Fuzzy Logic

My blog essay comes this week with a warning attached. Engineers, economist and accountants are advised that this material may cause offence. (To tell the truth I will probably be disappointed if it doesn’t!)

As my writings will demonstrate there are many areas where my knowledge is deficient. For some time now I have been hearing about a new mathematical technique called “fuzzy logic”. I was naively attracted to the concept because, not having very good eyesight, all the world seems fuzzy to me, and the notion of having a new technique to help me in my congress with the world is attractive to me.

Intrigued by this seemingly innovative approach to things, I have carried out a little research. My (very cursory) research elucidated that this new field of mathematics has been championed, among others by Bart Kosko and Lotfi Zadeh. (I bet you thought I was going to say Bart Simpson!)

I like the notion of fuzzy logic because it allows us to make decisions based on uncertain data. Of course, many of our decisions are made in such circumstances. Shall I go fishing on the weekend or perhaps go to the races? The likely benefits of either decision are highly probabilistic, rendering the decision difficult using conventional decision making processes. (Although when your name is Scott you are always reluctant to part with your money without some certainty about the outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, we Scots aren’t tight – we are just prudent!).

Having come across the notion of fuzzy logic in a few contexts I was determined to learn more about it. I read a few pages about the theory and was somewhat intrigued but was finally overwhelmed when I read, “any axiomatizable number theory is recursively enumerable.” I looked at the rest of the text which seemed to be in English and wondered why it had suddenly decided to lapse into a foreign language.

I had started to get the impression that fuzzy logic just seemed to be sensibly applied intuition. But that begged the question, “Is intuition recursively enumerable?” Or indeed could intuition be in any way considered to be a part of “axiomatizable number theory”. Whilst I was not sure if that was the case, I had a gut feeling (another example of fuzzy logic?), that this was not the case.

Mind you I found some consolation in the fact that “once fuzzy relations are defined, it is possible to define fuzzy relational databases”. It suggested to me that this development might be like the little black book of someone who was promiscuously bi-sexual.

In my own life, when linear rational processes seemed not to offer solutions I have been generally prepared to rely on my intuition. Wikipedia unfortunately defines intuition as the “ability to acquire knowledge, without inference or the use of reason.” This implies that intuitive processes are not rational. I can’t agree with that. I believe that intuition enables us to unconsciously access information that our experience and our unconscious processes have garnered to help us with our decisions. These processes are only irrational in the sense it is difficult to explain how the outcomes are derived.

It is very easy, as I have indeed postulated in previous blog essays, to show that many of the most significant scientific advances have emanated from intuitive ideas that were subsequently reinforced by conventional, rational, processes of conscious reasoning. But note that the core idea hasn’t been derived from conventional linear rational analysis but was later confirmed by such processes.

Most of our progress as a civilisation has been advanced by people with imagination and not with those who relied on logical analysis. Those that rely on serial, logical processes seem to be good at improving things. They seldom are good at initiating new processes or finding significant new theories or inventions.

Don’t get me wrong such people are very useful to society. They keep us on track and ensure things are carried through to completion and provide orderly frameworks for us to work within.

But this is not the stuff of creativity. No amount of detailed analysis could for example have led to the thought experiments of Einstein. Kekule’s famous discovery of the carbon ring in the structure of benzene came, for example, from an inspired dream. This all seems to me to bear the hall marks of fuzzy logic.

And I may be wrong but my fuzzy understanding of fuzzy logic gives me hope that significant outcomes might emanate from intuitive processes beyond the conscious understanding of a rational mind. But then again that is just because I am hopelessly optimistic and have no understanding of those processes that are “recursively enumerable”.

Footnote: I wonder if the commentary on fuzzy logic was written by Kevin Rudd? Probably not – whilst it was convoluted and contained arcane language, I saw no mention of “detailed programmatic specificity” and nary a profanity in the whole text!

10 Replies to “Fuzzy Logic”

  1. Good Morning Ted,

    Love it! And am in absolute agreement with you.

    Brought to mind a great quote from Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee………….

    “we should take cre not to make the intellect our God; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It connot lead, it can only serve.”

    Enjoy the day – even if a little fuzzy.


    1. Thank you Barabara. Can you let me know when you might be in Brisbane so perhaps we could dine together again?

  2. Thank-you Ted. The often used synonym ‘gut feel’ fails to recognize the valuable contribution of intuition, it is disappointing to see Wikipedia playing the old rational vs emotive line on one of humanity’s most valuable capabilities.


  3. I remember some time back listening to a presentation by a guy (can’t remember his name) who was promoting the value of intuition. I am not certain Ted, but I think you may have been involved in organising his visit. His theory was that our sub-conscious mind is far more powerful than our conscious mind. More than that, he believed there are ways to train and develop this intuitive power within all of us. I liked what he had to say as it rang true with my own infrequent intuitive experiences. In summary his ideas went something like this:

    Our subconscious mind is fed from the conscious so we need to consciously work on a problem or area of knowledge diligently. To just sit back and wait for inspiration is a waste of time. It also follows that a creative idea in physics will not come from a chef or vice versa.

    Once we have programmed the subconscious through hard work at the conscious level we need to allow the subconscious time and freedom to do its thing. This may be happening when we are eating, sleeping, hitting a golf ball or what ever but it does not seem to happen when the subconscious is being fed with data (when we are consciously working on the problem). This is perhaps why Einstein was not as successful in the development of his later theories, he may have worked too hard to rationally develop them.

    Finally we need to harvest the subconscious. We do not have direct access to it so we can’t just ask it what it has come up with so far. We all get our flashes of inspiration at different times. The common times people talk about are when we are showering, shaving, brushing our hair, etc. Notably this is often in the early morning almost always when we are alone and when our conscious mind is relaxed. The flash of inspiration is a certainty. We don’t get an idea that we think worth pursuing, we get an idea that we know is right, we just have to work out a way of proving it to others.

    So the keys to cultivating “gut feel” or intuition are, do the hard work to make sure the data entry has occurred. Relax and rest enough to allow the subconscious to do its thing. Apparently it also helps to tell yourself out loud that you will leave the problem to your subconscious for a few days. Finally, be patient and give the subconscious a chance to inform the conscious. You can’t make it happen so you just have to relax and let what ever happens happen. Weighing all this up it seems that balance is the key. Balancing the hard work with periods of rest, sleep and recreation. Buddhism springs to mind again.

  4. Hi Ted,

    I agree with you and Greg.

    I believe that intuition springs from the knowledge and experience of the sub conscious. On those rare occasions when I have ignored my intuition or gut feel, I have usually regretted it.

    It also follows that some people’s intuition are better than others on the same topic due to (as Greg noted) the hard work of the conscious to feed the unconscious.

    Lack of expression is not the same as lack of understanding.

  5. “He who knows does not speak;
    He who speaks does not know”

    Lao Tsu

    Fuzzy logic is an oxymoron.

  6. Thank you Geoff, Greg, Bruno and the Venerable Father Robin as well.

    Yes Greg I can remember the fellow I brought to you all to talk about intuition. I found he had some very interesting ideas but in later conversations I uncovered some rather strange beliefs as well! (I won’t identify him as a result and I couldn’t afford a libel case!) But I concur that the subconscious is only fertile ground if it has been well tended.

  7. you can use meditation, sneilce, practicing the presence, zen walking, observing nature without any thoughts etc to enhance the consciousness that is contained in your body.

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