August 8, 2019
The dispute between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz about who had been the first to invent calculus is well known. Most western historians today give the credit to Leibniz and it was Leibniz’s notation that passed into standard use.
In certain parts of Africa, however, the controversy still rages. Among some African tribes, the appendix to Newton’s book “Optics,” where he first expounded his method of calculus in its fullest form, is a sacred text second only to the Koran. Engineers and scientists belonging to the tribes that treasure Newton’s memory have been known to quarrel with the partisans of Leibniz, sometimes violently.
That is exactly what we see here in Padova. African engineers, working on an important project for the betterment of Italy, get into a dispute about whether Leibniz’s “differential” or Newton’s “fluxional” form of calculus should be used for the project’s calculations.
Bemused Italian commuters, probably incapable of grasping the high intellectual passion that animates the Africans, can only look on in amazement.