What's in a name22 Aug 2011
This is a slightly idolized recollection how we came to adopt the name Booles’ Rings.
When Sam and I began looking seriously into the idea of wordpress for mathematicians we also started thinking about names. I immediately thought of one of the most unique science blogging networks – Occam’s Typewriter.
Science bloggers are the cool kids
When Occams’ Typewriter opened its gates I was right in the middle of a love affair with scientific blogging. Scientopia.org has been my favorite network ever since they started but when it comes to the name Occam’s Typewriter is the shit (including their Latin motto).
I tried to convince (or rather bully) Sam that we need to come up with a similarly cool name. Around the same time Sam and I started looking I had just added The Renaissance Mathematicus to my blogroll – and soon after to mathblogging.org (needless to say, I got to know him through his guest blogging at scientopia. The Renaissance Mathematicus has a faible for polymaths and at one point wrote a beautiful piece about Augustus De Morgan.
Intersections and Unions
My immediate thought was: let’s do something with De Morgan’s Law! That’s like Occam’s razor, right? That should be possible…. Eventually, I turned to wikipedia for inspiration and found out about De Morgan’s “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge” and about his son’s and his role in the founding of what later became the London Mathematical Society. In other words, lots of interesting stuff – and plenty of motivation to name this project after him.
Unfortunately, neither of Sam nor I could come up with a good name based on De Morgan. And so we jumped back into the seas of information to find inspiration.
Luckily, George Boole is listed on wikipedia as “influence” of De Morgan. Hm… Boole… So many names popped into our heads. Boolean algebra, Boolean group, Boolean ring, Boolean network even (which I found on wikipedia). Everybody knows Boole!
So I read up on him – and was intrigued.
To be universal
Our project might appear to be nothing more than a blogging network of (mostly) set theorists. But our goals are more general: to establish an open platform, helping people to experiment with their academic homepage run on wordpress, independent of any one server hosting their own data on their own servers or whatever they want to.
From this perspective, the site should have a name that appeals beyond the realm of research mathematicians. De Morgan’s “Diffusion” offers much in that respect, but I began to like Boole even more.
Meet the Booles
To appeal to a wider audience, our name should relate to more than mathematical logic. Thankfully, George Boole’s entry at wikipedia has quite a bit of information on his family. So let’s check what the Booles have to offer.
George himself needs little introduction. Interestingly enough, in his own life time he was famous for his books on differential equations which developed the symbolic method and which later turned into his foundational development of symbolic logic and, in hindsight, the computer sciences. Very interesting was the description of his character as extremely modest, never seeking fame.
- changing the fundamental view on how to write mathematics check
- modest in character check
Most important is George’s wife, Mary Everest Boole (niece of George Everest). She worked on didactics and mathematics education.
- mathematics education check
- success despite discrimination check.
Mary and George had four daughters but George unfortunately died the same year their youngest was born.
The eldest daughter, Mary Ellen Boole, married mathematician Charles Howard Hinton who coined the term tesseract and has a polytope named after him thanks to his work on visualization of 4 dimensional geometry.
- geometry and visualization check
I couldn’t find much on Margaret Boole except of, of course, her son and physicist Geoffrey Ingram Taylor.
- applied mathematics & physics check
Alicia Boole Stott worked in geometry, self-taught but so successfully that she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Groninen – and she gave us the the term “polytope”.
- geometry check
- overcoming discrimination check
- international collaborations check
To round things up Lucy Boole Everest was the first female professor of chemistry in England and collaborated with her nephew Geoffrey Ingram Taylor.
- extending to the sciences check
- collaborations across fields check
Finally, Ethel Lilian Boole Voynich became an author, most notably of The Gadfly. She was married to Wilfrid Michael Voynich of Voynich-manuscript fame.
- rebellious nature check
Quite an interesting family.
Boolean, Boole’s, Booles’
With all this we thought the family Boole would make an excellent namesake. Of course, George Boole’s name usually appears as “Boolean” in mathematics. To make a distinction we first turned to Boole’s, then, to stress that we have more in mind, to Booles’.
Our project is aimed to be as wide as their interests.
Next came the question which structure to pick. We chose to take our inspiration from Boolean rings since it has, well, a certain ring to it. It is the most open natured word of the bunch – less mathematical than algebra, less exclusive than group or network.
It is a simple and elegant word with many associations. From wiktionary:
ring A circumscribing object, (roughly) circular and hollow, looking like an annual ring, earring, finger ring etc.
Finally, Rings not Ring: inclusive, not exclusive, extendable, not restrictive, multi-faceted. That’s our goal.
Booles’ Rings – roughly circular.
Hey, that’s a good line ;)
- Thony Christie, 2011/08/22
Hi Peter thanks for the name check the several links and the friendly comments. Really enjoyed your story of your search for a blog collective name. You really should read Desmond MacHale’s Boole biography it’s one of the best science biographies that I’ve ever read.
- Peter, 2011/08/22 Thanks for your comment. I finally found a copy but summer is fleeting… As I wrote on Twitter, Booles’ Rings is not really a blog collective. It’s more about investigating the potential of wordpress as a platform for modern researcher homepages. (Not that this will stop us from writing in a more blogesque style ;) )