Juan David's Newsletter - June 13, 2021

Calculus: Reaching the Unreachable

Greetings 😎,

“Calculus is useless. I’m never going to need that sh*t”

My reaction:

That’s what this week’s essay is about.


Calculus: Reaching the Unreachable

If you prefer, read this essay on my website.

Calculus is about an idea called limits. This idea is a mental model to understand that which we can never approach. A limit is like an unreachable goal. You can closer and closer to it, but you can never get all the way there. 

This idea made me reflect on a bigger paradox of life because, in many areas, we see this phenomenon occur. Yet we have trouble making sense of it.

I’ll give you a few examples:

  • Happiness. Satisfaction. Love. Knowledge. Health. Wealth. Peace. Truth. Science. Aspirations. Ambitions. Goals. The universe. 

For instance, happiness. We have a sequence of emotions such as:

  • Unhappy

  • Neutral

  • sort of happy

  • Almost happy

  • Almost almost happy

  • Almost almost almost happy

This sequence gets closer and closer to happiness. 

The limit of this sequence is happiness. None of the values is equal to happiness, but they get closer and closer to happiness.

If you find this hard to grasp, this will help: how do we know there are infinite different happiness emotions? It’s not like we’ve counted them all and got to happiness. 

We know they are infinite because for any happiness emotion there’s another happiness emotion that’s even larger than that (almost happy, almost almost happy, almost almost almost happy....) There's always another one and another one. [1]

The same applies to wealth, satisfaction, and truth, and the rest of the examples above. 

That’s where calculus comes in and gives you a hand to help you reach the unreachable. 

———

Notes

[1] Inspired by Khan Academy’s explanation of limits. If you want to teach yourself calculus (like I did), Khan Academy is the way to go. 


After writing this essay, I realized we should forget about the practicality of learning math and science. Many want to be practical but the more practical we get, the more useless we become.

The purpose of math and science is to teach you how to think. In this case, the seemingly “useless” calculus helped me how to think about happiness, health, wealth, and even the universe.

Here’s the meme again:

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Juan David Campolargo