Page:EB1911 - Volume 14.djvu/566

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NATURE]
535
INFINITESIMAL CALCULUS

roots, and, when this is the case, the curves by which


“infinitely infinite, ” the limiting notion of infinity being of a numerical, quantitative series, each term of which is a qualitative determination itself quantitatively little, e.g. a line which is quantitatively unlimited (i.e. in length) is qualitatively limited when regarded as an infinitely small unit of a plane. A similar relation exists in thought between the various grades of species and genera; the highest genus is the “infinitely infinite, ” each subordinated genus being infinite in relation to the particulars which it denotes, and finite when regarded as a unit in a higher genus.

2. In mathematics, the term “infinite ” denotes the result of increasing a variable without limit; similarly, the term “ infinitesimal, ” meaning indefinitely small, denotes the result of diminishing the value of a variable without limit, with the reservation that it never becomes actually zero. The application of these conceptions distinguishes ancient from modern mathematics. Analytical investigations revealed the existence of series or sequences which had no limit to the number of terms, as for example the fraction 1/(1 -x) which on division gives the series. 1-1-x-I-x2+ ....; the discussion of these so-called infinite sequences is given in the articles SERIES and FUNCTION. The doctrine of geometrical continuity (q.v, '.) and the application of algebra to geometry, developed in the 16th and 17th centuries mainly by Kepler and Descartes, led to the discovery of many properties which gave to the notion of infinity, as a localized space conception, a predominant importance. A line became continuous, returning into itself by way of infinity; two parallel lines intersect in a point at infinity; all circles pass through two fixed points at infinity (the circular points); two spheres intersect in a fixed circle at infinity; an asymptote becamea tangent at infinity; the foci of a conic became the intersections of the tangents from the circular points at infinity; the centre of a conic the pole of the line at infinity, &c. In analytical geometry the line at infinity plays an important part in trilinear co-ordinates. These subjects are treated in GEOMETRY. A notion related to that of infinitesimals is presented in the Greek “ method of exhaustion ”; the more perfect conception, however, only dates from the r7th century, when it led to the infinitesimal calculus. A curve came to be treated as a sequence of infinitesimal straight lines; a tangent as the extension of an infinitesimal chord; a surface or area as a sequence of infinitesimally narrow strips, and a solid as a collection of infinitesimally small cubes (see Ixrrxrrizstnxr. CALCULUS).


INFINITESIMAL CALCULUS. 1. The infinitesimal calculus is the body of rules and processes by means of which continuously varying magnitudes are dealt with in mathematical analysis. The name “ infinitesimal ” has been applied to the calculus because most of the leading results were first obtained by means of arguments about “infinitely small ” quantities; the “infinitely small ” or “ infinitesimal ” quantities were vaguely conceived as being neither zero nor finite but in some intermediate, nascent or evanescent, state. There was no necessity for this confused conception, and it came to be understood that it can be dispensed with; but the calculus was not developed by its first founders in accordance with logical principles from precisely defined notions, and it gained adherents rather through the impressiveness and variety of the results that could be obtained by using it than through the cogency of the arguments by which it was established. A similar statement might be made in regard to other theories included in mathematical analysis, such, for instance, as the theory of infinite series. Many, perhaps all, of the mathematical and physical theories which have survived have had a similar history-a history which may be divided roughly into two periods: a period of construction, in which results are obtained from partially formed notions, and a period of criticism, in which the fundamental notions become progressively more and more precise, and are shown to be adequate bases for the constructions previously built upon them. These periods usually overlap. Critics of new theories are never lacking. On the other hand, as E. W. Hobson has well said, “ pertinent criticism of fundamentals almost invariably gives rise to new construction.” In the history of the infinitesimal calculus the 535

17th and 18th centuries were mainly a period of construction, the 19th century mainly a period of criticism. I. Nature of the Calculus.

2. The guise in which variable quantities presented themselves to the mathematicians of the 17th century was that of the lengths of variable lines. This method of representing variable quantities dates from the 14th century, gifgkal when it was employed by Nicole Oresme, who studied represent and afterwards taught at the College de Navarre in 811011 01 Paris from 1348 to 1361. He represented one of two Q'Z" g;%';s variable quantities, e.g. the time that has elapsed since some epoch, by a length, called the “ longitude, ” measured along a particular line; and he represented the other of the two quantities, e.g. the temperature at the instant, by a length, called the “latitude, ” measured at right angles to this line. He recognized that the variation of the temperature with the time was represented by the line, straight or curved, whi ch joined the ends of all the lines of “ latitude.” Oresme's longitude and latitude were what we should nowcall the abscissa and ordinate. The same method was used later by many writers, among whom Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei may be mentioned. In Galileo's investigation of

the motion of falling bodies (1638) the B

abscissa OA represents the time during

which a body has been falling, and the

ordinate AB represents the velocity

acquired during that time (see hg. 1).

The velocity being proportional to the 0 A

time, the “ curve ” obtained is a

straight line OB, and Galileo showed

that the distance through which the body has fallen is represented by the area of the triangle OAB.

The most prominent problems in regard to a curve were the FIG. 1.

problem of finding the points at which the ordinate is a maximum or a minimum, the problem of drawing a tangent to The prob-

the curve at an assigned point, and the problem of lem; of determining the area of the curve. The relation of Maxim” the problem of maxima and minima to the problem;7;ma of tangents was understood in the sense that maxima Tangents, or minima arise when a certain equation has equal iiiggld the problem is to be solved touch each other. The reduction of problems of maxima and minima to problems of contact was known to Pappus. The problem of finding the area of a curve was usually presented in a particular form in which it is called the “problem of quadratures.” It was sought to determine the area contained between the curve, the axis of abscissae and two ordinates, of which one was regarded as fixed and the other as variable. Galileo's investigation may serve as an example. In that example the fixed ordinate vanishes. From this investigation it may be seen that before the invention of the infinitesimal calculus the introduction of a curve into discussions of the course of any phenomenon, and the problem of quadratures for that curve, were not exclusively of geometrical import; the purpose for which the area of a curve was sought was often to nnd something which is not an area-for instance, a length, or a volume or a centre of gravity. J

3. The Greek geometers made little progress with the problem of tangents, but they devised methods for investigating the problem of quadratures. One of these methods was k afterwards called the “ method of exhaust ions, ” and g§ :;, ods the principle on which it is based was laid down in the lemma prefixed to the rzth book of Euclid's Elements as follows: “ If from the greater of two magnitudes there be taken more than its half, and from the remainder more than its half, and so on, there will at length remain a magnitude less than the smaller of the proposed magnitudes.” The method adopted by Archimedes was more general. It may be described as the enclosure of the magnitude to be evaluated between two others which can be brought by a definite process to differ from each other by less than any assigned magnitude. A simple example of its