The mathematician, philosopher and logician George Boole died on the 8th December 1864. What most people don’t realise is that he was in all probability killed by homeopathy.
In 1849 Boole, a self-taught mathematician and school master, was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the newly founded Queen’s College Cork and it was here in 1850 that he first met Mary Everest, niece of the military surveyor Colonel George Everest after whom the mountain is named, who was visiting another of her uncles, John Ryall who was Professor of Greek at Cork. The family name, by the way, is pronounced Eve – rest and not Ever – rest. From 1852 on George became Mary’s maths tutor and when her father died in 1855 the two of them married. Despite a fairly large difference in age it was a happy marriage that produced five rather special daughters, who I might blog about another time.
Mary Everest Boole was a highly intelligent woman who after the death of her husband, she lived for another 52 years, would go on to become a noted educationalist who today is something of a feminist icon. She had, however, at least one fatal flaw. Mary’s father had been a devoted disciple of Samuel Hahnemann and she spent a large part of her childhood living in Hahnemann’s house in France where she too became an adherent of his medical philosophy.
The Boole’s lived outside of Cork and one day when walking home from work George got drenched in a downpour and developed a chill. Mary following Hahnemann’s guiding principle that “like cures like” wrapped her ailing husband in wet bed sheets. George developed pneumonia and died. This story is not based on hearsay or a popular myth but the written testimony of one of their daughters who never forgave her mother for having, in her opinion, killed her father.
The next time somebody tells you that homeopathy is harmless you can tell them that it killed one of the greatest mathematical minds of the nineteenth century on whose algebraic logic both the soft- and the hardware of your computer function.