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

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 28 May 2008 22:47:21 -0400
Message-id: <483E1939.8060508@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

EB> I think you mean to at least require that most of the tests
 > validate the predictions.    (02)

To be scientific, a theory must make testable predictions.
To be accepted as true, at least in part, those predictions
must turn out to be true.  The predictions of astrology have
no better than a random chance of being correct.    (03)

Some theories considered scientific today, such as string theory,
make the same predictions as more conventional theories.  That
doesn't make them wrong, but it means there is no compelling
reason for accepting them.    (04)

EB> The phlogiston theory was indeed a theory; it was just wrong.    (05)

It wasn't completely wrong because it made many of the same
predictions as theories now considered correct.  It wasn't until
the late 18th century when chemists discovered that the weights
were wrong.  Magnesium oxide, for example, was considered the
elemental form, and magnesium metal was considered the element
with phlogiston added.  However, burning magnesium to remove
the phlogiston caused the resulting oxide to gain weight.    (06)

In any case, the phlogiston theory made a major contribution to
the development of chemistry because it made testable predictions.
Some of them were verified, but the falsification of the others
led to newer and better theories in the late 18th century.    (07)

Before Galileo starting looking at planets with a telescope, there
was no way to distinguish the Ptolemaic theory from the Copernican
theory, since both made exactly the same predictions.  The Copernican
theory was simpler because it required fewer epicycles, but it raised
the question of why people and things didn't fly off a rotating earth.    (08)

Tycho Brahe was the best astronomer of his day, and he made the most
accurate measurements at the time in an attempt to prove that the
Ptolemaic theory was more accurate.  But Brahe's assistant Kepler
used his master's measurements to derive his theory that the planets
went around the sun in elliptical orbits.  So the accuracy achieved
with the Ptolemaic theory was instrumental in leading to a better one.    (09)

EB> So did the medieval master builders apply some unifying paradigm
 > like the theory of evolution?  No.  Did they get consistent scalable
 > production?  Yes, by the hundreds!  Were they engineers?    (010)

I don't know what their theories were, but I wouldn't doubt that
they had some unifying vision, which probably had a large kernel of
truth (just as the Ptolemaic and phlogiston theories had a large
amount of truth that made many successful predictions).  I would
definitely hire them in preference to some people called "engineers"
who have made repairs to my house.    (011)

EB> So is every systematic methodology a "theory"?  And does the
 > lexicographic art really result in "consistent scalable production"?    (012)

I would say that the work of good lexicographers is far superior to
the accuracy that has been achieved in the great majority of things
called "ontologies" that one can find on the WWW.    (013)

EB> Are the OED and Larousse and Cassells and Merriam-Webster and
 > CSPeirce methodologies all the same in principle?  Is lexicography
 > therefore a form of "engineering"?    (014)

Their methodologies are probably as similar as the ways of working
by practicing engineers in any field.  I called Peirce one of the
great knowledge engineers.  Following are Peirce's own words in a
letter to B. E. Smith, the general editor of the _Century Dictionary_:    (015)

    The task of classifying all the words of language, or what's
    the same thing, all the ideas that seek expression, is the most
    stupendous of logical tasks.  Anybody but the most accomplished
    logician must break down in it utterly; and even for the strongest
    man, it is the severest possible tax on the logical equipment and
    faculty.    (016)

I completely agree with Peirce that the task of writing precise
definitions is "the severest possible tax on the logical equipment
and faculty."  And many of the people who are writing so-called
ontologies today, most of whom have little knowledge of logic or
lexicography, are unqualified.    (017)

EB> But there is a big difference between having a complete master
 > theory and having an engineering methodology that produces consistent
 > results.    (018)

I have met some lexicographers, and I have a high regard for their
professional skills.  I also have a high regard for the products of
their work, which are quite good for definitions stated in a natural
language.  I often say that knowledge engineers should always have
at least one good dictionary at hand at all times and should have
access to several others in the next room.  But I also believe that
they need much better tools than anything currently available.    (019)

EB> The knowledge engineer of 2008 is in the shoes of the structural
 > engineer of 1500.    (020)

That is a slur on the engineers of 1500.  I suggest you study the
work of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).  Admittedly, Leonardo was
a genius, but there were quite a few of his contemporaries who
weren't bad at all.  They were called "Renaissance men".  And there
were qualified women too.  Queen Elizabeth I used to go to Cambridge
for the graduation ceremonies, where she would sometimes serve as
a "magister" to mediate the disputations -- which were carried out
in Latin and in which the arguments were couched, as far as possible,
in syllogistic form.    (021)

I would claim that a knowledge engineer today who had a good background
in logic, linguistics, lexicography, and, I dare say, philosophy, could
do very good work.  But it's very time consuming, very painstaking work.    (022)

I believe it's possible to speed up that work and to enable people
with somewhat less stellar qualifications to do decent work.  But that
would require suitable tools, languages, resources, and analysis aids.    (023)

But that is a topic for a whole 'nuther thread.    (024)

John    (025)

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