Portal:Mathematics
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Mathematics is the study of numbers, quantity, space, pattern, structure, and change. 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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Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria. Euclid's text Elements was the first systematic discussion of geometry. It has been one of the most influential books in history, as much for its method as for its mathematical content. The method consists of assuming a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, and then proving many other propositions (theorems) from those axioms. Although many of Euclid's results had been stated by earlier Greek mathematicians, Euclid was the first to show how these propositions could fit together into a comprehensive deductive and logical system.
The Elements begin with plane geometry, still often taught in secondary school as the first axiomatic system and the first examples of formal proof. The Elements goes on to the solid geometry of three dimensions, and Euclidean geometry was subsequently extended to any finite number of dimensions. Much of the Elements states results of what is now called number theory, proved using geometrical methods.
For over two thousand years, the adjective "Euclidean" was unnecessary because no other sort of geometry had been conceived. Euclid's axioms seemed so intuitively obvious that any theorem proved from them was deemed true in an absolute sense. Today, however, many other self-consistent geometries are known, the first ones having been discovered in the early 19th century. It also is no longer taken for granted that Euclidean geometry describes physical space. An implication of Einstein's theory of general relativity is that Euclidean geometry is only a good approximation to the properties of physical space if the gravitational field is not too strong.
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This is Francis Galton's original 1889 drawing of three versions of a "bean machine", now commonly called a "Galton box" (another name is a quincunx), a real-world device that can be used to illustrate the de Moivre–Laplace theorem of probability theory, which states that the normal distribution is a good approximation to the binomial distribution provided that the number of repeated "trials" associated with the latter distribution is sufficiently large. As the "bean" (i.e., a small ball) falls through the box (the design of which is quite similar to the popular Japanese game Pachinko), it can fall to the left or right of each pin it approaches. Since each lower pin is centered horizontally beneath a pair of higher pins (or a higher pin and the side of the box), the bean has the same probability of falling either way, and each such outcome is approximately independent of the others. Each row of pins thus corresponds to a Bernoulli trial with "success" probablility 0.5 ("success" is defined as falling a particular direction—say, to the right—each time). This makes the final position of the bean at the bottom of the box the sum of several approximately-independent Bernoulli random variables, and therefore approximately a random observation from a binomial distribution. (Note that because the bean may reach the side of the box and at that point only be able to fall in one direction, this sequence of Bernoulli random variables might be interrupted by a non-random movement back towards the center; this would not be a problem if the box were wide enough to prevent the bean from reaching the side of the box, as in the top half of Fig. 8—see also this photograph.) The box on the left, in Fig. 7, has 23 rows of pins (not counting the first row which is positioned in such a way that the bean always passes between two particular pins) and a final row of slots, so the number of trials in that case is 24. This is large enough that the resulting columns of beans collected at the bottom of the box show the classic "bell curve" shape of the normal distribution. While a level box gives a probability of 0.5 to fall either way at each pin, a tilted box results in asymmetric probabilities, and thus a skewed distribution (see this other photograph). Published in 1738 by Abraham de Moivre in the second edition of his textbook The Doctrine of Chances, the de Moivre–Laplace theorem is today recognized as a special case of the more familiar central limit theorem. Together these results underlie a great many statistical procedures widely used today in science, technology, business, and government to analyze data and make decisions.
Did you know…
- ...that the six permutations of the vector (1,2,3) form a hexagon in 3D space, the 24 permutations of (1,2,3,4) form a truncated octahedron in four dimensions, and both are examples of permutohedra?
- ...that a cyclic cellular automaton is a system of simple mathematical rules that can generate complex patterns mixing random chaos, blocks of color, and spirals?
- ...that a nonconvex polygon with three convex vertices is called a pseudotriangle?
- ...that the axiom of choice is logically independent of the other axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory?
- ...that the Pythagorean Theorem generalizes to any three similar shapes on the three sides of a right-angled triangle?
- ...that the orthocenter, circumcenter, centroid and the centre of the nine-point circle all lie on one line, the Euler line?
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