In the comments on my last post, a few people asked me to explain the difference between fuzzy logic and probability theory. It’s a very good question.
The two are very closely related. As we’ll see when we start looking at fuzzy logic, the basic connectives in fuzzy logic are defined in almost the same way as the corresponding operations in probability theory.
The key difference is meaning.
There are two major schools of thought in probability theory, and they each assign a very different meaning to probability. I’m going to vastly oversimplify, but the two schools are the frequentists and the Bayesians
First, there are the frequentists. To the frequentists, probability is defined by experiment. If you say that an event E has a probability of, say, 60%, what that means to the frequentists is that if you could repeat an experiment observing the occurrence or non-occurrence of E an infinite number of times, then 60% of the time, E would have occurred. That, in turn, is taken to mean that the event E has an intrinsic probability of 60%.
The other alternative are the Bayesians. To a Bayesian, the idea of an event having an intrinsic probability is ridiculous. You’re interested in a specific occurrence of the event – and it will either occur, or it will not. So there’s a flu going around; either I’ll catch it, or I won’t. Ultimately, there’s no probability about it: it’s either yes or no – I’ll catch it or I won’t. Bayesians say that probability is an assessment of our state of knowledge. To say that I have a 60% chance of catching the flu is just a way of saying that given the current state of our knowledge, I can say with 60% certainty that I will catch it.
In either case, we’re ultimately talking about events, not facts. And those events will either occur, or not occur. There is nothing fuzzy about it. We can talk about the probability of my catching the flu, and depending on whether we pick a frequentist or Bayesian interpretation, that means something different – but in either case, the ultimate truth is not fuzzy.
In fuzzy logic, we’re trying to capture the essential property of vagueness. If I say that a person whose height is 2.5 meters is tall, that’s a true statement. If I say that another person whose height is only 2 meters is tall, that’s still true – but it’s not as true as it was for the person 2.5 meters tall. I’m not saying that in a repeatable experiment, the first person would be tall more often than the second. And I’m not saying that given the current state of my knowledge, it’s more likely than the first person is tall than the second. I’m saying that both people possess the property tall – but in different degrees.
Fuzzy logic is using pretty much the same tools as probability theory. But it’s using them to trying to capture a very different idea. Fuzzy logic is all about degrees of truth – about fuzziness and partial or relative truths. Probability theory is interested in trying to make predictions about events from a state of partial knowledge. (In frequentist terms, it’s about saying that I know that if I repeated this 100 times, E would happen in 60; in Bayesian, it’s precisely a statement of partial knowledge: I’m 60% certain that E will happen.) But probability theory says nothing about how to reason about things that aren’t entirely true or false.
And, in the other direction: fuzzy logic isn’t particularly useful for talking about partial knowledge. If you allowed second-order logic, you could have fuzzy meta-predicates that described your certainty about crisp first-order predicates. But with first order logic (which is really where we want to focus our attention), fuzzy logic isn’t useful for the tasks where we use probability theory.
So probability theory doesn’t capture the essential property of meaning (partial truth) which is the goal of fuzzy logic – and fuzzy logic doesn’t capture the essential property of meaning (partial knowledge) which is the goal of probability theory.