One might consider that only negation and one of the two other operations are basic, because of the following identities that allow one to define conjunction in terms of negation and the disjunction, and vice versa (De Morgan's laws):
The three Boolean operations described above are referred to as basic, meaning that they can be taken as a basis for other Boolean operations that can be built up from them by composition, the manner in which operations are combined or compounded. Operations composed from the basic operations include the following examples:
These definitions give rise to the following truth tables giving the values of these operations for all four possible inputs.
The following laws hold in Boolean algebra, but not in ordinary algebra:
In both ordinary and Boolean algebra, negation works by exchanging pairs of elements, whence in both algebras it satisfies the double negation law (also called involution law)
To clarify, writing down further laws of Boolean algebra cannot give rise to any new consequences of these axioms, nor can it rule out any model of them. In contrast, in a list of some but not all of the same laws, there could have been Boolean laws that did not follow from those on the list, and moreover there would have been models of the listed laws that were not Boolean algebras.
But suppose we rename 0 and 1 to 1 and 0 respectively. Then it would still be Boolean algebra, and moreover operating on the same values. However it would not be identical to our original Boolean algebra because now we find ∨ behaving the way ∧ used to do and vice versa. So there are still some cosmetic differences to show that we've been fiddling with the notation, despite the fact that we're still using 0s and 1s.
Idempotence of ∧ and ∨ can be visualized by sliding the two circles together and noting that the shaded area then becomes the whole circle, for both ∧ and ∨.
The lines on the left of each gate represent input wires or ports. The value of the input is represented by a voltage on the lead. For so-called "active-high" logic, 0 is represented by a voltage close to zero or "ground", while 1 is represented by a voltage close to the supply voltage; active-low reverses this. The line on the right of each gate represents the output port, which normally follows the same voltage conventions as the input ports.
Complement is implemented with an inverter gate. The triangle denotes the operation that simply copies the input to the output; the small circle on the output denotes the actual inversion complementing the input. The convention of putting such a circle on any port means that the signal passing through this port is complemented on the way through, whether it is an input or output port.
From this bit vector viewpoint, a concrete Boolean algebra can be defined equivalently as a nonempty set of bit vectors all of the same length (more generally, indexed by the same set) and closed under the bit vector operations of bitwise ∧, ∨, and ¬, as in 1010∧0110 = 0010, 1010∨0110 = 1110, and ¬1010 = 0101, the bit vector realizations of intersection, union, and complement respectively.
This observation is easily proved as follows. Certainly any law satisfied by all concrete Boolean algebras is satisfied by the prototypical one since it is concrete. Conversely any law that fails for some concrete Boolean algebra must have failed at a particular bit position, in which case that position by itself furnishes a one-bit counterexample to that law. Nondegeneracy ensures the existence of at least one bit position because there is only one empty bit vector.
The final goal of the next section can be understood as eliminating "concrete" from the above observation. We shall however reach that goal via the surprisingly stronger observation that, up to isomorphism, all Boolean algebras are concrete.
The Boolean algebras we have seen so far have all been concrete, consisting of bit vectors or equivalently of subsets of some set. Such a Boolean algebra consists of a set and operations on that set which can be shown to satisfy the laws of Boolean algebra.
The section on axiomatization lists other axiomatizations, any of which can be made the basis of an equivalent definition.
It is weaker in the sense that it does not of itself imply representability. Boolean algebras are special here, for example a relation algebra is a Boolean algebra with additional structure but it is not the case that every relation algebra is representable in the sense appropriate to relation algebras.
The above definition of an abstract Boolean algebra as a set and operations satisfying "the" Boolean laws raises the question, what are those laws? A simple-minded answer is "all Boolean laws", which can be defined as all equations that hold for the Boolean algebra of 0 and 1. Since there are infinitely many such laws this is not a terribly satisfactory answer in practice, leading to the next question: does it suffice to require only finitely many laws to hold?
These semantics permit a translation between tautologies of propositional logic and equational theorems of Boolean algebra. Every tautology Φ of propositional logic can be expressed as the Boolean equation Φ = 1, which will be a theorem of Boolean algebra. Conversely every theorem Φ = Ψ of Boolean algebra corresponds to the tautologies (Φ∨¬Ψ) ∧ (¬Φ∨Ψ) and (Φ∧Ψ) ∨ (¬Φ∧¬Ψ). If → is in the language these last tautologies can also be written as (Φ→Ψ) ∧ (Ψ→Φ), or as two separate theorems Φ→Ψ and Ψ→Φ; if ≡ is available then the single tautology Φ ≡ Ψ can be used.
(The availability of instantiation as part of the machinery of propositional calculus avoids the need for metavariables within the language of propositional calculus, since ordinary propositional variables can be considered within the language to denote arbitrary propositions. The metavariables themselves are outside the reach of instantiation, not being part of the language of propositional calculus but rather part of the same language for talking about it that this sentence is written in, where we need to be able to distinguish propositional variables and their instantiations as being distinct syntactic entities.)
Of course, it is possible to code more than two symbols in any given medium. For example, one might use respectively 0, 1, 2, and 3 volts to code a four-symbol alphabet on a wire, or holes of different sizes in a punched card. In practice, the tight constraints of high speed, small size, and low power combine to make noise a major factor. This makes it hard to distinguish between symbols when there are several possible symbols that could occur at a single site. Rather than attempting to distinguish between four voltages on one wire, digital designers have settled on two voltages per wire, high and low.
Other areas where two values is a good choice are the law and mathematics. In everyday relaxed conversation, nuanced or complex answers such as "maybe" or "only on the weekend" are acceptable. In more focused situations such as a court of law or theorem-based mathematics however it is deemed advantageous to frame questions so as to admit a simple yes-or-no answer—is the defendant guilty or not guilty, is the proposition true or false—and to disallow any other answer. However much of a straitjacket this might prove in practice for the respondent, the principle of the simple yes-no question has become a central feature of both judicial and mathematical logic, making two-valued logic deserving of organization and study in its own right.
A central concept of set theory is membership. Now an organization may permit multiple degrees of membership, such as novice, associate, and full. With sets however an element is either in or out. The candidates for membership in a set work just like the wires in a digital computer: each candidate is either a member or a nonmember, just as each wire is either high or low.
Algebra being a fundamental tool in any area amenable to mathematical treatment, these considerations combine to make the algebra of two values of fundamental importance to computer hardware, mathematical logic, and set theory.
The original application for Boolean operations was mathematical logic, where it combines the truth values, true or false, of individual formulas.