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Re: [ontolog-forum] electric sheep

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 03 Nov 2007 17:53:55 -0500
Message-id: <472CFC03.9050708@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dennis, Leo, et al.,    (01)

I'm happy with that characterization:    (02)

LO> We think ontologies are "logical theories".    (03)

I agree with the following point, but with major qualifications:    (04)

DLT> Theory lasts decades, centuries and millennia and makes
 > sense of our world as we encounter it.  It understands the who,
 > what, when, where and how much information of situations and
 > circumstances.  For this reason, theory is also predictive.    (05)

The qualifications are that there is an overwhelming number
of different theories, none of which are absolutely true,
many of which are highly useful for one or more special cases,
but most of which are inconsistent with one another.    (06)

There is no branch of empirical science, not even physics, for
which there is a single consistent theory that governs everything.
Even when there is theory with broad applicability, such as
quantum electrodynamics (QED), the chief developers admit that it
is not universally true.    (07)

Furthermore, there are very, very few applications that directly
use QED as it is.  Almost every application uses a different
special case approximation, and no two special cases are consistent
with one another.    (08)

Approximations that are *known* to be false in general are still
the most widely used for practical applications:  examples
include Newtonian mechanics, Schroedinger's nonrelativistic QM,
and special case approximations for *every* practical application
ranging from aerodynamics to computer circuit design to astrophysics.    (09)

Usually, different inconsistent approximations are used even for
different aspects of the same project.  That is true of everything
from building bridges and automobiles to computers, aircraft, and
rockets to the moon, Mars, and beyond.    (010)

That is the state of the art in *physics* -- the most precise of
the "hard sciences".  Every other branch of science is in much,
much worse shape than physics.    (011)

Summary:  Don't expect a large, consistent, universal theory
of everything during this or the next few centuries, if ever.
But we can expect to have systematic ways of working with,
coordinating, and relating multiple approximate theories.    (012)

Engineers do that all the time, and the systems of ontology
we are building are primarily *engineering* artifacts, not
science or philosophy -- although science and philosophy
can make useful contributions.    (013)

John Sowa    (014)

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