The Duel over the Calculus [diptych](2007)

Calculus is arguably the cornerstone of modern mathematics. English scientist Isaac Newton and German philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz both independently ‘discovered’ the method in the mid 17th Century. The dispute over true authorship continued for many years, reaching a head in 1711, when the Royal Society decided that Newton (an Englishman) deserved the honor of being credited as the inventor, rather than the German, Leibnitz.

Matters of honor were of the utmost importance during this time, and duels between rivals with swords were commonplace. 1711 is the year of the first recorded use of pistols in a duel. Of course Newton and Leibnitz never faced each other in such circumstances, but I like to think that should these aged academics have decided to settle their differences in this manner, they would have chosen the very latest in ballistic technology.

Duelling had an agreed protocol, strictly adhered to by all men of honor. ‘Seconds’ were employed to provide support to the protagonists, both in the preparation of weapons, and often as field medics should the duel result in injury. I have painted Einstein as Newton’s second, and Niels Bohr as support for Leibnitz.

Newton and Einstein can be considered as the masters of classical physics, Bohr and Leibnitz as the fathers of sub-atomic physics. The quantum realm is fascinating philosophically as a place where causality, free-will and determinism are fundamentally questioned.

What is the nature of causality, when a particle can exist simultaneously throughout the universe?

Where is truth when each sub-atomic particle can only be considered as ‘existing’ when there is an observer?

The left painting bears a quote of Newton: “Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend; but my greatest friend is truth”, while the right has a quote from Leibnitz: “There are two kinds of truth: those of reasoning and those of fact”

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