If you use your calculator or graphing program and zoom-in of the graph of a function (with equal zoom factors in both directions), the graph eventually looks like a line: the graph appears to be straight. This property is called Local Linearity. The slope of this line is the number called the derivative. (There are exceptions: if the graph never appears linear, then no derivative exists at that point.) Local Linearity is the graphical manifestation of differentiability.
To find this slope, we need to zoom-in numerically. Zooming-in numerically is accomplished by finding the slope of a secant line, a line that intersects the graph twice near the point we are interested in. Then finding the limit of that slope as the two points come closer to our point. This limit is the derivative. It is also the slope of the line tangent to the function at the point.
While limit is what makes all of the calculus work, people usually think of calculus as starting with the derivative. The first problem in calculus is finding the slope of a line tangent to a graph at a point and then writing the equation of that tangent line. The slope is called the derivative and a function whose derivative exists is said to be differentiable.
This week’s posts start with local linearity and tangent lines. They lead to the difference quotient and the equation of the tangent line.
Local Linearity II Working up to difference quotient. The next post explains this in more detail.
Tangent Lines approaching difference quotients on calculator by graphing tan line.
Next week: Difference Quotients.
Revised from a post of August 29, 2017