# TO TEACH THE CALCULUS, A PLAY

The recent popularity of math and science based plays and movies, such as “Proof”, “A Beautiful Mind”, and “Copenhagen”, has catalyzed the recovery of lost plays from famous mathematicians and scientists themselves. Below is the complete text of “To Teach the Calculus,” which was recently “recovered” from the notebooks of Max Planck. After winning his Nobel Prize in 1918 for work in radiation physics, Planck explored a variety of other fields. This is his only known foray into the theater. Planck had a reputation as a difficult and demanding teacher among the students at the University of Berlin, and several science historians have suggested that this tension is reflected in his play. Planck dedicated the third act of his play, via a marginal, handwritten notation, to his young friend Erwin Schrodinger, the father of Quantum Mechanics. Upon Planck’s retirement, Schrodinger was selected to succeed him as the Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Berlin. The translated text of “To Teach the Calculus”, which appears here, is currently under option to Miramax.

*Act 1. Differential Calculus.*

(A classroom, modern day.)

Teacher: Okay, say you were driving in a car.

A moron: You were driving in a car.

Teacher: Okay, that’s fine too, it can be me. So, I’m driving in a car, and that car is going a certain speed, let’s say two miles per hour.

A moron: Two miles per hour.

Teacher: Yes, that’s right. Now, two miles per hour is a velocity. It’s a rate of change, which is an expression of a differential equation: the change in distance, with respect to the change in time. The car’s speedometer is actually solving a differential equation for you.

A moron: Two miles per hour.

Teacher: Yes, that’s right, two miles an hour is the value of the differential at that moment. If distance is capital “D”, and time is “t”, then we would denote the differential as “dD/dt”, where the little d’s here mean “change”.

A moron: Dee-dee.

Teacher: Yes, dD is the change in distance, dt is the change in time, so, dD/dt is the change in distance with respect to time.

A moron: Dee-dee. Dee-dee, dee-dee, dee-dee.

Teacher: No, it’s dD/dt! dD/dt!

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee! Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: Yes, that’s it! dD/dt! dD/dt! dD/dt! dD/dt!

(They sing “dD/dt” together for several moments, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes alternating, as the lights slowly fade).

*Act 2. Integral Calculus.*

(The same classroom, later that same day. As the curtain rises, the teacher is relaxing at the desk and is smoking a cigarette.)

Teacher: (Rising, and extinguishing the cigarette.) Now we’re going to talk about another form of calculus. While differential calculus is an expression of dynamic processes, integral calculus is an expression of summation. You can almost think of it as an advanced form of addition.

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: No, we’re not talking about differentials now, we’re talking about integrals.

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: Okay, you have to stop that and listen now. Okay? Now, imagine that you have a glass of water.

A moron: Can I?

Teacher: I’m sure you can, just think of a glass of water.

A moron: I want a glass of water.

Teacher: Well, can’t you just imagine one, just for the moment?

A moron: I want a glass of water.

Teacher: Okay, fine, just a moment. (The teacher exits. While the teacher is offstage, the moron gags repeatedly, as if choking on a hairball. The lights slowly fade.)

*Act 3. The birth of Quantum Simultaneity.*

(The same classroom, a few moments later. The moron is silent.)

Teacher: (Already on stage when the curtain rises, holding a glass of water.) Okay, now see this glass of water?

A moron: Yes.

Teacher: Now the volume of water in this glass can be explicitly expressed, because the glass has a specific geometric shape, correct?

A moron: Gimme.

Teacher: You want to hold the glass? Okay. (The moron takes the glass and drinks most of the water.) Well, then, now the glass has less water in it, but we can still use it for our example. May have it back please? Thank you.

A moron: Thank you!

Teacher: Now, because this glass is a cylinder, the volume of water in it can be exactly calculated. But, imagine if this water were contained in an irregularly shaped container, how might we estimate its volume?

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: Good guess, but we wouldn’t use differential calculus for this problem. This is where integral calculus comes in. Imagine the water in a lake, or in the ocean: highly irregularly shaped containers, indeed!

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: Now, you’ve got to stop saying that so we can–

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: I’m sorry, but you’ve got to be quiet for a moment.

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Can I have more water?

Teacher: Not right now, okay, so imagine–

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

Teacher: Shut Up! Shut Up! You ridiculous person!

A moron: Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee. Dee-dee-dee-Tee.

(The teacher lunges at the moron. They struggle. The lights go out. A horrifying scream is heard. The lights come back on. The teacher and the moron both lay dead in pools of their own blood on opposite sides of the stage.)

(Curtain.)

*Translator’s note: Some critics of Plank’s play have suggested that the reference to cars and driving are anachronistic, and that the play is actually a recently written forgery. However, gasoline powered cars had been manufactured in Germany by Karl Benz since the 1880’s, and steam and electric powered cars even predate this by several decades.

*(Originally published on November 2nd, 2005)*