# Untitled Page 6

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## 2.1 Infinitesimals

Actually mathematicians have invented many different logical systems for working
with infinity, and in most of them infinity does come in different sizes and flavors.
Newton, as well as the German mathematician Leibniz
who invented calculus independently,^{2}
had a strong intuitive idea that calculus was really about numbers that were infinitely
small: infinitesimals, the opposite of infinities. For instance, consider
the number 1.1^{2}=1.21. That 2 in the first decimal place is the same 2 that
appears in the expression 2*t* for the derivative of *t*^{2}.

Figure b shows the idea visually. The line connecting the points (1,1) and (1.1,1.21) is almost
indistinguishable from the tangent line on this scale. Its slope is (1.21-1)/(1.1-1)=2.1, which is very close to the
tangent line's slope of 2. It was a good approximation because the points were close together, separated by only
0.1 on the *t* axis.

If we needed a better approximation, we could try calculating 1.01^{2}=1.0201. The slope of the
line connecting the points (1,1) and (1.01,1.0201) is 2.01, which is even closer to the slope of the tangent line.

Another method of visualizing the idea is that we can interpret *x*=*t*^{2} as the area of a square with sides of length *t*,
as suggested in figure c. We increase *t* by an infinitesimally small number *dt*.
The d is Leibniz's notation for a very small difference,
and *dt* is to be read as a single symbol,
“dee-tee,” not as a number *d* multiplied by a number *t*. The idea is that *dt* is smaller than any ordinary
number you could imagine, but it's not zero. The area of the square is increased by *dx* = 2*tdt* +*dt*^{2}, which is
analogous to the finite numbers 0.21 and 0.0201 we calculated earlier. Where before we divided by a finite
change in *t* such as 0.1 or 0.01, now we divide by *dt*, producing

for the derivative. On a graph like figure b, *dx*/*dt* is the slope of the tangent line: the change
in *x* divided by the changed in *t*.

But adding an infinitesimal number *dt* onto 2*t* doesn't really change it by any amount that's
even theoretically measurable in the real world, so the answer is really 2*t*. Evaluating it at *t*=1 gives the exact result, 2,
that the earlier approximate results, 2.1 and 2.01, were getting closer and closer to.

### Example 1

To show the power of infinitesimals and the Leibniz notation, let's prove that the derivative of*t*

^{3}is 3

*t*

^{2}: where the dots indicate infinitesimal terms that we can neglect.

This result required significant sweat and ingenuity when proved on page 140 by the methods of chapter 1, and not only that but the old method would have required a completely different method of proof for a function that wasn't a polynomial, whereas the new one can be applied more generally, as we'll see presently in examples 10-13.

It's easy to get the mistaken impression that infinitesimals exist in some remote fairyland where we can never
touch them. This may be true in the same artsy-fartsy sense that we can never truly understand √2, because
its decimal expansion goes on forever, and we therefore can never compute it exactly. But in practical work,
that doesn't stop us from working with √2. We just approximate it as, e.g., 1.41. Infinitesimals
are no more or less mysterious than irrational numbers, and in particular we can represent them concretely on a computer.
If you go to lightandmatter.com/calc/inf, you'll find a web-based calculator called Inf,
which can handle infinite and infinitesimal numbers. It has a built-in symbol, d, which represents an infinitesimally
small number such as the *dx*'s and *dt*'s we've been handling symbolically.

Let's use Inf to verify that the derivative of *t*^{3}, evaluated at *t*=1, is equal to 3, as found by plugging in to
the result of example 9. The : symbol is the prompt that shows you Inf is ready to accept
your typed input.

: ((1+d)^3-1)/d 3+3d+d^2

As claimed, the result is 3, or close enough to 3 that the infinitesimal error doesn't matter in real life. It might look like Inf did this example by using algebra to simplify the expression, but in fact Inf doesn't know anything about algebra. One way to see this is to use Inf to compare d with various real numbers:

: d<1 true : d<0.01 true : d<0.0000001 true : d<0 false

If d were just a variable being treated according to the axioms of algebra, there would be no way
to tell how it compared with other numbers without having some special information. Inf doesn't know
algebra, but it does know that d is a positive number that is less than any positive *real* number
that can be represented using decimals or scientific notation.

