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

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Christopher Spottiswoode" <cms@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 11:03:38 +0200
Message-id: <00ac01c8bcb4$01c91670$0100a8c0@Dev>
John, your essay is a gem - brilliant!  Thank you for it, 
right up to and especially including its last sentence.    (01)

Christopher    (02)

> Ed,
> 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 
> scientist!
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> John
>     (03)

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