Onil asks:

Did Leibniz really steal the calculus from Newton? Or was it simply two geniuses simultaneously reaching similar conclusions and their egos refusing to believe such a coincidence was possible? And just how similar or different were their ideas?

Ooh Mathematics. Ok so let’s do a few introductions:

Isaac Newton, most people know;

Here he is

Recreating the cover of his favorite album ever, Pink Floyd’s *Dark Side of the Moon* there, yes he was so clever that he predicted the coming of Floyd and deduced their best album would be the one which could sync up to *The Wizard of Oz*.

But more importantly Newton gave the world The Catflap Infinitesimal Calculus, or simply Calculus as we now call it (when Newton was working on it “calculus” was a near synonym for “mathematics” or “that confusing stuff with them number things” so people had to specify which sort of calculus they were talking about).

Newton wasn’t the only person to create Infinitesimal Calculus however; the other inventor (and the one who gave it its name) was this chap:

Gottfried Leibniz.

Another very clever man but one with very different interests to Newton: Leibniz was much more interested in metaphysics than Newton (which is not to say Newton was entirely uninterested in metaphysics/the occult, it just wasn’t one of his pet obsessions).

However the common meeting point of Physics and Metaphysics is mathematics, that is both love numbers and ultimately are dependant upon them (in fact, in the end, everything is mathematics, which takes us back to the topic of the first question I answered).

So, working from different starting points both Leibniz and Newton arrived at essentially the same point, so where’s the problem?

The problem lay in this; Newton wrote about his system of calculus in *Method of Fluxions* in 1671 while Leibniz published his theory in the book *Nova methodus pro maximis et minimis* (*A New Method for Maximums and Minimums*) in 1684. The key word there is *published*, Newton didn’t get around to publishing *Method of Fluxions* until 1734.

So a bit of a grey area really, it is possible that Leibniz saw some of Newton’s notes and extrapolated from there, but that’s not all that likely. What we do know is that Newton had a touch of the Prima donna about him and was prone to hissy fits. In this case he might have better counted to ten and remembered something he’d written to Richard Hooke (later to be the subject of another huge Newtonian hissy fit) in 1676:

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

What he is saying there is that nothing he knows or has come up with sprang fully formed from his mind, but was merely the latest development in a long line of theories and ideas. This is absolutely true, there really is no such thing as a revolutionary idea, if you look closely (but not too closely) all great ideas are really evolutionary in nature.

However, what we say and how we act are two very separate things. So Newton sulked and griped about Leibniz’ supposed plagiarism. Except Newton’s calculus isn’t anywhere near as clear as Leibniz’; as I mentioned earlier, Leibniz actually called infinitesimal calculus *infinitesimal calculus* which Newton did not.

Leibniz also used a different notation set, the symbols used for his equations, to Newton. If you take a calculus class today you’ll use a particular notation set and, more likely than not, it won’t be Newton’s but Leibniz’. Consider those last two points together and the argument over who created Calculus tips, slightly but noticeably, towards the Metaphysician.

So let’s look at the questions one by one.

Did Leibniz really steal the calculus from Newton?

Probably not.

Or was it simply two geniuses simultaneously reaching similar conclusions and their egos refusing to believe such a coincidence was possible?

Not really both of the two geniuses, but certainly it was a problem caused by ego, the one belonging to Newton.

And just how similar or different were their ideas?

Fundamentally, their ideas are pretty near identical. However, the differences between them tend to give more support to Leibniz than Newton.

I have to appologise for the delay in posting that last answer, I intended to post it yesterday but I was caught up in a mamouth Christmas cookie baking session.

Anyway Season’s Greetings, no matter how one chooses to react to the world being at one extreme of it’s relationship to the sun or the other.

on December 24, 2008 at 3:27 pm |OnilAh. Having never taken a calculus class, I did not know that about the notations.

I guess Newton’s rep is so much more prominent than Leibniz’s that whenever I hear about the calculus fight it’s always been Newton who was the aggrieved party.

on December 24, 2008 at 8:31 pm |asknickipediaI think it could conceivably be argued either way but personally I think Leibniz has the (really rather slight) advantage here. Assuming of course that one has to be seen as being an aggrieved party.