### Example 2

In example 5 on p. 15, we made a rough numerical check to see if the differentiation rule*t*

^{k}→

*kt*

^{k-1}, which was proved on p. 140 for

*k*=1, 2, 3, ..., was also valid for

*k*=-1, i.e., for the function

*x*=1/

*t*. Let's look for an actual proof. To find a natural method of attack, let's first redo the numerical check in a slightly more suggestive form. Again approximating the derivating at

*t*=3, we have Let's apply the grade-school technique for subtracting fractions, in which we first get them over the same denominator: The result is Replacing 3 with

*t*and 0.01 with

*dt*, this becomes

### Example 3

The derivative of*x*=sin

*t*, with

*t*in units of radians, is and with the trig identity sin(α+β)=sinαcosβ+cosαsinβ, this becomes Applying the small-angle approximations sin

*u*≈

*u*and cos

*u*≈ 1, we have where “...” represents the error caused by the small-angle approximations.

This is essentially all there is to the computation of the derivative, except for the remaining technical
point that we haven't proved that the small-angle approximations are good enough. In example 9 on page 26,
when we calculated the derivative of *t*^{3}, the resulting expression for the quotient *dx*/*dt*
came out in a form in which we could inspect the “...” terms and verify before discarding them that they were infinitesimal.
The issue is less trivial in the present example.
This point is addressed more rigorously on page 141.

Figure d shows the graphs of the function and its derivative. Note how the two
graphs correspond. At *t*=0, the slope of sin *t* is at its largest, and is positive; this is where
the derivative, cos *t*, attains its maximum positive value of 1. At *t*=π/2, sin *t* has reached
a maximum, and has a slope of zero; cos *t* is zero here. At *t*=π, in the middle of the graph,
sin *t* has its maximum negative slope, and cos *t* is at its most negative extreme of -1.

Physically, sin *t* could represent the position of a pendulum as it moved back and forth from left
to right, and cos *t* would then be the pendulum's velocity.

### Example 4

What about the derivative of the cosine? The cosine and the sine are really the same function, shifted to the left or right by π/2. If the derivative of the sine is the same as itself, but shifted to the left by π/2, then the derivative of the cosine must be a cosine shifted to the left by π/2:The next example will require a little trickery. By the end of this chapter you'll learn general techniques for cranking out any derivative cookbook-style, without having to come up with any tricks.

### Example 5

◊ Find the derivative of 1/(1-*t*), evaluated at

*t*=0.

◊
The graph shows what the function looks like. It blows up to infinity at *t*=1, but it's well behaved at *t*=0, where it has a
positive slope.

For insight, let's calculate some points on the curve. The point at which we're differentiating is
(0,1). If we put in a small, positive value of *t*, we can observe how much the result increases
relative to 1, and this will give us an approximation to the derivative. For example, we find
that at *t*=0.001, the function has the value 1.001001001001, and so the derivative
is approximately (1.001-1)/(.001-0), or about 1. We can therefore conjecture that the derivative
is exactly 1, but that's not the same as proving it.

But let's take another look at that number 1.001001001001. It's clearly a repeating decimal. In other words, it appears that

and we can easily verify this by multiplying both sides of the equation by 1-1/1000 and collecting like powers. This is a special case of the geometric series

which can be derived^{1}
by doing synthetic division (the equivalent of long
division for polynomials), or simply verified, after forming the conjecture based on the numerical
example above, by multiplying both sides by 1-*t*.

As we'll see in section 2.2, and have been implicitly assuming so far,
infinitesimals obey all the same elementary laws of algebra as the real numbers,
so the above derivation also holds for an infinitesimal value of *t*.
We can verify the result using Inf:

: 1/(1-d) 1+d+d^2+d^3+d^4

Notice, however, that the series is truncated after the first five terms. This is similar to the truncation that happens when you ask your calculator to find √2 as a decimal.

The result for the derivative is