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Re: [ontolog-forum] Data Models v. Ontologies (again)

To: edbark@xxxxxxxx
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 18:05:01 -0400
Message-id: <4835EE0D.9070107@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

I agree that many of the discussions on this list generate more
heat than light.  I also agree with Peirce who observed that many
of the speculations of "metaphysicians" deserve whatever contempt
is heaped upon them.  But Peirce also made the following observation:    (02)

     "Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without
     any metaphysics... and you have found one whose doctrines
     are thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized
     metaphysics with which they are packed.  We must philosophize,
     said the great naturalist Aristotle -- if only to avoid
     philosophizing.  Every man of us has a metaphysics, and has
     to have one; and it will influence his life greatly.  Far
     better, then, that that metaphysics should be criticized and
     not be allowed to run loose."    (03)

CSP made this remark about the positivism of Ernst Mach, which
the Vienna circlers combined with the views of Frege and Russell
to create logical positivism.  CSP couldn't know what the Vienna
circle did, but he would have denounced their attempt to eliminate
metaphysics as the worst and most pernicious kind of metaphysics.    (04)

Wittgenstein wrote his first book under the influence of Frege
and Russell, and he spent the second half of his life working
his way out of that trap.  Whitehead was the senior author of
the _Principia Mathematica_, but he had no sympathy for Russell's
version of logical atomism.   In fact, Russell revised the PA
for the second edition of 1925, mostly by correcting some typos.
But he added a long intro based on his logical atomism.
Whitehead wrote a letter to _Mind_ saying that he had no part
in producing the second edition, and he did not want his name
to be associated with it.    (05)

JFS>> but many of [the philosophers'] issues are reflected in
 >> the discussions we frequently have.    (06)

EB> I would agree, and add "regrettably", and stop there.    (07)

There is nothing worse than bad philosophy.  But it's impossible
to do good ontology without having a good sense for philosophy.    (08)

EB> What the engineers contributed was not the advancement of
 > the physics, but rather the advancement of the knowledge
 > of how to use the physics to create certain valuable "devices".    (09)

Not true.  There is no sharp distinction between science and
engineering, and the best practitioners of both have a strong
feeling for the other.  Some of Einstein's biographers treated
his years at the Swiss patent office as a waste of time, but
others have correctly noted that Einstein deepened his feeling
for physics by seeing how it was put into practice.    (010)

Furthermore, mathematicians have observed that the best
mathematics tends to have important practical applications,
and the applications frequently lead mathematicians into
fertile areas they would otherwise have missed.  For many
centuries, physics enriched mathematics very strongly,
and many of the best mathematicians were also outstanding
physicists.  Today, computer science is enriching mathematics.    (011)

EB> But I have never seen a knowledge engineer become a scientist!    (012)

The two fields are so closely intertwined that it's hard to tell
where one starts and the other stops.  One could say that Einstein
was a prime example of somebody who had a very strong philosophical
bent and revolutionized physics by his metaphysics.  And his views
of physics were strongly influenced by his studies of engineering
(i.e., reviewing patent applications).  Einstein, by the way,
criticized Russell's "Angst vor der metaphysik" as misguided.    (013)

It's not a coincidence that my list of the five great knowledge
engineers all had a very strong background in the latest science
of their day.  Aristotle's father was a physician, who expected
his son to join the profession.  Instead, Aristotle spent 18 years
in Plato's Academy, but he also did extensive studies of biology
(to which he made major contributions).  Leibniz was a brilliant
mathematician, who also knew the latest science of his day.    (014)

Kant began his career by studying Newtonian physics, on which
he lectured for many years.  In fact, Kant was the first person
to propose that the planets formed from a cloud of dust and
gas surrounding the sun.  He correctly observed that a static
cloud would fall into the sun, but a rotating cloud would
flatten into a disk, from which the planets could form.    (015)

Peirce majored in chemistry at Harvard, but his father (who
was the leading mathematician in America at the time) taught
him mathematics, and the two of them studied Kant together.
In addition to his logic, Peirce also published original
research in chemistry, physics, astronomy, and mathematics,
and he even coauthored (with one of his students) the first
article on experimental psychology published in America.    (016)

Whitehead taught mathematics and theoretical physics for many
years, and he even developed an alternate interpretation for
general relativity that did not require a warped space-time.
Physicists took Whitehead's views seriously, but experimental
tests eventually showed that Einstein's version agreed more
closely with the data.    (017)

And by the way, Goethe made important contributions to biology.
He was the first person to recognize that every part of a plant
is a specialization of a leaf.  He also recognized that the skull
of a vertebrate is a specialization of the topmost vertebra.  It
has the same interface to the top vertebra as each vertebra has
to the one beneath it.  If you go down the evolutionary scale,
you can see how the top vertebra gets enlarged as the ganglion
it encloses grows to becomes a brain.    (018)

EB> The trick is to recognize which expertise is needed when and
 > apply it properly.    (019)

I agree.  But it is impossible to have a fixed methodology for
doing truly revolutionary research.  Scientists can teach their
students how to work within a given paradigm, but there is no way
to tell students how to break out of a paradigm without actually
doing it.  However, there is an effective way to stifle creativity:
Define and enforce sharp boundaries between disciplines.    (020)

John    (021)

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