greece discovered that the square root of two is an irrational number. Why was that discovery historically significant? What value was that knowledge to the ...
9
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2answers
759 views

When did people start viewing a matrix as a linear transformation between two vector spaces?

The notion of a matrix appeared far ahead of that of a vector space. So when did people start considering a matrix as a linear transformation between two vector spaces?
7
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1answer
968 views

Was there a very early culture that's number system was 12-based, like ours is 10-based?

There are several uses of 12 in some old systems of measurement. Some of them make sense given current context (There are 12 lunar cycles per year), however some of them seem to be arbitrarily chosen. ...
5
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3answers
398 views

When were the concepts of pure and applied Mathematics introduced?

I know that there are no standard definitions for pure and applied mathematics however I would like to know who first considered them as two separate entities, I have seen people mention it was around ...
36
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5answers
10k views

What is the difference between Calculus of Newton and that of Leibniz?

Are there any differences between the study of Calculus done by Newton as compared to that done by Leibniz? If yes, please mention point by point.
40
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3answers
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What led to the fall of Göttingen?

Göttingen was the place in which many important mathematicians such as Riemann worked. It was also one of the main locations for the development of quantum theory in the twenties (e.g. Heisenberg, ...
34
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1answer
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What was Euler's motivation for introducing $i$ for $\sqrt{-1}$?

[Mauro Allegranza has answered the question of who introduced the notation $i$ (Euler, followed later by Gauss), so I have changed the title. I have also edited the question in other ways to make it ...
30
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5answers
8k 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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2answers
3k views

Who discovered the covering homomorphism between SU(2) and SO(3)?

Who discovered this? It is quite nontrivial and very important in quantum mechanics.
19
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5answers
732 views

Who invented the Leibnitz notation $\frac{d^2y}{dx^2}$ for the *second* derivative?

This MSE question made me wonder where the Leibnitz notation $\frac{d^2y}{dx^2}$ for the second derivative comes from. It does not arise immediately as the obvious generalization of $\frac{dy}{dx}$. ...
17
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3answers
911 views

Why did mathematicians not see that $f_n(x)=x^n$ is a counterexample to Cauchy's “theorem” about limits of continuous functions?

In 1821 Cauchy claimed that the limit of a sequence of continuous functions is continuous. In 1826 Abel gave a complicated trigonometric counterexample. When we teach analysis courses, we usually give ...
5
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4answers
2k views

Electromagnetics and vector calculus

A friend of mine claims that vector calculus was invented to do electrodynamics. I'm dubious. I know that Maxwell first wrote down the so-called Maxwell's equations in scalar form and only later ...
9
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2answers
6k views

Did the ancient Greeks have zero in their number system?

I was taught that the Arabs introduced zero in their Arabic numerals and it was depicted as a decimal point. They got their number system from India in turn in Sanskrit where the zero digit was also ...
9
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1answer
124 views

When was the earliest use of log-log plots to demonstrate power-law behavior?

After reading this answer and writing this comment, I decided to ask this question: When and where was the earliest known use of a log-log plot to demonstrate power-law behavior?
23
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4answers
8k views

Ancient Chinese numbering system

It has been said that the invention of zero was a great leap forward, not only in abstract understanding, but in the ability to introduce place value notation and do computations; computing using ...
15
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1answer
472 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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5answers
488 views

Which school of philosophy motivated thinking about spaces of higher dimension?

I'm trying to make a link between important mathematical breakthroughs in history and the important philosophical schools at the time. I realize that this topic is awfully broad and could be the ...
12
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1answer
339 views

How certain is it that Lucas invented the Towers of Hanoi puzzle?

Wikipedia is unequivocal: The puzzle was invented by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas in 1883. I have no reason to doubt this, but given the many legends surrounding the topic, I wonder if ...
9
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2answers
3k 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 ...