Resurrecting Mathematical Mysteries: Mathematicians Tackle Hilbert’s 13th Problem

Mathematical Mysteries:  A long-time thought to be solved, David Hilbert’s inquiry into seventh-degree polynomials has led researchers to a new network of connections between mathematicians.

Exploring the Revival and Contemporary Exploration of Hilbert’s Enigmatic Conundrum” The odds of success are slim in math. Ask Benson Farb.

“The tough part about math is that you fail 90 percent of the time, and you must be someone who is able to fail 90 percent of the time,” Farb once said at an evening gathering. Another guest, who was also a mathematician and expressed his delight that he was successful only 10% of the times and he reacted by saying, “No, no, not really, I was not exaggerating the success rates of my students. Greatly.”

Farb, an expert in topology who works at The topologist at the University of Chicago, couldn’t be happier with his latest failure – although it’s fair to say that the problem isn’t just his own. The issue is that is solved as well as unsolved as well as open and closed.

The issue was one of 23 math puzzles that were unsolved in the mathematical field that German mathematician David Hilbert, at the mid-20th century predicted could determine the future of mathematics. The issue is regarding solving polynomial equations of seventh degree. 

The word “polynomial” is a term used to describe the string of mathematical concepts made up of numerical coefficients and variables pushed to powers through subtraction and addition. “Seventh-degree” signifies that the biggest exponent of this string is 7.

Also Read:  Engage, Educate, Excel: Unlocking The Power of Math Riddles in Education

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A long-standing problem dubbed Hilbert’s 13th question was believed to be as so crucial that it would change the mathematical field. Although it’s been thought to be solved, a new study exposes the ways it’s meeting the expectations of its creators.





Mathematicians have already developed slick and effective formulas to solve problems of the second, third and, to a lesser extent, fourth degree. These formulas -like the well-known quadratic formula that is used for the degree of 2 require algebraic operations, which means only radicals and arithmetic (square roots for instance). 

The higher the exponent, more difficult the problem becomes difficult to solve, and it is a near impossible. Hilbert’s 13th puzzle asks if seventh-degree equations can be solved with an arrangement of addition multiplication, subtraction and division, as well as algebraic functions for two variables, called tops.

There is no answer. To Farb it is not only about solving an algebraic equation. Hilbert’s 13th is considered to be one of the fundamental and open issues in math, he stated due to its deep questions about how complex are polynomials and how can we determine that? 

“A vast swath of modern mathematics was created in order to discover the origins of polynomials” Farb said.

The issue is bringing him along with mathematics professor Jesse Wolfson at the University of California, Irvine into a maths-related rabbit hole that they’re still navigating. They’ve also recruited Mark Kisin, an expert in number theory who is a number theorist at Harvard University and an old acquaintance of Farb’s, to aid in the excavation.

The team isn’t yet able to solve Hilbert’s 13th puzzle and aren’t even close to solving it, Farb acknowledged. They have discovered mathematical strategies that have practically gone under the radar, and have investigated connections between the problem and several other disciplines, such as complex analysis topologynumber theoryrepresentation theory and algebraic geometry

Through this, they’ve created new avenues for research of their own particularly in linking polynomials with geometry and narrowing the possibilities of finding answers to Hilbert’s query. 

Their research also suggests a way of classifying polynomials by the metrics of complexity — similar to the class of complexity that is that are associated with solving the non-solved P. the NP problem.

“They’ve succeeded in extracting from the query a more intriguing version” than the ones that have been studied previously in the past, according to Daniel Litt who is a mathematician from the University of Georgia. “They’re creating a mathematical community aware of numerous fascinating and relevant questions.”

Also Read: Unlocking Wonderland’s Mathematical Secrets: A Beginner’s Guide To Alice in Wonderland

Shut and open and Shut

Numerous mathematicians believed that they had solved the issue. It’s because the Soviet prodigy called Vladimir Arnold and his mentor, Andrey Nikolyevich Kolmogorov, presented proofs of the problem in the latter half of 1950s. 

For the majority of mathematicians, this Arnold-Kolmogorov paper was the last to be published in the book. Even Wikipedia is not an authoritative source, but an acceptable source of public informationhas declared the matter closed.

Five years ago, Farb was able to find some enticing phrases in an essay written by Arnold in which the mathematician of legend reflected on his career and work. Farb was astonished to learn that Arnold stated Hilbert’s 13th issue as open and spent the last four decades trying to solve the issue was supposed to have been solved.

“There are numerous papers that just claim that the problem was solved. They had no idea of the issue at hand,” Farb said. He was working with Wolfson as postdoctoral researcher working on a topology research project and when he revealed what he had learned from Arnold’s paper Wolfson was quick to join into. In 2017, at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Farb’s anniversary, Kisin attended Wolfson’s talk and realized that their polynomial ideas were in line with his own research in the field of number theory. Kisin joined the collaboration.

