**Breaking Complex Objects into Simple Pieces**

“In a memorable session of the French Academy on the

21st of December 1807, the mathematician and engineer

Joseph Fourier announced a thesis which inaugurated a

new chapter in the history of mathematics. The claim of

Fourier appeared to the older members of the Academy,

including the great analyst Lagrange, entirely incredible.”

** Introduction **

The above words open the *Discourse on Fourier Series*, written by Cornelius Lanczos. What greatly surprised and shocked Lagrange and the other academicians was the claim of Fourier that an arbitrary function, defined by an arbitrarily capricious graph, can always be resolved into a sum of pure sine and cosine functions. There was good reason to question Fourier’s theorem. Since sine functions are continuous and infinitely differentiable, it was assumed that any superposition of such functions would have the same properties. How could this assumption be reconciled with Fourier’s claim?