The History of Calculus

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  • Topic: Gottfried Leibniz, Calculus, Infinitesimal calculus
  • Pages : 2 (676 words )
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  • Published : September 1, 2008
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The discovery of calculus is often attributed to two men, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, who independently developed its foundations. Although they both were instrumental in its creation, they thought of the fundamental concepts in very different ways. While Newton considered variables changing with time, Leibniz thought of the variables x and y as ranging over sequences of infinitely close values. He introduced dx and dy as differences between successive values of these sequences. Leibniz knew that dy/dx gives the tangent but he did not use it as a defining property. On the other hand, Newton used quantities x' and y', which were finite velocities, to compute the tangent. Of course neither Leibniz nor Newton thought in terms of functions, but both always thought in terms of graphs. For Newton the calculus was geometrical while Leibniz took it towards analysis.

It is interesting to note that Leibniz was very conscious of the importance of good notation and put a lot of thought into the symbols he used. Newton, on the other hand, wrote more for himself than anyone else. Consequently, he tended to use whatever notation he thought of on that day. This turned out to be important in later developments. Leibniz's notation was better suited to generalizing calculus to multiple variables and in addition it highlighted the operator aspect of the derivative and integral. As a result, much of the notation that is used in Calculus today is due to Leibniz.

The development of Calculus can roughly be described along a time line which goes through three periods: Anticipation, Development, and Rigorization. In the Anticipation stage techniques were being used by mathematicians that involved infinite processes to find areas under curves or maximize certain quantities. In the Development stage Newton and Leibniz created the foundations of Calculus and brought all of these techniques together under the umbrella of the derivative and integral....
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