For questions about infinitesimals, both in an intuitive sense as well as more rigorous settings (see also [nonstandard-analysis]).

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101
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7answers
8k views

Is non-standard analysis worth learning?

As a former physics major, I did a lot of (seemingly sloppy) calculus using the notion of infinitesimals. Recently I heard that there is a branch of math called non-standard analysis that provides ...
75
votes
11answers
15k views

What is $dx$ in integration?

When I was at school and learning integration in maths class at A Level my teacher wrote things like this on the board. $$\int f(x)\, dx$$ When he came to explain the meaning of the $dx$, he told us ...
38
votes
15answers
4k views

Is it a new type of induction? (Infinitesimal induction) Is this even true?

Suppose we want to prove Euler's Formula with induction for all positive real numbers. At first this seems baffling, but an idea struck my mind today. Prove: $$e^{ix}=\cos x+i\sin x \ \ \ \...
38
votes
20answers
2k views

Problem with basic definition of a tangent line.

I have just started studying calculus for the first time, and here I see something called a tangent. They say, a tangent is a line that cuts a curve at exactly one point. But there are a lot of lines ...
30
votes
7answers
2k views

Category-theoretic description of the real numbers

The familiar number sets $\mathbb{N}$, $\mathbb{Z}$, $\mathbb{Q}$ all have "natural constructions", which indicate, why they are mathematically interesting. For example, equipping $\mathbb{N}$ with ...
25
votes
2answers
832 views

Has anybody ever considered “full derivative”?

When differentiating we usually take a limit and drop the infinitesimal terms. But what if not to drop anything? First, we extend the real numbers with an infinitesimal element $\varepsilon$ which ...
21
votes
1answer
451 views

Calculus over $\mathbb{Q}$

The mismatch between the sensitivity of 'mathematical calculus' and the flexibility of 'real world calculus' has been bothering me a bit recently. What I mean is this: in the real world, I can trust ...
19
votes
1answer
737 views

Which universities teach true infinitesimal calculus?

My colleague and I are currently teaching "true infinitesimal calculus" (TIC), in the sense of calculus with infinitesimals, to a class of about 120 freshmen at our university, based on the book by ...
16
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8answers
888 views

Is $0$ an Infinitesimal?

For the definition of Infinitesimal, wikipedia says In common speech, an infinitesimal object is an object which is smaller than any feasible measurement, but not zero in size; or, so small ...
16
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2answers
2k views

Why is zero the only infinitesimal real number?

I am currently reading Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach by H. Jerome Keisler and was wondering if someone could help me with an aspect treated in the book. On page 24 he says a ...
15
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8answers
503 views

Intuition for a physical real line vs. a physical “hyperreal line”

As a mathematical structure, I have no problem with the hyperreals. But I came across the following from Keisler's book "Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach". "We have no way of knowing ...
15
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2answers
2k views

Are infinitesimals dangerous?

Amir Alexander is a historian of mathematics. His new book is entitled "Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World". See here. Two questions: (1) In what sense are ...
14
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3answers
1k views

Who gave you the epsilon?

Who gave you the epsilon? is the title of an article by J. Grabiner on Cauchy from the 1980s, and the implied answer is "Cauchy". On the other hand, historian I. Grattan-Guinness points out in his ...
13
votes
2answers
174 views

What is the use of hyperreal numbers?

For sometime I have been trying to come to terms with the concept of hyperreal numbers. It appears that they were invented as an alternative to the $\epsilon-\delta$ definitions to put the processes ...
12
votes
2answers
359 views

What meaning did Riemann assign to $dx$?

Detlef Laugwitz wrote a monumental biography of Riemann. The book was translated into English by Shenitzer. Laugwitz discusses Riemann's fundamental essay Uber die Hypothesen, welche der Geometrie ...
11
votes
5answers
473 views

Is line element mathematically rigorous?

I know differentials (in a way of standard analysis) are not very rigorous in mathematics, there are a lot of amazing answers here on the topic. But what about line element? $$ds^2 = dx^2 + dy^2 +dz^...
10
votes
6answers
4k views

What is the meaning of infinitesimal?

I have read that an infinitesimal is very small, it is unthinkably small but I am not quite comfortable with with its applications. My first question is that is an infinitesimal a stationary value? It ...
10
votes
4answers
1k views

Justification of algebraic manipulation of infinitesimals

As an engineering student, I regularly see people making arguments like this: Consider a rectangle of dimensions $x\times 4x$. If we make $x$ bigger by a small quantity $dx$ then this will make $4x$ ...
9
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2answers
233 views

Newton's “Famous Blunder”?