The cause of confusion over the issue quickly became apparent: Kolmogorov and Arnold had come up with a different solution to the problem. Their solution relied on continuous functions, which mathematicians refer to as that are those with no abrupt discontinuities, also known as cusps. They cover common operations like sine cosine, cosine and exponential in addition to more complicated functions.

However, researchers are divided on the degree to which Hilbert took an interest in this method. “Many mathematicians think that Hilbert actually meant mathematical functions and not constant ones,” said Zinovy Reichstein who is a mathematician at the University of British Columbia. Farb as well as Wolfson work on this question they consider Hilbert meant to solve since they discovered it.

Hilbert’s 13, Farb said, is an kaleidoscope. “You can open this thing and the more effort you add to the puzzle, you’ll discover more fresh concepts and directions you’ll discover,” he said. “It can open the doors to a vast range, this entire amazing web of mathematics.”

Also Read: Unveiling Newton’s Binomial Power Series Discovery: A Journey into Mathematical Genius

It is the Roots of the Matter

Mathematicians have been tackling polynomials since the beginning of time that math has existed. Stone tablets that were carved over 3000 years ago prove that Babylonian mathematicians utilized formulas for solving polynomials of second degree which was a cuneiform predecessor of the quadratic formula students of algebra learn in the present. 

This formula, x=b+-b2-4ac2a will help you find those roots or values of the number x which make the expression zero in the polynomial of second degree, ax2+bx+c.

In the course of time, mathematicians have naturally wondered if clean formulas were available for higher-degree polynomials. “The multi-millennium history of this subject is to return to something that is simple and powerful and efficient,” said Wolfson.

The more complex polynomials increase in magnitude the more difficult they become. In his book of 1545 Ars Magna Ars Magna, the Italian scientist Gerolamo Cardano wrote formulas to determine the root for cubic (third-degree) and quadric (fourth-degree) polynomials.

The origins of the cubic polynomial written ax3+bx2+cx+d can be determined by using this formula:

The quartic formula is more awry.

“As they increase in the scale of degree, they climb higher in complexity. They make a tower of complexities,” said Curt McMullen of Harvard. “How do we get this tower of complexity?”

It is believed that the Italian mathematician Paolo Ruffini argued in 1799 that polynomials with a degree 5 or more could not be solved with radicals and arithmetic; the Norwegian Niels Henrik Abel proved this in 1824. 

Also there is no equivalent “quintic formula.” However, other concepts emerged that suggested methods forward for higher-degree polynomials that could be streamlined by substitution. For example, in 1786, a Swedish lawyer named Erland Bring showed that any quintic polynomial equation of the form ax5+bx4+cx3+dx2+ex+f=0 could be retooled as px5+qx+1=0 (where p and q are complex numbers determined by a, b, c, d, e and f). This revealed innovative ways to approach the basic laws of polynomials.

The 19th century saw William Rowan Hamilton picked the place the place where Bring and others dropped off. Hamilton demonstrated that, among other things, that in order to determine the root of any polynomial with a sixth degree there is only the standard arithmetic operations as well as some square and cube roots as well as an algebraic formula based on two variables.

In 1975 in the year 1975, the American mathematician Richard Brauer at Harvard introduced the concept of “resolvent degree” that is the smallest number of terms required to define the polynomial for a certain degree. (Less than an year after, Arnold and Japanese number theorist Goro Shimura came up with the same concept in a separate article.)

In Brauer’s framework, his first effort to define the norms for substitutions in this kind of way Hilbert’s 13th question asks if it’s feasible for seventh-degree polynomials with resolvent degrees of less than 3. Later Hilbert came up with similar theories regarding sixthand eighth-degree polynomials.

However, these questions also trigger an even bigger question that asks: What is the smallest number of parameters that you require to discover the roots of a polynomial? What is the lowest you can go?

Also Read: Cracking Digits of Pi: The Recipe For Surpassing Records in Calculating its Digits

Visual Thinking

An easy way to think about this problem is to look at the way that polynomials appear. Polynomials can be expressed as a function, such as f(x)=x2-3x+1 for instance — and the function is graphable. Finding the roots is the matter of recognizing when the function is valued zero, the curve crosses an the x-axis.

Higher-degree polynomials produce more complex figures. Third-degree polynomial equations that have three variables, as an example result in smooth but twisty surfaces with three dimensions. Also, by knowing the best places to examine these graphs, mathematicians are able to understand their polynomial structure.

We’ve not been able to solve this issue which means that there’s a unexplored area that we haven’t yet pushed into.

