I apologize for both my crude math grammar, and what is probably an obvious question - I am a novice.
I am confused as to why, when taking the directional derivative, the gradient is evaluated by plugging in a fixed set of dependent variables, and this gradient is then dotted with the desired unit direction; as opposed to only the FIRST component in the gradient being evaluated by plugging in the fixed set of dependent variables, and then subsequent partial derivative components being evaluated at the new position/modified set of dependent variables, e.g. for a 2-d gradient, partial x being evaluated at (x,y) and partial y evaluated at (x+dx,y)?
In more detail:
As I understand it, the directional derivative for a function z=f(x,y) is calculated by the gradient dotted with a unit vector in the desired direction. Each component of the gradient is the ratio, at a point (x,y), of the change in z to an “extremely small” independent change in x, or y. Dotting the x-component of the gradient with the x-component of our unit direction vector thus gives the change in z from taking an independent step in the x-direction by “ratio of change in z to extremely small change in x, scaled down by x-component of unit direction vector”. The same is independently done for y. The two are then added together to get the result of the dot product, apparently the ratio of the change in z to an “extremely small change” in the desired direction.
My confusion lies in why the two partial derivatives that make up the gradient are evaluated at (x,y) before dotting with the desired unit direction, instead of partial x being evaluated at (x,y), and partial y being evaluated at (x+(dx*x-component of unit direction vector), y) (or vice versa) ?
What if independent changes in x and y at a given point (x,y) would each result in increases in z, but changed together result in a decrease in z? Geometrically I can simply imagine a slope that increases in the positive x and y directions over a “small distance”, but drops into a pit when moving diagonally in <“small x * sqrt(2)/2”, “small y*sqrt(2)/2”> direction. The only way to reach this pit would be by first moving in one direction, then subsequently in the next direction, aka first evaluating the change in z from (x, y) to (x+dx*sqrt(2)/2, y), and then adding the change from (x+dx*sqrt(2)/2, y) to (x+dx*sqrt(2)/2, y+dy*sqrt(2)/2).
This seems like an very obvious and trivial observation. Am I misunderstanding the directional derivative? Or is this issue simply “circumvented” by pointing to the partial changes in x and y being “infinitely small”? If so, how does that work when applied in the real, discrete world?
Thank you very much for your time.