On page $225$ of Isaac Newton on Mathematical Certainty and Method by Niccolo Guicciardini (see here for a link), I read In the following demonstration... Newton made a famous blunder... He wrote, ...
8
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3answers
508 views

Transcendental a infinitely close to rationals?

Apologies that this question is rather vague, but I do not know how to state it more precisely. Is, say pi, infinitely "close" to some rational number? More importantly, are all transcendental numbers ...
7
votes
6answers
2k views

What does limit actually mean?

I have been in a deep confusion for about a month over the topic of limits! According to our book the limit at $a$ is the value being approached by a function $f(x)$ as $x$ approaches $a$ I have a ...
7
votes
6answers
749 views

How is the concept of the limit the foundation of calculus?

My casual study of mathematics and calculus introduced me to the notion that calculus didn't find a firm foundation until Cauchy, Weierstrauss (et al) developed set theory some ~100 years after Newton ...
7
votes
1answer
187 views

What is this limit called? Is it a different kind of derivative?

(first I should notice you this is not something I can look up in a textbook, because I'm learning partial derivatives, alike I do with most Maths, as a hobby. If something below is wrong, blame the ...
7
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1answer
610 views

Infinitesimal calculus

I have been reading some non-standard analysis from Keisler's book and I think it is logically consistent till now but there are criticisms against it and why isn't non-standard analysis accepted more ...
7
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6answers
269 views

Definition of tangent

What is the formal definition of a tangent to a curve? The only one I can find is that it is a straight line drawn between two infinitely close points on the curve.
7
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4answers
157 views

Using infinitesimals to find the volume of a sphere/surface area of a sphere

I've always thought of $dx$ at the end of an integral as a "full stop" or something to tell me what variable I'm integrating with respect to. I looked up the derivation of the formula for volume of a ...
6
votes
3answers
201 views

Are there concepts in nonstandard analysis that are useful for an introductory calculus student to know?

Studying calculus I became aware that nonstandard analysis had some methods that that made the concept of infinitesimal concrete, so that $dx$ actually made sense. Can someone elaborate on this ...
6
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8answers
253 views

Products of Infinitesimals

In my physics class my professor was abusing the derivative, as per so many physics classes I've been in. This time, he took the quantity $(x+dx)(y+dy)$ and argued that the $dxdy$ term should ...
6
votes
1answer
215 views

What is the topology of the hyperreal line?

Denote by $\Bbb R$ the real line and by $\Bbb R^*$ the hyperreal line. For any real numbers $x < y < z$ and infinitesimal $\epsilon$ the following holds: \begin{equation} \forall a,b,c \in \Bbb ...
5
votes
4answers
212 views

First year calculus student: why isn't the derivative the slope of a secant line with an infinitesimally small distance separating the points?

I'm having trouble with the limit approach to calculus ever since I heard about the infinitesimal definition. Maybe you can help me settle what's been bothering me this year. Looking at the limit ...
5
votes
3answers
441 views

What problems arise when using infinitesimals in calculus?

In contemporary real analysis we use a limit definition in terms of deltas and epsilons. Before that, people used infinitesimals to calculate limits. Is there a specific non-philosophical reason why ...
5
votes
1answer
221 views

How do we interpret and perform integrals using infinitesimals?

If $\mathrm{d}x$ is treated as a hyperreal infinitesimal we can easily do derivations. How do we interpret and perform integrals using infinitesimals? What is the $\mathrm{d}x$ in $\int x^3\,...
5
votes
1answer
75 views

Can this sequence be a hyperreal number? What would be its real part?

Consider the sequence $\{a_n\} = \{\sin(n) \mid n\in \mathbb N \}$. Can this sequence be viewed as a hyperreal number? What could be its real part? Any intuition would be highly appreciated :) ...
5
votes
2answers
165 views

How can this result in Thermodynamics be rigorously proved?