Also Read: Unlocking Unity: The Power of Infinite Series in Mathematics

Curt McMullen, Harvard University

In the end, numerous attempts to comprehend polynomials draw inspiration from topology and algebraic geometry, areas of mathematics that concentrate on what happens when shapes or figures are projecting, deformed, squashed or stretched without breaking. 

“Henri Poincare was the one who created the concept of topology and he even stated that the research was done to better understand the algebraic function,” stated Farb. “At this time the world was struggling with these basic connections.”

Hilbert himself discovered a extraordinary connection through the application of geometry to the issue. When he first outlined his issues in 1900, mathematicians had a myriad of methods to reduce polynomials but they were unable to make any progress. However, in 1927 Hilbert introduced a new method. He began by listing the various ways to simplify ninth-degree polynomials and discovered within them a collection of unique cubic surfaces.

Hilbert knew that each perfectly smooth surface — or a twisted shape that is defined by third-degree polynomials includes exactly 27 straight lines regardless of how tangled it may appear. 

(Those lines move when the coefficients of polynomials shift.) He discovered that if he could identify the lines on each it would be possible to make the polynomial of ninth degree simpler and locate its roots. The formula needed only four parameters. In contemporary terms, this means that the resolvent degree can be as high as 4.

“Hilbert’s incredible idea was that this amazing feat of geometry -from an entirely different universecan be utilized to reduce the resolution degree to four” Farb said.

In the direction of an Internet of Connections

When Kisin aids Farb and Wolfson to connect the dots, they realized that the common belief that Hilbert’s 13th could be solved had effectively shut off interest in a mathematical method of resolving degree. In January of 2020, Wolfson published a paper that resurrected the concept by expanding Hilbert’s geometric research on ninth-degree polynomials into an even more general theory.

Hilbert was a fan of cubic surfaces in order to solve ninth-degree polynomials with one variable. But what do you think of higher-degree polynomials? In similar fashion,

Wolfson thought, you could substitute that cubic surface with a higher-dimensional “hypersurface” created by these higher-degree polynomials across a wide range of variables. Their geometry hypersurfaces is less well-known, however in the last decade, mathematicians have been able show that hypersurfaces are always composed of lines in some instances.

Each cubic smooth surface, no matter how curly or furled, has 27 lines straight. Hilbert utilized this knowledge of geometry to formulate a formula to determine the root of a ninth-degree polynomial. Jesse Wolfson has taken this concept to the next level, using line lines that are on more dimensional “hypersurfaces” to develop formulas for more complex polynomials.

Greg Egan

Hilbert’s concept of using the concept of a line on a cube hypersurface to resolve a polynomial of ninth degree may extend to lines that are on these hypersurfaces with higher dimensions. 

Wolfson employed this technique to discover new, more simple formulas for polynomials of certain degrees. This means that even if you don’t know how to visualize it, you could find a solution to a polynomial with a degree of 100 “simply” by locating the plane of an equilateral cubic hypersurface (47 dimensions in this instance).

This new method Wolfson confirmed Hilbert’s notion of the resolvent degrees for ninth-degree polynomials. For other degrees of polynomials –particularly those that are higher than degree 9. The method helps narrow down the options for resolution degrees.

Therefore, this isn’t an attack directly on Hilbert’s 13th instead, it’s a look at polynomials generally. “They sort of discovered some related questions and worked in those areas many of which have been in existence for years with the hope they can help clarify the question that was originally asked,” McMullen said. The research they conducted provides innovative ways to think about mathematical constructs.

The broad theory on resolvent degrees is also a proof that Hilbert’s theories regarding sixth-degree, seventh-degree and eighth-degree equations can be compared to the problems of other fields that appear to be unrelated of mathematics. 

The concept of resolvent degree Farb stated, is an opportunity to classify these issues according to a type of algebraic complexity, much as grouping optimization issues into complex classes.

The theory started with Hilbert’s 13th mathematicians doubt that it will actually resolve the unanswered question of seventh-degree polynomials. It talks about vast mathematical landscapes that are unexplored that span inconceivable dimensions however, it is hit by the wall with lower numbers, and isn’t able to determine their resolution degrees.

For McMullen his part, the absence of progress — despite these indications of progress an interesting thing, since it suggests that the issue is a mystery that mathematicians of today is unable to understand. “We aren’t able to solve this problem at all and that’s why there’s a unexplored area that we haven’t ventured to,” he said.

“Solving this problem would require totally new thinking,” said Reichstein, who has come up with his own unique ideas on simplifying polynomials based on the concept of essential dimension. “There there isn’t any way of knowing exactly where they’ll originate.”

The trio isn’t deterred. “I’m not giving to this issue,” Farb said. “It’s certainly become”the big white whale. The thing that keeps me going is the web of connections and the maths behind it.”


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