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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: Tue, 27 May 2008 11:24:33 -0400
Message-id: <483C27B1.8060309@xxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

I wrote:
>> The Master Builders knew How; they just didn't know Why.    (02)

John Sowa wrote:
> I agree that they didn't have a mathematically formulated
> theory that would enable them to compute the stresses.  But
> I seriously doubt that they could design cathedrals that might
> take a century to build without having a solid understanding
> of what keeps a structure from falling down.
> ...
> I believe that the cathedral designers had a very solid
> theory of how cathedrals should be built, even though
> they didn't have the notation or the inclination to write
> it down for posterity to verify.    (03)

I think you have made a very important change in the use of the term 
"theory" here.  A "theory of how cathedrals should be built" is nothing 
more than a definition of established practice.  It represents an 
understanding of What works, not Why it works.  That is not at all the 
same thing as "a solid understanding of what keeps a structure from 
falling down".  The latter understanding is "mechanical physics" -- a 
"theory" -- a model of the nature of things that fits the observations 
and allows us to predict phenomena not yet observed.  What really keeps 
a structure from falling down is very different from 3 known ways of 
keeping a structure from falling down.    (04)

I understood Len's point (and John A's) to be that one needed the latter 
kind of "theory", i.e. science, to do good engineering.  By comparison, 
"theory of effective practice" is, I think, exactly what Len meant by 
the "carpentry" level of thinking.    (05)

As you say, they wrote down very little.  So we have no way of knowing 
whether medieval master builders really had a working knowledge of 
mechanics.  It is possible that they did and kept it secret; we know 
that was the case with some other technologies.  But I imagine that the 
master builders would have doubted Eiffel's tower in much the same way 
his 19th century colleagues did.  My point was that, historically, 
engineers (including tinkerers like Edison and DeForrest) have been very 
good at finding things that work and replicating those successes with 
small variations without ever understanding Why.  When the science 
itself is still in the observation stage, and theory is yet to be (or 
just being) formulated, an organized set of engineering observations is 
a valuable part of the scientific process, but the objective of the 
engineer is to use that set of organized knowledge to make something 
"new" that works (essentially the same ways).    (06)

And BTW, I chose Edison and Tesla for exactly the reasons you pointed 
out: Edison was an "engineer", working from minimal theory and finding 
ways to use electricity for all sorts of purposes.  Tesla was a 
scientist who also practiced engineering -- first developing a theory 
and then building the device to demonstrate it.  And the state of 
electrical physics and electrical engineering in that time was such that 
both could deliver value.  30 years later, the kind of thing Edison did 
was relegated to "quack inventors", because the real engineers had the 
benefit of a functional theory of electrical phenomena.  The science of 
electrical phenomena had moved past the observation stage.    (07)

Taking us back to the subject of this forum, I think I am a "knowledge 
engineer". I know how to build products -- data models and ontologies -- 
that represent the understanding people have and the concerns they 
identify for a given subject.  The rest is the expertise in tailoring 
that knowledge/belief to the forms that are supported by a given class 
of automating engine.  There is a limited amount of theory that supports 
the latter, and very nearly no theory that supports the former (except 
where the knowledge/belief they have includes a particular scientific or 
mathematical theory).    (08)

And I personally do not believe that philosophy is the "science" of 
knowledge engineering, except for those whose goal is to produce the 
universal upper ontology.  Knowledge models properly represent the 
beliefs of the application community, whatever relationship that may 
have to reality or truth.    (09)

I believe that in due time we will understand enough about the workings 
of the human brain to build a machine that approximates its functions 
much more effectively -- Asimov's positronic brain, if you like.  But in 
the interim, we can codify belief and do certain kinds of deductions. 
We have no theory that will allow software to produce Eureka moments.    (010)

-Ed    (011)

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    (012)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (013)

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