Data aequatione quotcunque fluentes quantitae involvente fluxiones invenire et vice versa. (Isaac Newton)

In contemporary mathematical language this means “It is useful to solve differential equations” (Arnold & Levi [1]). Sir Isaac Newton considered this his most fundamental discovery, one so explosive that he published it only in the form of an anagram.

[1] Geometrical Methods in the Theory of Ordinary Differential Equations (1983) by V.I. Arnold, Mark Levi


In the 21
st century we routinely solve differential and integral equations on computers for problems in science, engineering and entertainment. Newton thought this concept was explosive (yet he didn’t mind publishing on theology and alchemy). Why?

Maybe it was the potential power that comes from being able to assemble a working system from a lot of small pieces. Today we know that molecules assemble into DNA which gives rise to life, and ultimately to consciousness and intelligence. Which gives rise to culture, technology and systematized knowledge, which in turn influence DNA by affecting natural selection, leading to a creative cycle. (Or perhaps a destructive cycle, the story is still being written).

to be continued...