Welcome to our community

Be a part of something great, join today!

Instantaneous velocity

  • Thread starter
  • Banned
  • #1

Poirot

Banned
Feb 15, 2012
250
I'm not really sure how this concept makes sense. We give it meaning by way of a limit but, to my mind, at any instant the car is motionless so how can it have a velocity? What, in essence, does it mean to say that at some point in time a car is going 2 mph?
 

caffeinemachine

Well-known member
MHB Math Scholar
Mar 10, 2012
834
Re: Instanaeous velocity

I'm not really sure how this concept makes sense. We give it meaning by way of a limit but, to my mind, at any instant the car is motionless so how can it have a velocity? What, in essence, does it mean to say that at some point in time a car is going 2 mph?
To define what it means to say that a car is going at the speed of 2mph would again require the use of limits. If $\lim_{h\to 0}\frac{x(t_0+h)-x(t_0)}{h}=2$ then the speed at $t=t_0$ is $2$, where $x(t)$ is the displacement of the car from any given reference at time $t$. But I guess you already knew that. I don't what more can I say.

Can you elaborate on "the car is motionless at every instant"??
 
  • Thread starter
  • Banned
  • #3

Poirot

Banned
Feb 15, 2012
250
Re: Instanaeous velocity

Yes you can say mathematically this car is travelling at 2 mph at time t, but I am saying how do we intepret this limit? At time t, the car is stationary so I am confused as to what we are saying when we say this car is travelling at 2 mph.
 

caffeinemachine

Well-known member
MHB Math Scholar
Mar 10, 2012
834
  • Thread starter
  • Banned
  • #5

Poirot

Banned
Feb 15, 2012
250
Re: Instanaeous velocity

In fact, the 'issue' generalises to differentiation of non-linear functions. Take f(x)=x^2.
when x=2, the derivative is 2. Now if one is asked to explain what a derivative tells you, then you would probably say along the lines 'the rate of change of y with x'. But what does the rate of change mean at a single point? I hope this helps you to understand.
 

caffeinemachine

Well-known member
MHB Math Scholar
Mar 10, 2012
834
Re: Instanaeous velocity

In fact, the 'issue' generalises to differentiation of non-linear functions. Take f(x)=x^2.
when x=2, the derivative is 2. Now if one is asked to explain what a derivative tells you, then you would probably say along the lines 'the rate of change of y with x'. But what does the rate of change mean at a single point? I hope this helps you to understand.
Would you agree that the 'average rate of change' between $2$ and $4$ of the function $y=x^2$ is $(16-4)/2=6$?

If yes, then what is the average rate between $2$ and $2+h$ for h=1, 0.9, 0.8,...,0.1 ?

Does some pattern emerge? As $h$ gets smaller and smaller, you don't have average rate between two distinct points. The two points 'merge'. Thus the rate of change of y with x at x=2 is the avergae rate of change between 2 and 2.

Of course this is just an intuitive way of looking at it. The real thing is limits. But one should know that the concept of limits is just a formalization of our intuition, just as most of mathematics is.
 

sweer6

New member
May 21, 2014
10
if you are looking for an explanation of instantaneous velocity, then instantaneous velocity is the velocity at a specific moment. If a car is travelling along a road and had to stop for a red light and such, the motion of car against time will not be linear and therefore will not contain a constant gradient and if you wish to find the gradient of a specific point in a graph where the motion of car is against time, at a specific point then instantaneous velocity comes in handy.
 

zzephod

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2013
134
Re: Instanaeous velocity

In fact, the 'issue' generalises to differentiation of non-linear functions. Take f(x)=x^2.
when x=2, the derivative is 2. Now if one is asked to explain what a derivative tells you, then you would probably say along the lines 'the rate of change of y with x'. But what does the rate of change mean at a single point? I hope this helps you to understand.

It means exactly what the definition says. The rate of change at a point is the limit of the average rate of change over intervals containing the point as the length of the intervals decrease to zero (with due allowances for end effects which I can't be bothered with here).

If you want to quibble about average rate of change over an interval the answer is just the same, it is defined to be the change in the function value divided by the corresponding change in x (the interval length).

There is no metaphysical mystery here, just a definition.

.
 
Last edited: