Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist


When you think of apples, do you think of Isaac Newton? Many do, for his famous gravitational insight gained by having an apple fall on his head.

This is merely a newspaper column, a serious study or biography of Newton could cover several volumes. Science, mathematics, physics, theology were all within Newton’s purview and he was not weak in one and strong in anther, he was equally gifted in all these fields.

Newton was born in 1642 and died in 1726. He never married. His life spanned many other interesting lives of the time. Galileo died the year he was born. He had only been deceased for 10 years when George Washington was born. There are others in between we will discuss.

Newton’s astronomical, physical and mathematical works led him to the conclusion that the universe in which we live is so perfectly balanced that the only explanation for its exquisiteness is that there was a master designer, God. A Christian, he was not orthodox – he did not believe in the Trinity, holding Christ as subservient to God the Father.

Despite all his accomplishments, the one that I hold in highest esteem is that of inventing the field of mathematics knowns as calculus, just because the calculations he was trying to solve required more robust mathematics than available at the time. Undeterred, he simply created his own. This, situation, though, “Who invented calculus?” leads us immediately to our next personality…Gottfried Leibniz.

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was born in July 1646 in Leipzig, Germany. He died in 1716.

Here is the controversy: parallel to and independent of Newton, Leibniz also invented calculus. Both Newton and Leibniz created their own notations as to how to construct calculus problems but today Leibniz’s constructs are used most often.

Leibniz made many contributions to science and mathematics and even devised a system to organize libraries well before the Dewey Decimal System.

Most famously, Leibniz was “…most noted for his optimism, i.e., his conclusion that our universe is, in a restricted sense, the best possible one that God could have created, an idea that was often lampooned by others such as Voltaire” (Wikipedia).

Mathematicians and physicists still argue over who made the better calculus, Newton or Leibniz. In contemporary times, this argument has been advanced on the fictional TV show, “The Big Bang Theory”, with Sheldon Cooper arguing for Leibniz.

Leibniz was multilingual, writing in Latin, French, German, English, Italian and Dutch. Wikipedia reports that there is no complete gathering of Leibniz’s work in English. So, if you are looking for something to do…nah, just use Google Translate.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.