Gottfried von Wilhelm Leibniz and Invention of Calculus

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Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was born on July 1, 1646 in Leipzig, Germany. He is best recognized for being one of the founding fathers of calculus, along with Sir Isaac Newton. His nickname is the last “Universal Genius” because his work spanned across many areas of life and academia, including math, philosophy, religion, history and physics. He was fascinated in learning and expanding his understanding of life. This “Universal Genius” is applicable to many parts of his life, consisting of earning many academic degrees and his major understanding of mathematics and the world around us.

In 1663, Leibniz earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Leipzig, and then later got a master’s degree in philosophy. This mathematician put in hard work not only studying philosophy, but also in law. At first, he did not earn a degree in law from the university where he got his two other degrees, but after initial denial from the same university at Leipzig, he relocated to the University of Altdorf in Switzerland where he received his bachelor’s degree in law. After finishing studying and initial education, he focused on mathematics and met a friend who was called “Tschinhaus”. It was during this time when he worked with Tschinhaus and started developing his ideas for calculus. Calculus was slowly but surely being developed and a whole new world of understanding mathematics was about to begin.

In 1673, this famous mathematician was in the early stages of inventing calculus, however he had trouble putting his ideas into a clean, readable notation. On November 21, 1675, Leibniz invented the notation still used today. On the same day, he invented the product rule. The Leibniz notation that we use to differentiate functions known as for the first derivative, and for the second derivatives were invented by this famous mathematician. Also in the early 1670’s Leibniz started working on counting systems, such as the base 2 notation used in computers today. Leibniz’s work from the 1600’s is an integral part to how every computer and even cell phones in the modern world operate today. This is significant because without this man, who knows what the technology would have come to if we did not have basic binary operations. Zeros and ones are the basis for running almost every device we use today in our daily lives.

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In the 1680’s Leibniz wrote a publication about finding the area under the curve. It was in this book that never seen before the integral notation appeared. Shortly after Leibniz published his work, Sir Isaac Newton also was around working on his version of calculus. Newton did most of his work in the 1670’s but could not publish it until it was translated to the English language. It was this conflict that caused a big argument between Newton and Leibniz. Leibniz and Newton wrote letters to each other, and unfortunately there was a disconnect between the two of them. Newton thought that Leibniz had plagiarized his work, and accused him of stealing the credit for inventing calculus. It is interesting to note that while Leibniz and Newton argue over who created calculus, they both worked on their ideas on their own, and came up with similar ideas during the same time period.

In the early 1700’s, now that calculus had taken off and become noticed, people started to argue over who really invented it. People who were on Newton’s side accused him of plagiarizing Leibniz’s ideas. Additionally, the Royal Society were in favor of Newton, and Leibniz was not able to give them his whole side of the story. The Royal Society decided to honor Newton as the person who discovered calculus, while Leibniz got credit for the first publication. It has been said that Leibniz was never allowed to view what information the Royal society had, as Newton and Leibniz both claimed to invent calculus, and had written and documented similar ideas during the same time period. Nevertheless, Leibniz still played a very significant role in the creation of calculus and development of mathematics during this time period.

At the same time, while he was in conflict over who invented calculus, Leibniz moved north towards Hanover, Germany where he was given a job as a librarian. While working as a librarian, this did not protect him from himself. He had a regular job, but was still passionate about working on other inventions for science. Leibniz while working on these new ideas ran into issues with officials and people who he worked with, because they thought his ideas were going to put them out of work and then they would be unemployed. His other ideas never took off, but were still around in his way of life.

Leibniz also focused on studying religion and philosophy, and wrote an essay called “théodicée”. He tried to solve the problem of why there is evil in the world, and came to the conclusion that the universe is not a perfect place and humans should accept it for what it is and not to try and make a complete perfect world. It was an essay that focused on theodicy on the goodness of God, man’s freedom and the beginning of evil in the world. This is one of many fields that Leibniz focused on through his very interesting and studious life and lifestyle.

Towards the end of his life, Leibniz focused primarily arguing about who came up with the idea of calculus. Overall, this famous mathematician, whether he invented calculus on his own or not contributed tremendously to the field of mathematics especially because of his notation that is used widely today.

Sources

  1. http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Leibniz.html
  2. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz/
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