Math in the News
Move Over Newton: Medieval Indian Scholars Were First to Identify Infinite Series
August 27, 2007
Isaac Newton wasn't the first to identify the "infinite series" one of the basic components of calculus. George Gheverghese Joseph, of the University of Manchester, and Dennis Almeida, from the University of Exeter, claim that mathematicians of the Kerala School, a largely unknown group of scholars in southwest India, worked with infinite series in the middle of the 14th century.
The researchers also say that the school's mathematicians discovered an infinite series for pi, using it to calculate pi to 17 decimal places.
"The beginnings of modern [mathematics are] usually seen as a European achievement," Joseph says, "but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten." He argues that European Jesuit priests traveling in India could have brought these mathematical discoveries back to Europe, where they eventually might have come to Newton's attention.
"The brilliance of Newton's work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus," Joseph says. "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."
Additional details will appear be in a revised edition of Joseph's book The Crest of the Peacock: The Non-European Roots of Mathematics (Princeton University Press).
Source: University of Manchester, Aug. 13, 2007.