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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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The Symbol Master

The Symbol Master

(p.165) Chapter 18 The Symbol Master
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter focuses on the symbols created by Gottfried Leibniz. Alert to the advantages of proper symbols, Leibniz worked them, altered them, and tossed them whenever he felt the looming possibility that some poorly devised symbol might someday unnecessarily complicate mathematical exposition. He foresaw how symbols for polynomials could not possibly continue into algebra's generalizations at the turn of the seventeenth century. He knew how inconvenient symbols trapped the advancement of algebra in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By the last half of the seventeenth century, symbols were pervasive in mathematics manuscripts, largely due to Leibniz, along with others such as William Oughtred, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton. Among the more than 200 new symbols invented by Leibniz are his symbols for the differential and integral calculus.

Keywords:   symbols, Gottfried Leibniz, polynomials, algebra, mathematics, William Oughtred, René Descartes, calculus

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