In Fermi's "Thermodynamics" there's a proof of the formula: $$W=\int _{V_1} ^{V_2} p\,\text dV,$$that is, the work done by the pressure of a gas that expands from a volume $V_1$ to a volume $V_2$ on ...
5
votes
1answer
77 views

Interpretation of $d\phi(z)$ in differential geometry

In "Exercises and Solutions in Mathematics", Ta-Tsien, 2nd Edition, exercise 3343. Statement of the exercise Let $(\mathbb{H}, g)$ be the two-dimensional hyperbolic space, where \begin{equation} \...
5
votes
3answers
146 views

infinitesimal intervals in physics

The density of states of a system in an interval $[E, E+dE]$ is given implicity by $dV = D(E)dE$ (Or I suppose explicitly, by $D(E) = \frac {dV}{dE}$, but we'll be integrating it anyway, so it doesn't ...
5
votes
2answers
276 views

Non-standard analysis way of proving that derivative of $e^x$ is $e^x$

What is the non-standard (infinitesimal) analysis way of proving that the derivative of $e^x$ is $e^x$? I tried to prove it myself, but I am having a hard time proving this without recourse to ...
5
votes
2answers
83 views

How to show $\chi_{{}^{*}P} ={}^{*}\chi_{P}$ by transfer principle?

Let $\mathfrak{R}$ be the real number system, $(\mathbb{R},+,\cdot,<)$ and ${}^{*}\mathfrak{R}$ be the hyperreal number system $({}^{*}\mathbb{R},{}^{*}+,{}^{*}\cdot,{}^{*}<)$. Transfer ...
5
votes
1answer
84 views

Determining hyperreal class for $\frac{\epsilon + \delta}{\sqrt{\epsilon^2 + \delta^2}}$

I'm solidifying my calculus by going through Keisler's book that uses a hyperreal/infinitesimal approach. I'm stuck on this problem. Given infinitesimals $\epsilon,\delta > 0$, deterimine whether ...
5
votes
2answers
278 views

How is an infinitesimal $dx$ different from $\Delta x\,$? [duplicate]

When I learned calc, I was always taught $$\frac{df}{dx}= f'(x) = \lim_{h\rightarrow 0} \frac{f(x+h)-f(x)}{(x+h)-x}$$ But I have heard $dx$ is called an infinitesimal and I don't know what this means....
5
votes
1answer
118 views

Integrating over a power of the infinitesimal

I don't know if the title makes sense (or if the question makes sense at all for that matter) but here I go. Suppose I have a piecewise constant function $y=f(x)$ with $x,y\in\mathbb{R}^+$, described ...
5
votes
1answer
61 views

Rigorous Justification of Infinitesimal Techniques

As you may know that there are a bunch of heuristic techniques in physics to make integrals converge. For example, when we define a following Fourier transform, we add a positive infinitesimal and let ...
5
votes
1answer
94 views

Perturbation in characteristic p, or Why, really, does Lie's theorem fail?

While recalling some basics of Lie theory, I found a funny proof of the main lemma in Lie's theorem on triangularity of representations of solvable Lie algebras. It turns out that this proof has a ...
5
votes
0answers
193 views

Nontrivial trivial integrals

Consider two propositions in geometry: Circumscribe a right circular cylinder about a sphere. The surface area of the cylinder between any two planes orthogonal to the cylinder's axis equals the ...
4
votes
3answers
670 views

Why don't infinite sums make any sense?

Using the infinite sum series, an infinite sum of (1/5)to the nth power, where n goes from zero to infinity, the general summation equation tells us that the answer is 5/4. However, how is this ...
4
votes
3answers
155 views

If $dx$ is an infinitesimal, can't you list all real numbers as the sequence each whole number times dx?

I'm taking calculus right now. If the difference between each real number and the next is an infintesimal, then wouldn't the following sequence $\{0\,dx, 1\,dx, -1\,dx, 2\,dx, -2\,dx, \ldots\}$ be a ...
4
votes
2answers
143 views

How do mathematics define a point?

I have a serious doubt. How do mathematicians define a 'point' in a space or a plot? If we have a clear explanation for a 'point' , I think my doubt on infinitesimals and infinity will be clarified.
4
votes
3answers
246 views

How $\frac{dx}{dy}=f(x)g(y) \Leftrightarrow \int \frac{dx}{f(x)} = \int g(y)dy$?

In my intro differential equations class we have often used the "equivalence" stated in title. It seems to me that somehow, the intermediate step $$ \frac{dx}{f(x)} = g(y)dy$$ is being used, in which ...
4
votes
3answers
185 views

Learning differential calculus through infinitesimals

In class, we've studied differential calculus and integral calculus through limits. We reconstructed the concepts from scratch beginning by the definition of limits, licit operations, derivatives and ...
4
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3answers
218 views

non-archimedean in lay terms

I've dabbled with studying infinitesimals off and on for years ... Robinson, Keisler, Bell ("Smooth Worlds"), etc., even a bit of category theory. But I'm not a mathematician and tend to jump in way ...