Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hypothetical and Conditional Syllogism

When talking about the origins of computing, people are likely to mention Sir Clive Sinclair in the 1980's or Konrad Zuse's Z1 in 1936 or Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine in 1837. But these people were more involved in the evolution of the mechanics of computing. In truth, you need to look much further back to find the origins of computer programming and logic.

The Ancient Greeks pioneered western logic that has formed the basis of computer language. In fact Aristotle (384-322bc) introduced the first system, now known as Hypothetical Syllogism.

Hypothetical Syllogism (HS) is a form of classical argument and reasoning by inference. A typical set of hypothetical syllogisms are:
  • If the lights are switched out then the room will be dark.
  • If there is no food then we will go hungry.
  • If it rains, the grass will be wet.
In fact it's very hard to avoid people's verbal use of HS, it is so deeply entrenched into our language and reasoning. HS is most often used in business to convey logic, explore possible outcomes and even to deliver ultimatums. Knowing about HS can really help you to reframe fierce conversations into what they truly are - explorations of hypothetical risk using logical inference.

Anyone who writes code will recognise the ubiquitous "IF  THEN" statements that form the basis of many computing languages. These expressions also had a greek name, and are referred to as Conditional Syllogisms (CS). The logical process is the same, but is used to specify conditions for action or reference.
It is easy to assume that computers are a relatively modern invention, but in truth they have been evolving in our collective consciousness for many centuries.

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