Between You & Me: What is Calculus?

Calculus Symbol

Of all the things we talked about yesterday at breakfast, what could I choose to expand?  Would it be the deep thoughts about the morality penumbra?  No – – but that’s too good for us to leave alone forever.  Would it be about a wristwatch made by a fruit company that changes your very life?  No – – that is for the first world masses.  We can do better than that here.  No – – it must be about calculus.

I heard you say:  I don’t know calculus.

You actually said:  I’ve never taken a class in calculus.

There are two types of people in the world:  those who divide the world into two groups, and those who don’t.  But, in a nod to our binary friends, there are those who instantly comprehend the equation above (you and my oldest son) and those who find the greek letter mysterious and head on over to wikipedia trying to either learn or remember. Non-binary minority report:  or ignore it and go on reading.

I took two semesters of college calculus and a physical chemistry class which required differential equations.  What do I remember from those classes?  There was a man named Schrodinger (my apologies for the excluded umlaut).  He had a very strange cat in a very special box.  That, my friends, is why I took p-chem.  To name this man’s cat.

ADA&Neagoe CC 3.0

ADA&Neagoe CC 3.0

So – – with three semesters of mathematics beyond arithmetic, algebra and Euclidean geometry I have a useful metaphor for thinking and writing.  The same applies to:  derivation, integration, summation, and asymptote. Cool Greek symbols – – cooler life metaphors.

integral                                       asymptote                    derivative

I don’t know calculus.  You most certainly do.  Just as one should not assume that formal education ensures learning – – calculus was only a means to an end for me – – we should be equally cautious in equating no formal class to not learning.  You know calculus.

I suppose I could say the same thing about reading and writing for me.  No formal classes, but in twenty years I’ve read over 100,000 pages and written over 5,000 pages in my journal.  I’m excited by the resources a curious mind can access today – – Wikipedia, YouTube, and the Khan Academy to name only  three sites contain the teaching and learning potential of millenia.  The library of Alexandria could fit on a thumbdrive.  If I am exaggerating, it is not by much.

Dear readers:  don’t ever put yourself down for a lack of formal education.  Russell loves calculus and sees the beauty intertwined with the type of thought it allows.  If formal education is required to satiate your curiosity, then go for it.  But we are not young forever and life’s responsibilities intervene – – what a pleasure to pursue education as an adult!







One comment

  1. There is one habit so profound and powerful that it has the ability to kill both ignorance AND Schrödinger’s cat. Fortunately, it’s a quality that one does not lose when walking away from faith, as I have, so we are blessed to share it. This trait is so important to me that I have an alarm set on my phone that goes off every day to remind me to encourage this behavior in my spouse and, most importantly, my offspring.

    What is it that is so vital to life, peace, and your post about learning outside of the sheltered walls of school? A lifestyle of curiosity. That is what I want for my progeny and for the world — a lifelong pursuit of health/fitness, empathy and curiosity.

    Take a look at this article (if you’re curious:)) to see how habitual curiosity might enhance learning, even in unrelated areas that we aren’t interested in.

    And to punctuate your thesis, if you’ll recall, I also don’t know physics. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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