Math With Bad Drawings recently posted a mathematical horror story just in time for Halloween: The Polynomials That Were Annihilated One By One By Derivatives, As Told By The One Survivor (An Exponential Function).

The opening paragraphs:

The constant functions perished first.

Everyone began planning a vigil, a sort of funerary service in honor of their memory. I don’t mean spit on anybody’s grave, but let’s be honest about who the constants were: simpletons. They stagnated in time. Never grew, never shrank, never changed. I pity them not so much for their grisly demise as for the bland, purposeless life that had come before. Call me an elitist and an unfeeling snob, but to me, a constant’s existence is no existence at all.

Not that they deserved their fate. Nobody deserves that.

I came for the vigil, of course. (I’m an exponential, not a monster.) I held my tongue and let the lower-order polynomials drain their tears on eulogies. They told anecdotes of the constants’ reliability, their steadfastness. They told self-aggrandizing stories of intersection and tangency, moments when the constants had told, say, a quadratic, something about itself: where it was, where it was going. Simpleton wisdom. Charming stuff, I guess, but not my cup of tea.

Filing out of the vigil was when I first heard the word. It rode a wave of terrified whispers across the crowd, uttered like the name of a demon or a plague.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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