George Boole and the Calculus of Thought

by Richard Passov

42ecfaceabdf534121e824e991bc0a5f--george-boole-google-doodlesOn the night of December 8th, 1864, George Boole, 49 years of age, in the grips of pneumonia, expired. He left a wife, Mary, and five daughters. Unfortunately, Mary had always carried two of his beliefs: the health benefits of long walks and the healing powers of homeopathic remedies. Late in a winter evening, after finishing his work at the University, under a cold rain, George walked the two miles to his home. Over the next several days, guided by her belief that the cure lay in the symptoms, Mary repeatedly doused George in cold water.

* * *

George was born in a small rail hub one hundred and fifty miles north of London, in the den of a cobbler who, said his wife, was ‘…good at everything except his own business of managing shop.’ Unable to afford an education, Boole’s father nevertheless encouraged his son to study. Dutiful, George taught himself six languages, read the classics, read philosophy and studied his figures.

By twelve he had a reputation owing to his father’s submission to the local newspaper of a poem translated from ancient Greek. Interested readers were surprised to discover that the translator was an unschooled boy. The Town Councilor, fancying himself an amateur mathematician, provided George access to a library filled with mathematics.

George calculated that math would be more remunerative than his first love, theology. Some things don’t change. After enough self-study, hoping for tips from grateful parents he secured a position as an usher tutoring students in theater-sized classrooms. By nineteen, he opened his own school to which he gave the very unoriginal name: “The Classical, Commercial and Mathematical Academy.”

Teaching during the day, studying at night, living with and the sole support for his extended family, George mastered the complete cannon of contemporary math. Mastered to such an extent that in 1837 he responded to an advertisement from a newly established mathematical journal with an astonishingly original piece of work.

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