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George Boole

George Boole (1815-1864) was a British mathematician and is known as the founder of mathematical logic. Boole, who came from a poor family and was essentially a self-taught mathematician, made his presence known in the world of mathematics in 1847 after the publication of his book, "The Mathematical Analysis of Logic". In his book, Boole successfully demonstrated that logic, as Aristotle taught it, could be represented by algebraic equations. In 1854, Boole firmly established his reputation by publishing "An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on Which Are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities", a continuation of his earlier work.

In 1855 Boole, the first professor of mathematics at The College of Cork, Ireland, married Mary Everest, who is now known as a mathematician and teacher in her own right. Mary, who was 18 years younger than Boole, served as sounding-board and editor for her husband throughout their nine years of marriage. Unfortunately, Mary's poor choice of medical treatment may have hastened Boole's death. After getting caught in the rain and catching a cold, Boole was put to bed by his wife, who dumped buckets of water on him based on the theory that whatever had caused the illness would also provide the cure. (It seemed logical to her.) George and Mary had five daughters; the third daughter, Alicia Boole Stott, became well-known for her work in the visualization of geometric figures in hyperspace.

Boole's work in symbolic logic, collectively known as "Boolean algebra", is widely regarded to be based on the work of earlier mathematician G.W. Leibniz. Although Boole's work was well-received during his lifetime, it was considered to be "pure" mathematics until 1938, when Claude Shannon published his thesis at MIT. Shannon demonstrated that Boole's symbolic logic, as it applies to the representation of TRUE and FALSE, could be used to represent the functions of switches in electronic circuits. This became the foundation for digital electronic design, with practical applications in telephone switching and computer engineering.

Today, when using a search engine on the Internet, we use Boole's mathematical concepts to help us locate information by defining a relationship between the terms we enter. For instance, searching for George AND Boole would find every article in which both the word George and the word Boole appear. Searching for George OR Boole would find every article in which either the word George or the word Boole appears. We call this a boolean search.

This was last updated in September 2005

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