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Mathematics is commonly defined as the study of patterns of structure, change, and space; more informally, one might say it is the study of 'figures and numbers'. In the formalist view, it is the investigation of axiomatically defined abstract structures using logic and mathematical notation; other views are described in Philosophy of mathematics. Mathematics might be seen as a simple extension of spoken and written languages, with an extremely precisely defined vocabulary and grammar, for the purpose of describing and exploring physical and conceptual relationships.

Although mathematics itself is not usually considered a natural science, the specific structures that are investigated by mathematicians often have their origin in the natural sciences, most commonly in physics. However, mathematicians also define and investigate structures for reasons purely internal to mathematics, because the structures may provide, for instance, a unifying generalization for several subfields, or a helpful tool for common calculations. Finally, many mathematicians study the areas they do for purely aesthetic reasons, viewing mathematics as an art form rather than as a practical or applied science. Some mathematicians like to refer to their subject as "the Queen of Sciences".

Mathematics is often abbreviated to math (in American English) or maths (in British English).

Table of contents
1 Overview and history of mathematics
2 Topics in mathematics
3 Mathematical tools
5 Mathematics is not...
6 Mathematical abilities and gender issues
7 Bibliography
8 External links

Overview and history of mathematics

See the article on the history of mathematics for details.

The word "mathematics" comes from the Greek μάθημα (máthema) which means "science, knowledge, or learning"; μαθηματικός (mathematikós) means "fond of learning".

The major disciplines within mathematics arose out of the need to do calculations in commerce, to measure land and to predict astronomical events. These three needs can be roughly related to the broad subdivision of mathematics into the study of structure, space and change.

The study of structure starts with numbers, first the familiar natural numbers and integers and their arithmetical operations, which are recorded in elementary algebra. The deeper properties of whole numbers are studied in number theory. The investigation of methods to solve equations leads to the field of abstract algebra, which, among other things, studies rings and fieldss, structures that generalize the properties possessed by the familiar numbers. The physically important concept of vectorss, generalized to vector spaces and studied in linear algebra, belongs to the two branches of structure and space.

The study of space originates with geometry, first the Euclidean geometry and trigonometry of familiar three-dimensional space (also applying to both more and less dimensions), later also generalized to non-Euclidean geometries which play a central role in general relativity. Several long standing questions about ruler and compass constructions were finally settled by Galois theory. The modern fields of differential geometry and algebraic geometry generalize geometry in different directions: differential geometry emphasizes the concepts of functions, fiber bundles, derivatives, smoothness and direction, while in algebraic geometry geometrical objects are described as solution sets of polynomial equations. Group theory investigates the concept of symmetry abstractly and provides a link between the studies of space and structure. Topology connects the study of space and the study of change by focusing on the concept of continuity.

Understanding and describing change in measurable quantities is the common theme of the natural sciences, and calculus was developed as a most useful tool for doing just that. The central concept used to describe a changing variable is that of a function. Many problems lead quite naturally to relations between a quantity and its rate of change, and the methods to solve these are studied in the field of differential equations. The numbers used to represent continuous quantities are the real numbers, and the detailed study of their properties and the properties of real-valued functions is known as real analysis. For several reasons, it is convenient to generalise to the complex numbers which are studied in complex analysis. Functional analysis focuses attention on (typically infinite-dimensional) spaces of functions, laying the groundwork for quantum mechanics among many other things. Many phenomena in nature can be described by dynamical systems and chaos theory deals with the fact that many of these systems exhibit unpredictable yet deterministic behavior.

In order to clarify and investigate the foundations of mathematics, the fields of set theory, mathematical logic and model theory were developed.

When computers were first conceived, several essential theoretical concepts were shaped by mathematicians, leading to the fields of computability theory, computational complexity theory, information theory and algorithmic information theory. Many of these questions are now investigated in theoretical computer science. Discrete mathematics is the common name for those fields of mathematics useful in computer science.

An important field in applied mathematics is statistics, which uses probability theory as a tool and allows the description, analysis and prediction of phenomena and is used in all sciences. Numerical analysis investigates the methods of efficiently solving various mathematical problems numerically on computers and takes rounding errors into account.

Topics in mathematics

An alphabetical and subclassified list of mathematical topics is available. The following list of subfields and topics reflects one organizational view of mathematics.


In general, these topics and ideas present explicit measurements of sizes of numbers or sets, or ways to find such measurements.

Number -- Natural number -- Pi -- Integers -- Rational numbers -- Real numbers -- Complex numbers -- Hypercomplex numbers -- Quaternions -- Octonions -- Sedenions -- Hyperreal numbers -- Surreal numbers -- Ordinal numbers -- Cardinal numbers -- p-adic numberss -- Integer sequences -- Mathematical constants -- Number names -- Infinity -- Base


These topics give ways to measure change in mathematical functions, and changes between numbers.

Arithmetic -- Calculus -- Vector calculus -- Analysis -- Differential equations -- Dynamical systems and chaos theory -- List of functions


These branches of mathematics measure size and symmetry of numbers, and various constructs.

Abstract algebra -- Number theory -- Algebraic geometry -- Group theory -- Monoids -- Analysis -- Topology -- Linear algebra -- Graph theory -- Universal algebra -- Category theory -- Order theory


These topics tend to quantify a more visual approach to mathematics than others.

Topology -- Geometry -- Trigonometry -- Algebraic geometry -- Differential geometry -- Differential topology -- Algebraic topology -- Linear algebra -- Fractal geometry

Discrete mathematics

Topics in
discrete mathematics deal with branches of mathematics with objects that can only take on specific, separated values.

