Wednesday, February 11, 2009


In Ms. Mills's Calculus class, Connie Emerson, class of 2010, took the opposite view in this Open Letter: Leibniz was the inventor.

To Whom It May Concern:

Though many misguided people have tried to prove otherwise, I, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, am the rightful creator of calculus. Yes, it is true that I, not Sir Isaac Newton, am the one who perfected this fine art and should, therefore, be given all credit for its development. And to those of you who do not believe that anyone but Newton could have possibly masterminded such a subject, prepare to be shocked. I hope to show you all, once and for all, that the credit should not be given to that self-centered man but instead awarded to me.

I am a true scholar. I have been called “a world class intellectual” and many claim I am “the most comprehensive thinker since Aristotle." I am simply fascinated by all intellectual pursuits and try to write about as many as I can. I am one of the few natural philosophers outside of England, and thus, many people chose to call me a “continental Newton,” for my range stretches farther than that silly little country. Though I hold no academic position, some of my greatest interests include metaphysics and religion. I would like to think of myself as a well-rounded intellectual.

And then there is Newton. The man barely graduated from Cambridge! Even so, his discoveries are numerous. He was able to develop the three laws of motion with no guidance but the works of Galileo, and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. He also made significant strides in the field of optics and even made the first telescope. Clearly the man is a genius, and it seems that he knows this fact. Newton’s egotism abounds and he is obsessed with his own uniqueness. He cannot believe that maybe, just maybe, there is another person who might have the same intellectual ability he does.
I must start off by saying that I did not steal Newton’s ideas. He merely made that claim because he could not accept the fact that I was able to think in the same way he did. I am told that Newton made many discoveries as a schoolboy that went beyond those of the most advanced mathematicians. However, I am also told he was too scared to publish because he was afraid of criticism. Apparently he first discovered calculus between 1665 and 1666, ten years before I made my own discovery. But alas, he did not publish! How could I have laid eyes on Newton’s thoughts if he lacked the bravery to put them into print! This obvious discrepancy in his story always drives me mad. Why do they fail to see?

I, however, was able to publish. I discovered my version of calculus during two years of absolute desolation. My university had closed due to the plague, and I was left with nothing but my mind to occupy me. During those years, I believe it was between 1673 and 1676, I worked on my ideas and began to realize the enormity of my discovery. As far as I knew, I was the first to think about mathematics in such a way. I decided it was time to contact a potential publisher. The man I saw fit for the job was John Collins. At that time, I was unaware that he was also Newton’s publisher, and yet people accuse me of using Collins to get Newton’s thoughts. Collins saw my ideas and sent me the latest discoveries from the Royal Society. I was surprised to find them somewhat similar to my own, but knew that I had fully developed my own thinking before even laying eyes on those papers. Some time after, I began to receive letters from Newton in which he made illusions to ideas that were very similar to my own. Being a well-mannered man, I politely replied, but in truth I was busy getting my ideas in a publishable state.

My thoughts on calculus first appeared in my book Acta Fruditorum. I released my ideas on differentials in 1684, and then integrals in 1686. Newton did not have the courage to publish his own calculus until 1704, when he first made reference to it in his book Optics. When people realized our ideas were similar, accusations quickly began to fly. Surely the celebrated Newton had been the sole discoverer of calculus, and I, a lesser-known scholar, must have stolen his ideas. Nobody could believe that I had also thought of something that was supposed to be unique to Newton. Newton claimed that I took ideas from his letter, but they were of no use to me! I had already developed my thoughts. Those letters talked about tangents and extracts, not pure calculus. Newton proceeded to claim that Collins gave me his unpublished manuscript in 1676, another lie. I received nothing of the sort, and yet it seemed that everyone believed Newton’s fibs. I had a single ally (John Bernoulli) against a sea of Newton followers. The nonsense had to end.

Newton found that the best solution to our dispute was to figure out who really deserved the credit. Thus, he called a commission of the Royal Society. Newton held a prominent position in the society, so how was I to win? They all believed that I was guilty of plagiarism. I appeared before the Royal Society in 1711 to clear the accusations, but it was to no avail. In 1715, they reported on the issue and found Newton to be the sole inventor of calculus. I was pushed into the shadows by a man whose ego could not share glory.

My heart grows heavy every time I remember how I suffered. My life’s finest discovery was snatched away from me and given to a man who considers it one of his lesser accomplishments. Did Newton not have enough fame already? Could he not give me credit for this one idea? He could not see that his genius was not the only genius in the world. I do not claim to be the sole inventor of calculus, but as of now, I am nothing. I simply would like some recognition for my work. Alas, it is not to be. Thus, I have faded into the background. I now work in the Hanoverian court on a meager salary. It is 1716 and I fear my life will not last much longer. I am afraid I will die a failure.