George Boole
1815-1864


Born in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England November 2, 1815. Died Ballintemple, County Cork, Ireland December 8, 1864.

George Boole was the son of a shopkeeper. This working class of people were not given a high level of education. He had common schooling and a commercial course. His father, who had studied some mathematics privately, tutored George in the subject.

George wanted to learn Latin and Greek so that he could advance in society. He was given some basic tutoring from the local bookseller, a friend of his father. George managed to learn Latin by himself. At the age of 12, he translated an ode of Horace into English. His father was proud and had his work printed in the local paper. Several critics denied a boy of his age could do such work, but they also pointed out his errors. George was humiliated.

George spent the next two years studying Latin and Greek. At the age of 16 he was ready to find a profession that would allow him to support his aging parents. Boole worked as an assistant teacher at two schools over the next four years. He was not satisfied with the low wages and looked for another profession. He could not afford the Army or the Law, and he didn't like the teacher's wages, so he focused on the Church.

After four years of preparation to be a clergyman, his parents persuaded him back to teaching. He did learn French, German and Italian while studying to become a clergyman, languages that would help him later in mathematics.

At age 20, George Boole opened his own school. He had to begin teaching mathematics to his pupils, which sparked his own interest in math. Dissatisfied with the textbooks, he began reading Laplace and Lagrange for ideas. Inspired by ideas in their work, he wrote his first mathematical paper on the calculus of variations. During this time, Boole also discovered invariants.

Boole began submitting his work to the Cambridge Mathematical Journal. The editor, Duncan Gregory liked his papers and published them in the journal. Gregory suggested that Boole study at Cambridge, but he could not quit teaching because he supported his parents financially.

Boole began studying algebra as Gregory suggested. His work was soon published and awarded. In August 1849, Boole was appointed as a professor of mathematics at Queens College, Cork. Within two years, he was named Dean of Science.

In 1854, Boole published An Investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities. Boole suggested that logic and algebraic symbols were similar. By tying logic and algebra, Boole allowed algebra to be viewed as purely abstract. Today, computer programming is based upon Boolean algebra.

George Boole married Mary Everest (daughter of George Everest, for whom the mountain is named) in 1855. Boole encouraged his wife to study at the college. They had five daughters.

George Boole died on December 8, 1864, after several weeks of fighting a lung infection. George had walked to college in the rain, lectured, and returned home which prompted the sickness.

George Boole's contributions to mathematics have very modern applications: computer programming, electrical engineering, satellite pictures, telephone circuits and even Einstein's theory of relativity.

Contributed by Sara Collins

References:

  1. Men of Mathematics, 1937, reprinted 1961. E T Bell
  2. Roger p@rsons_world of George Boole http://homepages.enterprise.net/rogerp/george/boole.html
  3. "The Calculus of Logic" by George Boole
  4. George Boole, his life and work. Desmond MacHale
  5. Boole, by T A A Broadbent
  6. Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Volume 2, 1970
  7. George Boole:An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on which are Founded,The Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities,Dover Publications. Reprinted 1858 and 1973
  8. George Boole. 1815-1864,George Boole: selected manuscripts on logic and its philosophy, [edited by] Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Gerrard Bornet (Science networks historical studies; v. 20)
  9. http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Boole.html

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