Combinatorics -- Naive set theory -- Probability -- Theory of computation -- Finite mathematics -- Cryptography -- Graph theory -- Game theory

Applied mathematics

Fields in
applied mathematics use knowledge of mathematics to real world problems.

Mechanics -- Numerical analysis -- Optimization -- Probability -- Statistics -- Financial mathematics

Famous theorems and conjectures

These theorems have interested mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike.

Fermat's last theorem -- Goldbach's conjecture -- Twin Prime Conjecture -- Gödel's incompleteness theorems; -- Poincaré conjecture; -- Cantor's diagonal argument -- -- Four color theorem -- Zorn's lemma -- Euler's identity -- Scholz Conjecture -- Church-Turing thesis

Important theorems

These are theorems that have changed the face of mathematics throughout history.

Riemann hypothesis -- Continuum hypothesis -- P=NP -- Pythagorean theorem -- Central limit theorem -- Fundamental theorem of calculus -- Fundamental theorem of algebra -- Fundamental theorem of arithmetic --Fundamental theorem of projective geometry -- classification theorems of surfaces -- Gauss-Bonnet theorem

Foundations and methods

Such topics are approaches to mathematics, and influence the way mathematicians study their subject.

Philosophy of mathematics -- Mathematical intuitionism -- Mathematical constructivism -- Foundations of mathematics -- Set theory -- Symbolic logic -- Model theory -- Category theory -- Theorem-proving -- Logic -- Reverse Mathematics -- Table of mathematical symbols

History and the world of mathematicians

History of mathematics -- Timeline of mathematics -- Mathematicians -- Fields medal -- Abel Prize -- Millennium Prize Problems (Clay Math Prize) -- International Mathematical Union -- Mathematics competitions -- Lateral thinking

Mathematics and other fields

Mathematics and architecture -- Mathematics and education -- Mathematics of musical scales

Mathematical coincidences

List of mathematical coincidences

Mathematical tools




Referring to the axiomatic method, where certain properties of an (otherwise unknown) structure are assumed and consequences thereof are then logically derived, Bertrand Russell said:

Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.

This may explain why John Von Neumann once said:
In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.

About the beauty of Mathematics, Bertrand Russell said in Study of Mathematics:
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty -- a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.

Elucidating the symmetry between the creative and logical aspects of mathematics, W.S. Anglin observed, in Mathematics and History:
Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost. Rigour should be a signal to the historian that the maps have been made, and the real explorers have gone elsewhere.

Mathematics is not...

Mathematics is not numerology. Although numerology uses modular arithmetic to boil names and dates down to single digit numbers, numerology arbitrarily assigns emotions or traits to numbers without bothering to prove the assignments in a logical manner. Mathematics is concerned with proving or disproving ideas in a logical manner, but numerology is not. The interactions between the arbitrarily assigned emotions of the numbers are intuitively estimated rather than calculated in a thoroughgoing manner.

Mathematics is not accountancy. Although arithmetic computation is crucial to the work of accountants, they are mainly concerned with proving that the computations are true and correct through a system of doublechecks. The proving or disproving of hypotheses is very important to mathematicians, but not so much to accountants. Advances in abstract mathematics are irrelevant to accountancy if the discoveries can't be applied to improving the efficiency of concrete bookkeeping.

Mathematical abilities and gender issues

Mathematical abilities are said to differ by gender. Males are supposedly more skilled in mathematical fields than females. Results of intelligence tests, such as the Differential Aptitude Test (DAT), provide evidence to this statement. 12th graders males who took the DAT scored almost nine-tenths of a standard deviation higher on mechanical reasoning than females (Lupkowski, 1992). There are many theories of what may be causing this difference between the genders on mathematical ability. Environmentalists argue that this difference is caused by gender biased education, while some other researchers argue that it is the characteristics of the genders that cause this ability gap. The reason is still not certain.


Characteristic differences are one of the theories said to be the reason for greater mathematical performances among male students. Males are said to have high self-esteem, while females are not as confident. When studying mathematics at a young age, males believe that they do well, when the truth is that their abilities do not differ much from females (Leonard, 1995). This level of confidence, motivation, and interest in the mathematical field eventually results in mathematical ability gaps (Manning, 1998).

Biased education

There are many people who believe that biased education is the reason of the mathematical ability differences. As an example of biased education, a woman who scored the same as a man on a test was given worse grades than the man. The professor who taught her believed that women did not belong in his field (Isaacson, 1990). There are also examples of biased education where although girls offer ideas as much as boys, boys are called upon more frequently. Leder (1990) comments that, “Acknowledgement, praise, encouragement, and corrective feedback are given slightly more frequently to men than to women”. Females also tend to put less effort into mathematics than linguistics because they are tied up with stereotypical statements saying that they will not succeed in the mathematics field. The stereotypical thought that men make better mathematicians, scientists, or engineers, are still engraved in women’s minds, discouraging women from studying mathematics.


National Science Foundation (1997). Gender issues in math and technology. TERC. Retrieved July 22, 2004, from http://www.terc.edu/mathequity/gender.html

Tencza (2002). Gender Differences in Mathematics Among Various Aged Students. Georgetown College. Retrieved July 22, 2004 from http://www.georgetowncollege.edu/departments/education/portfolios/Tencza/gender_differences.htm

Stanley, Benbow, Brody, Dauber, &Lupkowski (1992). Gender Differences on Eighty-Six Nationally Standardized Aptitude and Achievement Tests, Talent Development, vol.1, 42-65


External links