Why are calculus and linear algebra taught early?

Linear algebra and function theory are related — you can construct plenty of accurate analogies here, like functions and vectors, linear transforms and integral transforms, etc. In addition, the elementary techniques of calculus allow you to talk about non-linear transformations in a pretty nice manner — e.g. the Jacobian matrix as a change-of-basis matrix for non-linear co-ordinate transformations.

In general, calculus is just a special case and a “constructivist” kind of way of understanding the much deeper mathematical field of analysis. The calculus of variations, basic complex analysis, matrix calculus, etc. are other examples of this. It’s taught, despite its non-fundamental nature, not only because it locally linearises things with infinitesimals, allowing us to study non-linear things, e.g. in differential geometry, but also because a lot of its results are special cases of purer results in advanced mathematics. Some elementary examples: the chain rule, a special case of a change-in-basis-variables/the Jacobian matrix; the fundamental theorem of calculus and Stokes’ theorem, special cases of the generalised Stokes’ theorem in differential geometry.

Linear algebra is taught for similar reasons — it introduces you to a lot of things in algebra, much like how calculus introduces you to a lot of things in analysis. Together, they also introduce you to a lot of things in geometry — largely because the “ideas” behind the two allow us to describe a lot of things in a linear way — completing the algebra-analysis-geometry trinity.

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