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The Complex Itinerary of Leibniz's Planetary Theory

Paolo Bussotti
Publisher: 
Birkhäuser
Publication Date: 
2015
Number of Pages: 
188
Format: 
Hardcover
Series: 
Science Networks Historical Studies 52
Price: 
139.00
ISBN: 
9783319212357
Category: 
Monograph
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
, on
03/21/2016
]

All mathematicians know of the long battle between the backers of Newton and the supporters of Leibniz regarding which was the inventor of calculus. Furthermore, as a consequence of the publication of “Principia,” Newton is given an enormous amount of (deserved) credit for establishing the physical laws of motion and why the planets move the way they do. Left aside and historically ignored is the work that Leibniz did regarding the theory of how the actions of gravity caused the planets to proceed in their courses. This book is a historical record of much of the thought and analysis Leibniz did in attempting to explain the specifics of planetary movements.

Once Kepler established his laws of how the planets orbited the sun, the natural next steps were to develop explanations of how it all worked, in other words, what physical mechanisms “tied” the planets to the sun. Given what was experienced on Earth regarding how forces were transmitted, it was natural that a physical medium, the “aether,” be postulated for the expression of the forces that kept the planets in their orbits. A set of “aethereal harmonic vortexes” was postulated by Leibniz as the sole cause of the planetary motion. This differed significantly from the theories of Newton regarding the fundamental mechanisms of planetary motion. Of course it was the work of Einstein hundreds of years later that led to our current understanding of the physical mechanism of gravity. As a side note, it has recently been reported that the gravity waves predicted by Einstein have finally been detected.

While his foundations were based on erroneous hypotheses, Leibniz still did some significant work in the area of planetary motion and Bussotti explains how Leibniz took the work of Kepler and developed it into a coherent theory. One of the positive aspects of the combination of math with science is that progress can be made in the area of mathematical descriptions when the scientific hypothesis is flawed. Leibniz’s work in planetary theory, as described in this book, is another demonstration that he was a superb mathematician. 


Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.

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