Thursday, February 12, 2009


Ms. Mills's Calculus class was asked to determine who created calculus -- Isaac Newton or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz -- and to present the project in a creative manner of the student's choosing. Julia Murdza, class of 2010, chose to transcribe the following:

Press Conference Conducted by Sir Isaac Newton upon the Decision of the Royal Society regarding the Inventor of Calculus

Newton: Thank you all for coming. Please be seated. I come before you as a representative of the Royal Society. I speak to you today because this esteemed organization of the sciences has been hard at work answering the burning question, “Who really was the magnificent genius who invented calculus?”

This undertaking was prompted by the assertions of Nicholas Facio de Duillier and John Keill, who have publicly doubted Gottfried Leibniz’s claim to have independently invented calculus. In reaction to this, Leibniz started whining -- I mean, filed a formal complaint with the Society. After many years of intense research, the members of the Society’s special committee “reckon Mr. Newton the first inventor ; and are of the opinion that Mr. Keill, in asserting the same, has been no ways injurious to Mr. Leibnitz.”

The Society also calls upon Leibniz to prove how he found his method without my work, and remind the world that even “if Mr. Leibnitz had found the Method without the Assistance of Mr. Newton, yet second Inventors have no Right.” To summarize, I have been recognized as the supreme founder of the mathematical tradition of calculus. However, others are of course allowed to hold their own opinions, as inaccurate as these may be. I will now take a few questions.

Reporter 1: Thank you, sir.

Newton: Of course, my dear fellow.
Reporter 1: I’d like to ask you about the process the Royal Society went through to come to this conclusion, and about your role in the decision.

Newton: Well, obviously we wanted to be as fair and impartial as possible, but we also recognized that the burden of proof rested on Mr. Leibniz. My 1666 tract on fluxions and my correspondence with Mr. Leibniz made his claim of independent discovery somewhat... tenuous, shall we say. As an unsubstantiated claim, this is theft of intellectual property. Thus, the Royal Society examined all available tracts, papers and correspondence in order to create a sequence of information and discovery.

There is no evidence that Mr. Leibniz had a method different than mine before he received a letter in 1677 that was written by me in 1672. In contrast, Dr. Barrow and Mr. Collins saw my personal method in my De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas in 1669. Thus, the Society concluded that “that Mr. Newton had the Method in or before the Year 1669, and it did not appear to them that Mr. Leibnitz had it before the year 1677.” Thus, the claims against him have a quite legitimate basis.

As to my role in the matter, well, I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I myself have put forth no claims against Mr. Leibniz, although I am flattered that others have been conscientious enough to do so.

Reporter 1: A follow-up, please... if you knew all this in 1669, why didn’t you publish then?

Newton: I am often asked this. My work was well known among my close friends. It is not as if my work would have disappeared at my death. I merely refrained from publishing upon the first glimpse of possible insight. It is not fame that mattered to me, but truth and justice. The concepts of calculus are far too important to be rushed into the public eye without considerable contemplation... as are all things of beauty...

Reporter 1: ...Sir?

Newton: Right. Sorry. Anyway. I just wanted time to check my work, really. If I had known Mr. Leibniz would steal -- or, come across -- my idea within my lifetime, I certainly would have published earlier to avoid this silly confusion. It’s not as if it really matters who was first, though... I am only interested in justice.......... next question?

Reporter 2: Thank you, sir. I’m sure my question has been asked before, but many of our readers are still a bit confused about fluents and fluxions... could you please summarize your brilliant discoveries simply enough for them to get a general understanding?

Newton: I’d be glad to do so. It’s not difficult at all, really. The key discovery is my Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, which I’m afraid has been called “the single most powerful insight mathematicians have ever acquired for understanding how the universe works.” That’s rather silly of them, of course. Everything geometric is produced by motion, and is thus a fluent. The velocity of this movement is its fluxion. With my mathematics, you can find the fluxion of any fluent, or the fluent of any fluxion. You can also find the area under a fluent, or its integral which is the opposite of finding a fluent’s fluxion. (Find a fluent’s fluxion- say it ten times fast!)

Reporter 3: Sir, there has been discussion about the different notations used by you and Mr. Leibniz, with most students preferring that of Mr. Leibniz. Would you like to comment on the topic?

Newton: My notation has been completely understandable to the experts to whom I first made my work available, and it is a pity that its sophistication has rendered it esoteric. I would like to remind the public that while Mr. Leibniz may employ a simpler notation, I have had much longer to develop and adjust my calculations, and that integrity is more important than clarity.

Reporter 4: Sir, what would you consider your greatest achievement?

Newton: Why, that which is most valuable to society, of course. I have merely been one moment in a long line of men employed by God to remove the veil that obscures man’s view of the universe’s machinery. We may not know for a long time which of my interests has been the most useful. However, I do believe that the extension of the binomial theorem and the theories of mechanics and optics may hold particularly interesting applications.

Reporter 5: Who inspired you to lead such a dedicated life of scientific exploration?

Newton: We are getting a little off-topic, aren’t we? Well, when most people ask me this question, they expect me to talk about Mr. Barrow and his lectures at Trinity. I highly respect the man, but at that point I was already deeply involved in the sciences, and he wasn’t really a direct influence. Seeing as I was fatherless from a young age and lacked the health and stamina to engage in the usual childhood activities, I spent most of my childhood reading and inventing small toys for myself. From there, my natural imagination and curiosity led to an interest in all sorts of learning.

Reporter 6: While we’re talking about your childhood, could you briefly go over your educational background?

Newton: I attended the Village School, then Grantham Grammar School, then Cambridge, then Trinity. I had to return home during the plague, unfortunately -- but no matter! I was able to devote myself to my mathematical and scientific discoveries. I have since returned to Trinity to teach.

Reporter 4: When you are not solving the fundamental problems of the universe, what do you like to do in your free time?

Newton: Most of my interests would fall into that category of philosophical inquiry... but apart from exact mathematics and physics, I do take pleasure in alchemy and dating biblical events. My time as Warden of the Mint was quite enjoyable.