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I'm very young so know no calculus whatsoever.

I want to be able to calculate uncertainties for a Physics course I'm doing online, but I believe you need to have knowledge of differentials to do this in some cases.

Do you need knowledge of calculus to be able to calculate with differentials?

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Can you give more details? Assuming you're trying to calculate errors I think you can do this without any deep knowledge of calculus. –  John Rennie Mar 12 '12 at 17:16
    
You don't need calculus for working with errors at a basic level. But you do need calculus to know how to work with differentials.. If the course is good, most probably the next chapter or so will be calculus. Usually it's units/dimensions, errors, calculus, and then the rest of physics starts. You could learn proper calculus from a maths POV (i suggest this), but learning it from a physics POV is no issue either. –  Manishearth Mar 12 '12 at 17:25
    
yeah it's working with differentials I am sad to say (I'm watching lectures from Classical Mechanics I 8.01 course at MIT), I guess I will have to wait until I am old enough to take a calculus course –  Olly Price Mar 13 '12 at 23:02

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You can treat differentials in a first approximation as tiny quanitites whose square you neglect. Thus they satisfy equations df*dg=0, which isn't possible in a field, but is mathematically rigorous (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.31.3019) and captures what physicists do.

Later, one learns what differentials are in differential geometry, but this advanced use is of no help for error analysis (where you work with the rule df*dg=0 until only linear terms remain, and then plug in actual errors).

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