Noncommutative Analysis

Category: Thoughts on mathematics

Where have all the functional equations gone (part II)

I’ll start off exactly where I stopped in the previous post: I will tell you my solution to the problem my PDEs lecturer (and later master’s thesis advisor) Paneah gave us:

Problem: Find all continuously differentiable solutions to the following functional equation:

(FE) f(t) = f\left(\frac{t+1}{2} \right) + f \left(\frac{t-1}{2} \right) \,\, , \,\, t \in [-1,1] .

Before writing a solution, let me say that I think it is a fun exercise for undergraduate students, and only calculus is required for solving it, so if you want to try it now is your chance.

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Where have all the functional equations gone (part I)

My first encounter with research mathematics was in the last term of my undergraduate studies (spring 2003). My professor in the course “Introduction to Partial Differential Equations”, Prof. Boris Paneah, thought that it is pointless to give standard homework problems to students of pure mathematics, and instead he gave us several problems which were either extremely challenging, related to his research or related to advanced courses that he was going to give. This was a thrilling experience for me, and is one of the reasons why I decided not long after to do my master’s thesis under his supervision, since no other faculty member came even close to engaging us like Paneah (another reason was that the lectures themselves were fantastic). For example he suggested that we explore the ultrahyperbolic equation

u_{tt} + u_{ss} - u_{xx} - u_{yy} = 0 ,    in     \mathbb{R}^4,

or that we try to prove the existence of solutions to the two dimensional heat equation in a non-rectangular bounded region of the plane. I remember spending hours on the heat equation, unsuccessfully of course (if I was successful I would have probably become a PDE person). Especially memorable is the one time that he ended a lecture with the following three problems, which were, as you may guess, quite unrelated to the content of the lecture: Read the rest of this entry »

Mathematics on mathematics


This post is the outline of a talk (or perhaps the talk is an outline of this post) that I will give on February 28 on our “open day” to prospective students in our department. This is supposed to be a story, it is intended to give a flavor, and neither the history nor the math are 100% precise, because it is a 15 minute talk! The big challenge is to take some rough ideas from this post, throw away the rest, and make that into an interesting quarter of an hour lecture. Comments are very welcome.

1. Introduction

What is mathematics? I am not going to answer that. You have all met mathematics in your life, in school, but also in other places as well, because math is everywhere. So you have some kind of idea what mathematics is about. However, I suspect that the most profound aspects of math have been hidden from you. I am here today to try to give you a taste of this mathematics which you have not yet seen. It is only fair to let you know that — for better and for worse — the mathematician’s mathematics, the mathematics that you will study if you do an undergraduate degree in math, is of a dramatically different nature from the math you learn in high-school or the math-is-everywhere kind of math which you meet in various popular accounts.

You have met various different kinds of mathematics: combinatorics, geometry, algebra, integral and differential calculus (aka HEDVA — which literally means “joy” in Hebrew). It seems as if mathematics splits into various branches, where in each branch there are different tasks that one should do. The objects of study of geometry are triangles, circles, trapezoids, etc; one has to prove that a certain triangle has this or that property, or one has to compute some angle or length or area. The objects of study in algebra are certain symbolic expressions or equations; one has to find the root of an equation, or to simplify an expression. In HEDVA the objects of study are functions; one has to compute the minimum of a function, or its anti-derivative, and so on.

The theme of this talk is that the objects of study in mathematics do not have to be only triangles or functions or equations, but they can also be geometry or analysis or algebra. Mathematics can also be used to study mathematics itself. This is profound. But perhaps more surprisingly, this has practical consequences.

Of course, I have no time to tell you precisely how this works. For this, I recommend that you come here and study mathematics. Read the rest of this entry »

Functional analysis – a preface to the introduction

I am planning to write a post that will be an introduction to the course “Advanced Analysis”, which I shall be teaching in the fall term. The introduction is to comprise two main themes: motivation and history. I was a little surprised to find out – as I was preparing the introduction – that, looking from the eyes of a student, the history of subject provided little motivation. I also began to oscillate between two opposite (and equally silly) viewpoints. The first viewpoint is that functional analysis is a big and respectable field of mathematics, which needs no introduction; let us start with the subject matter immediately since there is so much to learn. The second viewpoint is that there is absolutely no point in studying (or teaching) a mathematical theory without understanding its context and roots, or without knowing how it applies to problems outside of the theory’s borders. Pondering these, I found that I had some things to say before the introduction, which may justify the introduction or give it the place I intend.

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