Taylor Series in Layman’s terms


The Taylor series for a function f(x) of one variable x is given by
f(x+h) = f(x) + f '(x)h +f ''(x) h^2/2!+ f ''' (x)h^3/3! + .............

What does this mean in plain English?
As Archimedes would have said (without the fine print), “Give me the value of the function at a single point, and the value of all (first, second, and so on) its derivatives, and I can give you the value of the function at any other point”.
It is very important to note that the Taylor series is not asking for the expression of the function and its derivatives, just the value of the function and its derivatives at a single point.

Now the fine print: Yes, all the derivatives have to exist and be continuous between x (the point where you are) to the point, x+h where you are wanting to calculate the function at. However, if you want to calculate the function approximately by using the n^{th} order Taylor polynomial, then 1^{st}, 2^{nd} ……., n^{th} derivatives need to exist and be continuous in the closed interval [x, x+h] , while the n+1^{th} derivative needs to exist and be continuous in the open interval (x, x+h).

Reference: Taylor Series Revisited

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Autar Kaw

Autar Kaw (http://autarkaw.com) is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of South Florida. He has been at USF since 1987, the same year in which he received his Ph. D. in Engineering Mechanics from Clemson University. He is a recipient of the 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year Award. With major funding from NSF, he is the principal and managing contributor in developing the multiple award-winning online open courseware for an undergraduate course in Numerical Methods. The OpenCourseWare (nm.MathForCollege.com) annually receives 1,000,000+ page views, 1,000,000+ views of the YouTube audiovisual lectures, and 150,000+ page views at the NumericalMethodsGuy blog. His current research interests include engineering education research methods, adaptive learning, open courseware, massive open online courses, flipped classrooms, and learning strategies. He has written four textbooks and 80 refereed technical papers, and his opinion editorials have appeared in the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune.

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