Calculus Invented in Kerala 250 years before Newton: study

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Joseph made the discovery while conducting research for the as-yet unpublished third edition of his best-selling book The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics.

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