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The Limit of Delta Y Over Delta X (1994)
Richard Cumyn

Contributed by Roger Herz-Fischler

Here is a calculus example from a book with a title that can not be more mathematical. I printed this one in a calculus book that I wrote for my business/economics calculus class. I also read it out loud to my probability-statistics class as another culture break. [Incidentally I sometimes meet former students and they all tell me that they can't remember any of the mathematics, but that they do remember the culture breaks. As I told my classes, instead of 48 minutes of mathematics and two minutes of culture, I would prefer the other way around!]

(quoted from The Limit of Delta Y Over Delta X)

She whispered. ``He scares me," and if Jimmy heard, he gave no clue.

He said, ``While we are waiting, I will explain how the derivative of a function works."

Sally taunted, ``a2+b2equals ______ all?"

Jim ignored her. ``Let's say two people together make a couple. We'll call the male y and the female x. And let's say that in this couple, the way they function together is such that the male is dominant by a power of two. That means y=x2. It's a curve. You can plot it on a graph," He drew the parabola in the air for them. ``So, assuming x =10 for the initial value of the female, this fixes y = 100 as the initial value of the male. Got it so far? Okay, suppose x increases to x = 12, what's the change in x and y?"

Magda said, ``Delta x is 2, delta y is 44."

``Very good. Now if you plug in different values, you see that as x diminishes, so does y. As the influence of the female diminishes, so does the male's This to me is the interesting part. They work together as a co-dependent unit. They're tied to each other. The thing we want to find out is, when you compare the change in x with the change in y, what's the limit of the ratio, delta y over delta x, as delta x approaches zero?"

``Now you've lost me," said Stephen.

This is a book of short stories and the citation is from the title story. This is not great literature in my humble opinion, but it does put mathematics front and centre!

Contributed by Elizabeth Murphy

I don't think [Roger Herz-Fischler, who wrote the review above] actually read this brilliant collection. It isn't cut and dry at all, as you have implied. You say that this is a piece of literature that centres itself around math, but what the title refers to is how the concept in calculus of a value approaching but not quite reaching a certain point is releflected in our lives. I suggest you actually read the book, and then make a decision as to whether this is great literature or not.

I think Elizabeth Murphy may be jumping to conclusions here. Roger Herz-Fischler does not think that this story is great literature, and she thinks it is, but this disagreement does not necessarily suggest that one of the two failed to read the book. People have widely varying tastes in literature and, as far as I'm concerned, we are all entitled to those opinions.

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Ratings for The Limit of Delta Y Over Delta X:
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Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.5/5 (2 votes)

MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)