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Yes, no and artificial intelligence
A mathematician, two philosophers and a computer scientist, as many as four native languages, three disciplines and one common basis – this equation works perfectly well for Prof Dr Heinrich Wansing from the Institute of Philosophy II and three of his Humboldt guest researchers – they all work with formal languages.
When an apple is red, logicians represent this fact via a simple formula, F(a), and if it was falsely claimed that all apples are red, then logicians would write this down as F(x). This way, natural language becomes a formal system, which enables facts to be expressed as accurately as possible. “Normal language can sometimes be complicated”, Dr Paolo Maffezioli, a philosopher from Turin, explains. “Expressing a theory via a formal language can make it easier to present complex facts correctly and conclusively”.
Logic without boundaries
The advantage of this artificial language is that it effortlessly overcomes limits. It is impressive how logic overcomes boundaries between disciplines – and not just on paper”, Maffezioli states. Based on logic he can easily communicate with his colleagues from other subject areas, give and receive feedback on papers – and even during the interview, the Humboldt researchers complement each other’s thoughts.
“The desire to work interdisciplinarily is what makes Bochum particularly attractive”, Prof Dr João Marcos adds. He came to Bochum from Natal, Brazil, as a Friedrich Willhelm Bessel-awardee, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt foundation. In Brazil he works at an institute for computer science, and he seamlessly moved to the Institute of Philosophy in Bochum for his research stay.
100 years without boundaries
“Our motivation for working interdisciplinarily is not to make it easier to receive funding for our research”, Maffezioli explains. “In logic, research has been carried out interdisciplinarily for over 100 years”. Colleagues from different subject areas examine the exact same problems by looking at them from very different perspectives. All four researchers agree that this is what makes interdisciplinary logic so exciting.
They also agree on their quest for unambiguity, as clearly defined problems are not always a given amongst philosophers. “In philosophy, argumentations are often a matter of interpretation” explains academic host Wansing. “In logic however, one can make mistakes and there really is such a thing as true and false”. As a science of deduction, logic investigates the validity of arguments.
No fear of contradictions
And then there is the problem of dealing with contradictions. Aristotle believed that something cannot simultaneously be and not be. Although it sounds complicated, it is primarily seemingly obvious. A person for example cannot be here and not here at the same time. Modern logicians however present themselves as being more adventurous: “We are not afraid of contradictions”, Marcos explains with a whimsical smile.
The scientists around Prof Wansing don’t just enjoy unambiguity, they also take pleasure in contradictions – or, to be more precise – in reasoning in view of inconsistent information. They examine how arguments can be formed based on contradicting information without trivialising any theories. ”We would say that we aim to improve Aristotle’s theory”, Marcos explains, and Dr Sergey Drobyshevich, mathematician from Novosibirsk, Russia, states more precisely: “We are refining Aristotle’s approach”.
Different tools, same goal
The fact that mathematics, computer science and philosophy examine the validity of arguments using different methods does not pose a contradiction for the researchers. “Philosophy provides the impulse and the first model”, Drobyshevich explains. “Mathematicians then try to test these models using their processes”. In this way, this type of interdisciplinary research provides multidimensional theories and thought models which have been investigated from various perspectives.
One practical application of logic is the development of artificial intelligence. The algorithm used by search engines to plow through the internet or to put the correct words into chatbot’s mouth for example, is based on the principles of logic. This, amongst other things, is another example of the topics which the four researchers discuss during their cooperation – all in the language of logic.
4 December 2017