History of mathematics
- See Timeline of mathematics for a timeline of events in mathematics. See mathematician for a list of biographies of mathematicians.
- Also see The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art for information about the development of mathematics in China.
Historically, 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, firstly 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 vector, 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, but 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 coordinate system, 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.
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.