The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age

The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age

The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age

The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age


Boolean algebra, also called Boolean logic, is at the heart of the electronic circuitry in everything we use--from our computers and cars, to our kitchen gadgets and home appliances. How did a system of mathematics established in the Victorian era become the basis for such incredible technological achievements a century later? In The Logician and the Engineer, best-selling popular math writer Paul Nahin combines engaging problems and a colorful historical narrative to tell the remarkable story of how two men in different eras--mathematician and philosopher George Boole (1815-1864) and electrical engineer and pioneering information theorist Claude Shannon (1916-2001)--advanced Boolean logic and became founding fathers of the electronic communications age.

Presenting the dual biographies of Boole and Shannon, Nahin examines the history of Boole's innovative ideas, and considers how they led to Shannon's groundbreaking work on electrical relay circuits and information theory. Along the way, Nahin presents logic problems for readers to solve and talks about the contributions of such key players as Georg Cantor, Tibor Rado, and Marvin Minsky--as well as the crucial role of Alan Turing's "Turing machine"--in the development of mathematical logic and data transmission. Nahin takes readers from fundamental concepts to a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of how a modern digital machine such as the computer is constructed. Nahin also delves into the newest ideas in quantum mechanics and thermodynamics in order to explore computing's possible limitations in the twenty-first century and beyond.

The Logician and the Engineer shows how a form of mathematical logic and the innovations of two men paved the way for the digital technology of the modern world.


This book is about an amazing intellectual “collaboration” between two men who never met. the Englishman George Boole lived his entire life within the nineteenth century, while the American Claude Shannon was born in the twentieth and died at the beginning of the twenty-first. Boole, of course, never knew Shannon, but he was one of Shannon’s heroes. It is because of Shannon that Boole is rightfully famous today, but it is because of Boole that Shannon first gained the attention of the scientific community.

What makes the cross-time relationship of these two remarkable men particularly interesting is that Boole was a pure mathematician, a man who lived in the rarefied, abstract world of the academic, while Shannon was primarily a practical, “get your hands dirty” electrical engineer. Despite this extreme difference in their worldviews, it is simply impossible to think of one of these men without thinking of the other. So many of the well-known scientific theories of our day are attached—rightfully or not—to a single name (it is Einstein’s theory of special and general relativity, it is Newton’s theory of gravity, it is Maxwell’s theory of electrodynamics, it is Darwin’s theory of evolution, it is Schrödinger’s theory of quantum wave mechanics, it is Heisenberg’s theory of quantum matrix mechanics, and so on), but when one hears of Boolean algebra one immediately thinks also of Shannon’s switching theory. and vice versa. the two names are intimately entangled.

Later in his life Shannon’s name did become uniquely attached to the new science of information theory, but even then you’ll see as you read this book how the mathematics of information theory— probability theory—was a deep, parallel interest of Boole’s as well.

What Boole and Shannon created, together, even though separated by nearly a century, was without exaggeration nothing less than the fundamental foundation for our modern world of computers and . . .

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