Calculus created in India 250 years before Newton: study
Researchers in England may have finally settled the centuries-old debate over who gets credit for the creation of calculus.
Dr. George Gheverghese Joseph. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Manchester)
For years, English scientist Isaac Newton and German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz both claimed credit for inventing the mathematical system sometime around the end of the seventeenth century.
Now, a team from the universities of Manchester and Exeter says it knows where the true credit lies — and it’s with someone else completely.
The “Kerala school,” a little-known group of scholars and mathematicians in fourteenth century India, identified the “infinite series” — one of the basic components of calculus — around 1350.
Dr. George Gheverghese Joseph, a member of the research team, says the findings should not diminish Newton or Leibniz, but rather exalt the non-European thinkers whose contributions are often ignored.
“The beginnings of modern mathsis usually seen as a European achievement but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten,” he said. “The brilliance of Newton’s work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished — especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus.
“But other names from the Kerala School, notably Madhava and Nilakantha, should stand shoulder to shoulder with him as they discovered the other great component of calculus — infinite series.”
He argues that imperialist attitudes are to blame for suppressing the true story behind the discovery of calculus.
“There were many reasons why the contribution of the Kerala school has not been acknowledged,” he said. “A prime reason is neglect of scientific ideas emanating from the Non-European world, a legacy of European colonialism and beyond.”
However, he concedes there are other factors also in play.
“There is also little knowledge of the medieval form of the local language of Kerala, Malayalam, in which some of most seminal texts, such as the Yuktibhasa, from much of the documentation of this remarkable mathematics is written,” he admits.
Joseph made the discovery while conducting research for the as-yet unpublished third edition of his best-selling book The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics.