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

To: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 12:50:22 -0400
Message-id: <4836F5CE.7050506@xxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

We are not so far apart.  Indeed, I found most of your response 
consistent with my own beliefs.  But, to some extent, we are talking 
past each other.  So I am trying to sort out the issues.    (02)

you wrote:    (03)

> There is nothing worse than bad philosophy.  But it's impossible
> to do good ontology without having a good sense for philosophy.    (04)

I would only observe that there is a difference between "having a good 
sense for philosophy" and having an education in the classical 
philosophical treatises and the deep understanding of the complexities 
that is needed to be a "philosopher".  "Having a good sense for 
philosophy" may just be the recognition that all of "knowledge" is 
belief based on something -- observations, theory, reasoning, doctrine, 
contemplation.    (05)

Philosophies are also theories designed to explain observations.  For a 
scientist or engineer, one of the hallmarks of "having a good sense for 
philosophy" is knowing when to stop the debate.  The debate must end 
when the bases for belief are incomparable.    (06)

And I take issue with the idea that "knowledge engineers" need to be 
steeped in philosophical theory in order to build useful "ontologies". 
Their job is to model belief -- the beliefs of the target user and 
application community, not truth.  An ontology that supports Creationist 
theory isn't going to be consistent with an ontology that supports 
Darwinian theory, or many others, but it doesn't have to be.  And 
whether an ontology that supports financial planning or intelligence 
gathering has to be based on certain philosophical principles is not 
clear, because the beliefs of the target community may not be.  There is 
a big difference between consistency with first-order logic and 
consistency with (other) philosophical theories.  (Cogito, ergo confusus 
sum.)    (07)

>  There is no sharp distinction between science and
> engineering, and the best practitioners of both have a strong
> feeling for the other.     (08)

I think there is an important, if not very sharp, distinction:
Science is about observing and devising theory to explain the 
observations.  Engineering is about observing and using observations 
and/or theory in the development of practice and the design of devices.    (09)

And the best practitioners of both must be good at making observations, 
at using and questioning the observations of others, and at reasoning 
inductively and deductively from those observations.  That is, both 
disciplines are deeply involved in understanding What is true of things, 
and How they know that.  And there are scientists who spend much time, 
and sometimes achieve significant engineering advances, devising 
mechanisms for making observations -- an engineering discipline in the 
pursuit of science.  (It is in fact what NIST does.)    (010)

My original point, in contrast to Len's, was only that engineering does 
not require theory.  Engineering can proceed by inducing what practices 
work, or by borrowing that knowledge and enhancing it by experiment, 
without knowing Why.  Engineering can proceed more rapidly and 
effectively if we know Why; but it can also proceed by knowing only What 
and How.  And it has done the latter for five millenia.    (011)

By comparison, a primary objective of science, and *the* primary 
objective of philosophy, is to develop theory, to understand Why.  When 
science goes beyond observation, it is about the development of theory.    (012)

One certainly doesn't want engineering practice to conflict with 
available scientific theory (although it does from time to time).  But 
where there is no theory, engineering can proceed on the basis of 
observation.  And historically, a goad for scientific research has been 
the effectiveness of engineering practices in areas in which no 
supporting theory exists.    (013)

> 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.     (014)

Indeed, but it is possible to have a "nearly fixed" methodology for 
performing scientific observation, and many scientists spend their 
entire careers doing just that.  You don't have to have a theory named 
after you to make a major contribution.    (015)

And in the same way, it is possible to have a "nearly fixed" methodology 
for doing effective engineering.  Many engineering problems do not 
require major new insights; they just require analysis of the problem 
space (observation) and the application of accepted principles to the 
design of solutions.    (016)

Like revolutionary science, truly revolutionary engineering also 
requires the engineer to "think outside the box", to make less clearly 
related observations, and to apply to the development of a solution 
theory and knowledge that is not commonly perceived to be related.  But 
truly revolutionary engineering, and truly revolutionary science, are 
the rarae aves of both disciplines.    (017)

>   However, there is an effective way to stifle creativity:
> Define and enforce sharp boundaries between disciplines.    (018)

Of course.  But we are not talking about enforcing boundaries, or at 
least I wasn't.  I was talking about defining the nature of a 
discipline.  You as an individual can act in multiple disciplines, as 
long as you are aware of the knowledge and behavior requirements each 
imposes.  But a lot of would-be revolutionaries ignore the requirements 
of their discipline(s), and therefore have none.    (019)

What you say, John, is very wise, but it is also precisely the kind of 
wisdom-as-sound-byte that will be perverted by the ignorant to foolish 
ends.  And in software engineering, which to my mind includes knowledge 
engineering, the ignorant and undisciplined are abundant.    (020)

-Ed    (021)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (022)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (023)

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