John, your essay is a gem - brilliant! Thank you for it,
right up to and especially including its last sentence. (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:
> "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."
> 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.
> 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.
> JFS>> but many of [the philosophers'] issues are
>>> reflected in the discussions we frequently have.
> EB> I would agree, and add "regrettably", and stop there.
> There is nothing worse than bad philosophy. But it's
> impossible to do good ontology without having a good sense
> for philosophy.
> 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".
> 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.
> 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.
> EB> But I have never seen a knowledge engineer become a
> 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
> 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
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> EB> The trick is to recognize which expertise
> > is needed when and apply it properly.
> 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.
Message Archives: http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/
Shared Files: http://ontolog.cim3.net/file/
Community Wiki: http://ontolog.cim3.net/wiki/
To Post: mailto:ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (04)