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It is known from the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus that $$\int_a^b f(x)=F(b)-F(a).$$ This has the geometric interpretation of the net area between $f(x)$ and the $x-$axis. I suspect that there are many other interpretations for the result.

Some other examples of definite integration which I have found are:

  • Volumes in higher dimensions: $\iint_R f(x) dV$
  • Applications in kinematics: e.g. $distance=\int_0^{t_0}v(t)\,dt$, where $v(t)$ is the speed of the object
  • Calculation of volumes in solids of revolution: $\pi\int_a^b f^2(x)\,dx$
  • Calculation of fluxes (surface integrals): $\iint_S f\,dS$
  • Calculation of line integrals: $\int_C f\,ds$
  • Arc length of a curve: $\int_a^b \sqrt{1+f'(x)^2}\,dx$

What other interpretations are there for a definite integral? And are the interpretations specific to one application?

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closed as too broad by Grigory M, egreg, hardmath, Thomas Andrews, anorton Dec 17 '13 at 22:21

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
There are about one gazillion applications of definite integrals. –  mrf Jan 17 '13 at 9:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Whenever $f(t)$ represents a rate of change of something, $\int_a^b f(t)\ dt$ represents the total change from $t=a$ to $t=b$.

If $f(x)$ represents a density of something, $\int_a^b f(x)\ dx$ represents the total amount of that thing from $x=a$ to $x=b$.

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Thanks.${}{}{}{}$ –  Daryl Jan 17 '13 at 21:37

Definite integrals are also used to compute probabilities from probability density functions. The nomenclature makes it sound precisely like computing a total Quantity from the density of that Quantity, but PDFs are used to characterize random variables in different situations.

Integrals are also used in determining relative weights of particular harmonics in arbitrary functions. One application you may have heard of is a Fourier Series. In general, integrals are used to define inner products in Hilbert spaces in which such harmonics are defined.

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I forgot about continuous probability distributions and intgral transforms. Thanks. –  Daryl Jan 17 '13 at 21:38

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