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Lao Tzu vs Aristotle: time to loose the black or white glasses! by Dr Iman Karimi

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Over 2300 years ago Aristotle founded his eponymous logic based on two “laws”: law of contradiction and law of excluded middle, or plainly said, any proposition is either correct or false, cannot be both simultaneously and there is no third alternative. These laws became the foundation of not only logic, but also mathematics and thus, particularly through binary logic of computers, the majority of progresses that we are enjoying today.

A century before him and 5,000 miles to the East, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu eloquently controverted Aristotelian laws of logic, with what he called “the way” in his Magnus opus Tao Te Ching. According to Tao, seemingly dichotomous and contradictory poles are inextricably intertwined and interdependent; they could, should and do co-exist in unison, as the famous Yin & Yan symbol suggests.

Tao remained yet another exotic oriental relic; even when western civilisation woke up from the middle-age slumber after the defeat in the Crusades, it primarily rediscovered Greek and Roman wisdom, which were adopted by the Muslim victors as well. And when in 1960’s Lotfi Zadeh, an Irano-American Berkeley Professor articulated his “Fuzzy Logic” in which he mathematically formalised how a proposition can be simultaneously correct and false to various degrees, he was, fortunately not literally, stoned by western scholars trained in the Aristotle Academia as a blasphemer. Zen-Buddhist Japan, however, embraced this mathematical formalisation of their way of life and captured the world with tiny cameras, smart wash machines, super smooth train, based on fuzzy logic, with a level of success that the West had no alternative but to follow suit.

Almost half a century after the birth of fuzzy logic, “deniers” of fuzzy logic are all but extinct in Mathematical and Engineering disciplines. Outside academia, however, many in the west still live in a monochrome world; with me or against me. This speech would try to argue that perhaps it is time to relinquish these artificial glasses…

Dr Iman Karimi is a lead risk analyst in Willis Re Analytics and director of Seismic Hazard as well as uncertainty streams in Willis Research Network (WRN). He represented Willis in global and European initiatives such as Global Earthquake Model (GEM) and Syner-G, and held lectures in various conferences and seminars on related subjects. Having BSc and MSc in civil and earthquake engineering respectively, he obtained his doctorate (Dr.-Ing.) degree from RWTH Aachen University in 2006, in which he developed a novel concept of risk assessment based on Fuzzy-Probability. Dr Karimi’s experiences range from structural design of buildings and involvement in numerous projects for investigating and improving seismic resistance of buildings to research and from management consulting to application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to in various sectors such as banking and automobile industry, whilst having various publications on the above subjects to his name. Dr Karimi is currently studying towards an MBA degree in the Judge Business School and represents the class of 2010 in the faculty board

This talk is part of the Pembroke Papers, Pembroke College series.

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