And, or Not

Apparently George Boole has a crater on the moon named after him. But that is not his key claim to fame. Without Mr. Boole, Google would not exist nor would the internet itself because computers wouldn’t exist, which is perhaps why they recently honoured his 200th birthday with a doodle. Despite my dubious relationship with math, I can credit Mr. Boole with a large part of my career direction.

One arm of philosophy (and in case you didn’t know, it contains more arms than an octopus) is logic. Logic is, of course, the study of valid reasoning (as opposed to invalid reasoning, which of course is the study of Donald Trump). It goes all the way back to Aristotle or about as far back as you can go, philosophy-wise. I have an entire degree in philosophy in spite of my deep dive into logic, which danced too close to the flame of mathematics to be healthy for my GPA. And this is where Mr. Boole first tried to trip me up with his invention of Boolean algebra. In his own words: “No general method for the solution of questions in the theory of probabilities can be established that does not explicitly recognize, not only the special numerical bases of the science, but also those universal laws of thought which are the basis of all reasoning, and which, whatever they may be as to their essence, are at least mathematical as to their form.” Right. Got it. Is it lunch time yet?

But somehow I was able to grab my B.A. in good enough order to escape to graduate school. To be exact, to library school where, contrary to popular belief, you do not learn how to shelve books (well, I guess yes you do, in the form of learning the Dewey Decimal classification system and the Library of Congress classification system, both of which are powers to be reckoned with), but how to find the answers to questions by searching through the existing base of knowledge. So guess you could say I have an entire degree in research. A degree that has been lucratively applied only in the context of not being employed as an actual librarian (but I digress).

The internet is where we researchers live these days. Most people do not venture past the simple yet elegant Google search box or any other simple search presented on the front page of most websites. Pity the fools, for they do not know the power of dipping their fingers in the Boolean pool. Because Mr. Boole figured out the power of three simple words: And, Or, Not. Unfortunately the Boolean search capability is well hidden on the interweb, perhaps to prevent people from actually finding what they want as opposed to what the ‘sponsored content’ people want you to find. In fact, to get to the Google advanced search you have to go to search. And so it goes. The more we know the more we can’t access it.

According to those that figure these things out, we are approaching the zettabyte threshold of information on the internet. Who knows what we’ll get to after zettabytes (aabytes?), but each zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes. One exabyte is 1,000 petabytes. One petabyte is 1,000 terabytes. One terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. You get the drift. But all I know is the knowledge of how to access all this ‘knowledge’ (of course excluding zettabytes devoted to cat pictures and Kim Kardashian’s rear end) is sorely lacking. Maybe that library degree will become even more valuable as we move deeper into the new millennium. Or not.

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