Let be the proposition “I took the gun,” and let be the proposition “I took the cannoli.” Translate the logical statement

.

Obviously, this is an allusion to one of the great lines in The Godfather.

Even though this is a simple example, it actually serves a pedagogical purpose (when I first introduce students to propositional logic) by illustrating two important points.

First, there is an order of precedence with and . Specifically, means (“I did not take the gun, and I took the cannoli”) and not (“It is false that I took both the gun and the cannoli”).

Second, the actual line from The Godfather is not a proposition because both “Leave the gun” and “Take the cannoli” are commands. By contrast, a proposition must be a declarative sentence that is either true or false. That’s why I had to slightly modify the words to “I took the cannoli” instead of “Take the cannoli.”

Context: This semester, I taught discrete mathematics for the first time. Part of the discrete mathematics course includes an introduction to predicate and propositional logic for our math majors. As you can probably guess from their names, students tend to think these concepts are dry and uninteresting even though they’re very important for their development as math majors.

In an effort to making these topics more appealing, I spent a few days mining the depths of popular culture in a (likely futile) attempt to make these ideas more interesting to my students. In this series, I’d like to share what I found. Naturally, the sources that I found have varying levels of complexity, which is appropriate for students who are first learning prepositional and predicate logic.

When I actually presented these in class, I either presented the logical statement and had my class guess the statement in actual English, or I gave my students the famous quote and them translate it into predicate logic. However, for the purposes of this series, I’ll just present the statement in predicate logic first.

I’m afraid that I found plenty more examples from popular culture to illustrate predicate logic, but a month of posts on this topic is probably enough for now. I’ll return to this topic again at some point in the future.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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