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Homework Help: Calculus in real life

  1. Jun 28, 2014 #1

    Calculus is one of those elusive areas which a lot of people grapple with.

    Where do we use Calculus in real life?

    Please share your ideas for the same.

    Last edited: Jun 28, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2014 #2


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  4. Jun 28, 2014 #3


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    The truth is many (I suspect most) people in the world get through life without ever knowing anything about calculus. It simply isn't needed in day-to-day life.

    However it is the theoretical underpinning of the mathematics for pretty much everything technical such as all kinds of Engineering and Physics and more. But even those that are involved in teaching calculus or using mathematics in their careers don't need it in their everyday life. I doubt anyone uses calculus when going to the grocery store, shopping for insurance, or planning a vacation.
  5. Jun 28, 2014 #4
    Depends on what you mean with "we" and with "real life". I certainly use calculus every day, but I'm a mathematician. Most people do not use calculus.

    However, you might ask yourself whether you use anything in real life that needs calculus to exist. This is a very different question with a lot of answers. Anything involving physics and engineering is likely to need calculus to exist. Some random examples: airplanes, GPS, electricity, bridges, etc. Calculus is an essential tool in this.
  6. Jun 28, 2014 #5
    I think this depends on what you consider "calculus." In the philosophy of mathematics there are different perceptions of what mathematics "is." This extends to the disciplines of mathematics.

    If you are speaking of the formalized calculus utilizing predicate logic, then I don't think a great many people use this in real life. However, if you mean the principles of calculus: the reasoning of continuity, the concepts of slope and area under a curve, etc., then I would say we utilize calculus in real life. I would say even young children utilize calculus, it is just not in the formalized construction. And I also think that operations of formal schooling discourage students from pursuing this reasoning because it doesn't fit in the box of national assessments.

    I think people intuitively utilize the Intermediate Value Theorem. If I said, I took a year off to bike from New York (day 0) to Buenos Aires (day 365), you would possibly ask a series of questions based on reasoning that relates to IVT, even if you don't know what IVT is. You know that to get from New York to Buenos Aires, I would have to travel a continuous path through a set of latitudes. You would pose questions that seemed reasonable, "Did you stop in Panama City?", because you know that I would have to pass through that latitude at some point on my way. Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't make a side trip to Montréal.

    This can also come up in trials. For example, the evidence is a set of skid marks 200 feet from a house damaged by a car that collided into it. A fire hydrant between the skid marks and the house is broken. A witness remembers seeing the car making the skid marks, but doesn't know if the car hit the fire hydrant. Is it likely that this car broke the fire hydrant?
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