I am currently enrolled in a math course called Discrete Mathematics. We go over a bunch of information about computers use mathematical reasoning and logic to operate and solve problems. Besides the typically quizzes and exams in the class, I also had to write a few papers. The first one was required, but the second one was optional for extra credit. I decided to do it because I’m clinging to a low A- in the class. We only had a few options for topics so I picked “fuzzy logic” which we had briefly covered in a discussion assignment near the beginning of the semester. I hadn’t really understood it the first time, so I spent a lot of time researching and learning about the topic so I could actually write a paper about it. What I discovered struck me as extremely similar to some of the concepts we’ve covered in class.
In discrete mathematics, there are two main types of logic: Boolean and fuzzy. Boolean logic is the typical “0 or 1” language you’d see in most computer engineering/science classes. Another name for this language is binary code. In Boolean logic, things can either be or not be. There is no option for an inbetween, much like societal binaries that we are supposed to fit into. Fuzzy logic offers a solution to this by applying a gradient of values to the situation. So rather than something being “hot” or “cold,” that item now has the chance to be “lukewarm,” “really hot,” or “really cold.” It’s normally applied in technology that has intelligent systems built in. Fuzzy logic in this kind of technology allows devices to encompass a wide range of knowledge and respond appropriately to many different situations. It’s like breaking binaries…for science!
I believe this scientific breaking of binaries is exactly what we have been looking for in this class, just on a smaller scale. If fuzzy logic were applied to every aspect of human life, there would no longer be binaries. For example, one of the biggest (and most controversial) bianries that exists today is the gender binary. Some individuals argue that individuals can either be “male” or “female.” As we’ve talked about in class, this is extremely constricting and exclusive of individuals who identify as “other.” If we slap some fuzzy logic on this situation, we suddenly have a gender gradient that encompasses an entire spectrum of gender identities. Suddenly, everyone has a comfortable place within this society, which is one of the most important things, if you ask me. In this respect I believe Greta Gaard would be very intrigued. In her essay on a queer ecofeminism, she calls for the breaking down of binaries and removal of stereotypes that trap societies in motions of heterosexism, racism, sexism, and classism. Fuzzy logic allows societies to disregard former binary relations and truly reach out toward the queer ecofeminism Gaard truly wishes for.
While thinking about this relation, I heard Haraway’s voice calling to me from some place distant. I’ll admit, I didn’t fully understand “Cyborg Manifesto,” but after mulling over it for a bit (thanks Laura) I had a better grasp on the concept. So once I started on the paper, it kind of hit me that Haraway would probably love fuzzy logic! Haraway talks a lot about how cyborgs kind of straddle the edges of binaries, because they have no need for them. AS an engineering, my mind immediately goes to the question of how. How would someone build an intelligent lifeform so that it can absolutely refuse binaries? There’s one answer: fuzzy logic. If a machine were built with fuzzy logic built into it’s intelligence system, everything would be based on a gradient of knowledge. There would be no “male or female” programmed into it (as long as the programmer isn’t biased). It would be its life knowing only one thing: the possibility of all things.
This brings me to another topic along the cyborg branch. Haraway briefly mentions that humans are cyborgs. In class we talked about how we’re always using technology to better our lives. But now that I’m thinking about it, math could provide the same result. If we all incorporated fuzzy logic into our livelihoods and rejected the binaries society gives to us, we are adopting that characteristic of cyborgs and suddenly we are “a hybrid of machine and organism” (Haraway, 2000, p. 291).
I never thought I’d be using math in a humanities course, but if I’ve learned anything in this class, it’s to not be shaken by the unexpected. If anyone has any questions regarding this topic or discrete mathematics, I can attempt to answer them. Sometimes all of the information gets a bit…fuzzy.
— Kennedy Hall
Haraway, D. J. (2009). A cyborg manifesto: science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century.
Gaard, G. (1997). Toward a Queer Ecofeminism. Hypatia,12(1), 114-137. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.1997.tb00174.x