Questions tagged [math-history]

Use this tag for questions concerning history of mathematics, historical primacies of results, and evolution of terminology, symbols, and notations. Consider if History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange is a better place to ask your question.

The tag is intended to be used for questions concerning the history of mathematics, historical primacies of results, and evolution of specific terminologies, symbols and notations. Please keep in mind that, for pure historical purposes, it may well be a better to ask your question on the dedicated History of Science and Mathematics site instead.

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

In Thomas's Calculus (11th edition), it is mentioned (Section 3.8 pg 225) that the derivative $dy/dx$ is not a ratio. Couldn't it be interpreted as a ratio, because according to the formula $dy = f'(x) \, dx$ we are able to plug in values for $dx$…
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In the history of mathematics, has there ever been a mistake?

I was just wondering whether or not there have been mistakes in mathematics. Not a conjecture that ended up being false, but a theorem which had a proof that was accepted for a nontrivial amount of time before someone found a hole in the argument.…
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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 when I try to follow mathematical notation. Specifically, I get frustrated trying to keep track…
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A 1,400 years old approximation to the sine function by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I

The approximation $$\sin(x) \simeq \frac{16 (\pi -x) x}{5 \pi ^2-4 (\pi -x) x}\qquad (0\leq x\leq\pi)$$ was proposed by Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I, a seventh-century Indian mathematician. I wondered how much this could be improved using our…
Claude Leibovici
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What are some examples of when Mathematics 'accidentally' discovered something about the world?

I do not remember precisely what the equations or who the relevant mathematicians and physicists were, but I recall being told the following story. I apologise in advance if I have misunderstood anything, or just have it plain wrong. The story is as…
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Why are rings called rings?

I've done some search in Internet and other sources about this question. Why the name ring to this particular object? Just curiosity. Thanks.
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What were some major mathematical breakthroughs in 2016?

As the year is slowly coming to an end, I was wondering which great advances have there been in mathematics in the past 12 months. As researchers usually work in only a limited number of fields in mathematics, one often does not hear a lot of news…
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Mathematical ideas that took long to define rigorously

It often happens in mathematics that the answer to a problem is "known" long before anybody knows how to prove it. (Some examples of contemporary interest are among the Millennium Prize problems: E.g. Yang-Mills existence is widely believed to be…
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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 phrase "it is easy to see/prove/verify/..." in the…
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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 a proof of $P=NP$, he is not allowed by the…
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Can you provide me historical examples of pure mathematics becoming "useful"?

I am trying to think/know about something, but I don't know if my base premise is plausible. Here we go. Sometimes when I'm talking with people about pure mathematics, they usually dismiss it because it has no practical utility, but I guess that…
Red Banana
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Has lack of mathematical rigour killed anybody before?

One of my friends was asking me about tertiary level mathematics as opposed to high school mathematics, and naturally the topic of rigour came up. To provide him with a brief glimpse as to the difference, I said the following. In high school, you…
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Why do both sine and cosine exist?

Cosine is just a change in the argument of sine, and vice versa. $$\sin(x+\pi/2)=\cos(x)$$ $$\cos(x-\pi/2)=\sin(x)$$ So why do we have both of them? Do they both exist simply for convenience in defining the other trig functions?
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Why does mathematical convention deal so ineptly with multisets?

Many statements of mathematics are phrased most naturally in terms of multisets. For example: Every positive integer can be uniquely expressed as the product of a multiset of primes. But this theorem is usually phrased more clumsily, without…
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Examples of mathematical results discovered "late"

What are examples of mathematical results that were discovered surprisingly late in history? Maybe the result is a straightforward corollary of an established theorem, or maybe it's just so simple that it's surprising no one thought of it…
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