George Boole succeeded where the great philosophers who went before him – Aristotle, Pascal and Leibniz – failed.
His remarkable achievement was to translate logic into mathematical form.
He took three words – ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘not’ – and showed how they could be represented in symbolic form.
His symbolic logic, known as Boolean algebra, was precisely the language needed to open the way for the digital age. In the 1930s, American mathematician Claude Shannon used Boolean algebra to design electronic circuitry.
In the 1940s, pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing went further. He used Boolean logic to develop the first digital computer, marking the start of a digital revolution. Every time we switch on an electronic device – for example our smartphone, computer, or tablet – we are using Boole’s work.
But he also made important contributions in other areas. He invented Invariant Theory, which would prove very useful to Albert Einstein when he was working on his Theory of Relativity.
Boolean bipolarity might sound inaccessible, but you make use of it every time you switch on the kettle. The ‘0’ for off and the ‘1’ for on represents a new type of mathematical approach which has its origins in Boole’s work.
Perhaps Boole’s most famous and useful equation is X2 = X. In layman’s terms that simply means, if you take a group of white sheep and add more white sheep, the result is just a flock of white sheep. It might sound prosaic, but it was not thought of before Boole.