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Re: [ontolog-forum] History of the Atomic Hypothesis

Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 23:00:32 -0400
Message-id: <488D3650.6010102@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat, Wacek, Toby, and Rich,    (01)

JS>>  My recommended definition [of an atom]:
 >>    the smallest subdivision of an element that retains the
 >>    defining characteristics of that element.    (02)

PH> But you have to specify *chemical* characteristics, since
 > for example a single atom of sodium lacks most of the defining
 > characteristics of sodium in bulk: its not metallic, shiny,
 > soft, inflammable, etc..  In some cases, eg carbon, a single
 > atom has none of the bulk characteristics, since these depend
 > on the crystalline structure (graphite, soot, fiber or diamond)...    (03)

Yes, but I used the qualifier "defining characteristics".  In the
19th century, the chemical characteristics were used to define
the elements.  But even in the 19th century, chemists realized
that the bulk characteristics weren't as stable as the spectrum
of light radiated or absorbed by each element.  Those spectral
lines are the same for any number of atoms.    (04)

vQ> and discouragingly (?)    (05)

Not necessarily.  Vagueness enables us to recycle the same words
indefinitely without having to learn new vocabulary.  When precision
is necessary, we can always add an adjective or phrase to specify
which variant we need.    (06)

Just look at all the different authors and theories mentioned in
those web sites I cited in my earlier note.  Imagine the confusion
if every one of them used a different word to designate the meaning
variant they had in mind.  Except for Boyle (who used the word
'corpuscle'), the others used words derived from the original 'atomos'.    (07)

I often quote Peirce's remark on the issue of vagueness:    (08)

    It is easy to speak with precision upon a general theme.  Only,
    one must commonly surrender all ambition to be certain.  It is
    equally easy to be certain.  One has only to be sufficiently vague.
    It is not so difficult to be pretty precise and fairly certain
    at once about a very narrow subject.    (09)

TC> In a similar way, atoms have given way to wave forms, with
 > no certainty and no actual atom to work with.    (010)

The fact that an atom can be viewed as either a wave or a particle
doesn't make it any the less real.  See the picture of atoms in my
earlier note.  You could see white circles for lead atoms, fuzzy
white blobs for zirconium and titanium atoms, and fuzzy gray blobs
for oxygen atoms.    (011)

Since those atoms are very heavy compared to an electron, their wave
functions are highly localized.  Their particle-like properties are
much more pronounced than their wave-like properties.    (012)

RC> I thought Pierce taught at Harvard.  Did he teach at Johns Hopkins
 > for part of his career?    (013)

His father was a professor of mathematics at Harvard, so he was born
and raised in Harvard yard.  After he graduated from Harvard, his
father got him a job at the Harvard observatory for a few years.
(The only book he published during his lifetime was _Photometric
Researches_, which was an improvement on the methods for determining
the distance to stars: (a) classify them according to their light
spectra and (b) within each class, estimate their relative distances
in terms of their relative brightness.)    (014)

But his major employment was at the US Coast and Geodetic Survey
for 30 years.  During that time, he taught for 5 years as an
part-time professor at Johns Hopkins U (from 1880 to 1885).
That was the time when he developed and published the algebraic
notation for first-order logic, and he gave full credit to some
of his students for critical ideas.    (015)

John Sowa    (016)

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