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The Birth of Calculus

This is a neat video about the birth of calculus. It deals first with Newton and then with Leibniz, and discusses how, in trying to solve the same problem, both arrived at the same conclusion using different methods and representations*. The thing that really surprised me about this video, however, is the fact that this film appears to use the actual manuscripts, at least for Newton. The Newton book he’s handling is either an original, or a exacting copy (right down to the deterioration) of the Waste Papers book.

*regarding the calculus controversy: Personally, I’m inclined to agree that more than one person could have come up with this idea at the same time. The seed for both was Descartes’ concept of the X-Y plane — after the introduction of that idea, development of calculus was inevitable (which isn’t to say it was easy). The controversy itself was largely the product of lesser minds groping for relevance, fueled by nationalism and personal vanity.

Bonus material: If you feel like spending some more time thinking about this, you should check out episode 5 of James Burke’s The Day The Universe Changed, which puts some more ideas in a wider cultural context.


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