The calculus of history

By Phil Plait | September 30, 2006 1:00 pm

The wonderful, talented, and fabulous Jennifer Ouellette (with whom, though I know she reads this blog, I would never, of course, try to curry favor by calling her wonderful, talented, and fabulous — but I will admit to having an animated crush on Jen-Luc Piquant) of Cocktail Party Physics has written a fun essay on the history of calculus. Yes, I said "fun". She writes poetically about the beauty and internal wonder of epsilon, the infinitesimal jump from one point to the next in a function that makes calculus possible. If you love math, you should read her essay, and if you hate math, you should really read it, because she might change your mind.

And at the end, she posts a little math trick, which I unceremoniously dissect in the comments.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind, Science

Comments (9)

  1. helloteddy

    haha! neat trick…
    I wish she could do these for harder subjects like topology. :

  2. Nigel Depledge

    I have to say, calculus is a bit of a stumbling block for me. I learned the basics at school (how to differentiate or integrate quadratic equations), but when I found myself (having acquired a PhD) years later trying to understand the integration of the equation of a rectangular hyperbola, I did struggle.

  3. Gary Ansorge

    I had a really great teacher of differential equations back in the late ’70s, Dr. Wolfgang Rindler, at the Univ. Of Texas in Richardson. He taught the course as a cookbook approach. MAde it much easier to deal with the subject. He noted in passing he was originally majoring in math, working on his PhD, when he discovered he really didn’t have a matematical mind, ie, the ability to “intuitively” grasp math. But being good at manipiulating the symbols, he just changed his major to physics and ran with it,,,

    GAry 7

  4. It is I who should be currying favor with Phil, the bestest bad astronomer in the whole wide world. :) Seriously, I’m sure his site numbers just crush mine on a daily basis. And thanks for dissecting the math trick! It will come in very handy when my niece starts learning algebra…

  5. What? Nothing from Jen-Luc? Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to hear from Jennifer, but still…

  6. I hate to nit-pick, but epsilon is not infinitesimal. That’s the true beauty of an epsilon-delta argument – both numbers are finite.

  7. I am trying to dig any mathematics trick now. :D

  8. hhEb09'1

    I enjoyed looking over the website, and found a lot of things I was interested in, but I wonder if she knows that the Newton Project that she has a link to on her Links page says that its first major task is “to produce a much-needed catalogue of all Newton’s surviving theological, alchemical and administrative papers”, a “complete edition” of his “extraordinary ‘non-scientific’ writings”

  9. hahaha Hey nice trick….

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