Portal:Mathematics

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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity. The research required to solve mathematical problems can take years or even centuries of sustained inquiry. However, mathematical proofs are less formal and painstaking than proofs in mathematical logic. Since the pioneering work of Giuseppe Peano (1858–1932), David Hilbert (1862–1943), and others on axiomatic systems in the late 19th century, it has become customary to view mathematical research as establishing truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions. When those mathematical structures are good models of real phenomena, then mathematical reasoning often provides insight or predictions.

Through the use of abstraction and logical reasoning, mathematics developed from counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects. Practical mathematics has been a human activity for as far back as written records exist. Rigorous arguments first appeared in Greek mathematics, most notably in Euclid's Elements. Mathematics developed at a relatively slow pace until the Renaissance, when mathematical innovations interacting with new scientific discoveries led to a rapid increase in the rate of mathematical discovery that continues to the present day.

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) said, "The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth". Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) referred to mathematics as "the queen of sciences". The mathematician Benjamin Peirce (1809–1880) called the discipline, "the science that draws necessary conclusions". David Hilbert said of it: "We are not speaking here of arbitrariness in any sense. Mathematics is not like a game whose tasks are determined by arbitrarily stipulated rules. Rather, it is a conceptual system possessing internal necessity that can only be so and by no means otherwise." Albert Einstein (1879–1955) stated that "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality".

Mathematics is used throughout the world as an essential tool in many fields, including natural science, engineering, medicine, and the social sciences. Applied mathematics, the branch of mathematics concerned with application of mathematical knowledge to other fields, inspires and makes use of new mathematical discoveries and sometimes leads to the development of entirely new mathematical disciplines, such as statistics and game theory. Mathematicians also engage in pure mathematics, or mathematics for its own sake, without having any application in mind. There is no clear line separating pure and applied mathematics, and practical applications for what began as pure mathematics are often discovered.

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Leonhard Euler
Image credit: Emanuel Handmann

Leonhard Euler (pronounced oiler; IPA /ˈɔɪlər/) (April 15, 1707 Basel, Switzerland - September 18, 1783 St Petersburg, Russia) was a Swiss mathematician and physicist. He is considered to be the dominant mathematician of the 18th century and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time; he is certainly among the most prolific, with collected works filling over 70 volumes.

Euler developed many important concepts and proved numerous lasting theorems in diverse areas of mathematics, from calculus to number theory to topology. In the course of this work, he introduced many of modern mathematical terminologies, defining the concept of a function, and its notation, such as sin, cos, and tan for the trigonometric functions.

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ASCII-art depiction of the Mandelbrot set
Credit: Elphaba

Modern reproduction of the first published image of the Mandelbrot set, which appeared in 1978 in a technical paper on Kleinian groups by Robert W. Brooks and Peter Matelski. The Mandelbrot set consists of the points c in the complex plane that generate a bounded sequence of values when the recursive relation z_{n+1}=z_n^2+c is repeatedly applied starting with z_0=0. The boundary of the set is a highly complicated fractal, revealing ever finer detail at increasing magnifications. The boundary also incorporates smaller near-copies of the overall shape, a phenomenon known as quasi-self-similarity. The ASCII-art depiction seen in this image only hints at the complexity of the boundary of the set. Advances in computing power and computer graphics in the 1980s resulted in the publication of high-resolution color images of the set (in which the colors of points outside the set reflect how quickly the corresponding sequences of complex numbers diverge), and made the Mandelbrot set widely known by the general public. Named by mathematicians Adrien Douady and John H. Hubbard in honor of Benoit Mandelbrot, one of the first mathematicians to study the set in detail, the Mandelbrot set is closely related to the Julia set, which was studied by Gaston Julia beginning in the 1910s.

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