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A Brief History of Boolean Logic

Written by wyncode on 19th May 2014, 2:11 PM

George Boole portrait

George Boole, founder and namesake of Boolean Logic – Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

As the technological revolution continues to lead the global economic, entertainment, and education sectors, Boolean logic is the foundational system by which humans interact with computers to tell them how to think and problem solve for us.

This system is similar to the means by which we organize any textual information. Writing computer code is like writing a book. At it’s core, it is an information system based on the use of language. It’s from this language that you can begin to form concepts in your own mind and illustrate them in the minds of others within your work.

Boolean logic is no different, but the fact is that it applies to logical statements derived from mathematics.

Boolean logic arose from three mathematicians who were dedicated to simplifying the abstract idea of logic down into something that could be used in general purpose applications.

George Boole book

George Boole’s premiere written work – available via Forgotten Books on Amazon

George Boole published The Mathematical Analysis of Logic in 1847. The difference that set his analysis of logic apart from all other mathematicians at the time is that it relied solely on explicit algebra equations to make sense of things while still being able to apply things like De Morgan’s Laws.

Boole’s approach was hailed as one of the boldest ways of approaching the idea of a generalized system for logic. The idea was that math, rather than words or other language constructs, would be more universal in its application than other systems of logic.

George Boole house

The former home of George Boole – Photo by Logicus on WIkimedia Commons (public domain)

The thing that made Boolean logic even more impressive is the fact that it came from a man whom was self-educated. George Boole had little formal schooling, which is what likely made his application of logic stand out from the rest.

John Venn and C.S. Peirce were the two other mathematicians responsible for defining Boolean logic into what it is today. They took the ideas that Boole put forth and further generalized them.

You may recognize Venn as the creator of the famous Venn Diagram. Venn’s Symbolic Logic was the first major instance where symbols and images were used to describe the conventions of logic that Boole had put forth. This allow the applications of Boolean logic to become more numerous by showing that it could be applied to more than just mathematical formulas.

Charles Sanders Peirce, the “founder of Pragmatism,” made similar improvements in the abstraction of Boolean logic in his paper titled “On an Improvement in Boole’s Calculus of Logic”. He showed how algebra could be performed using repeated binary operations, developed axiomatic theories on Boolean sets and created graphs that would further illustrate how certain Boolean statements could be simplified using different logical operations.

Geroge Boole meorial plaque

Plaque beneath Boole’s window in Lincoln Cathedral – Photo by Logicus on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

While the development of logic as a math should be attributed to many men, it’s Boolean logic that we have to thank for things like computers and the software that runs on them. Without things like truth tables, diagrams and the development of set theory that stemmed from the work these three put in to the idea of Boolean logic, we would have made little advancement in the fields of technology, science and mathematics.

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