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

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Sharma, Ravi" <Ravi.Sharma@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 21:41:33 -0600
Message-id: <D09FFCFB3952074082D4280BC24EAFA801E335E8@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

John    (01)

Thanks for starting a very good thread on - what is appropriate level of
understanding and granularity for reaching Ontology related consensus!     (02)

{I am worried about comment from Pat Hayes on word "Property" that
occurred in the thread on S.R. Ranganathan's (Library - Colon
Classification) poorly translatable concepts from Sanskrit but will
attempt to my best abilities to translate meanings from Sanskrit.}    (03)

Historically the idea of atom (ANU) and sub-atom (ParamANU now
translated as nucleus) by those who read Sanskrit is as old as Vedas
i.e. at least 4500 years ago by western historians, we might well
discover it to be older!    (04)

Even though the term occurs in those practices many-many times in
different context, sometimes the context was to show that the power and
continuum of "consciousness" is the whole range from a tiniest fraction
of atom to the largest object in this universe (implying that it
transcends the physical universe)!     (05)

The Seer who described ANU was "KANAD".    (06)

Inferences that are important in Ontology are also important in physics.
In the electron microscopy what we are seeing is a physical phenomenon
that manifests - such as absorption, emission, scattering or Raman
effect (absorption at one wavelength and re-emission at another) and not
an actual whole picture of atom; very similar to x-ray scattering
showing lattices, defects and ligands (impurities in crystals and
semiconductor manufacture). Let me illustrate it by observing an object
in visible or infrared, we may infer different aspects of the same
object and we can not say that we are fully "seeing" the object as it
might look different if another probe such as Gamma-ray or UV are used.
Thus we can only draw inferences about the object and for practical
everyday purposes visible light related sightings are sufficient to
describe the position and visual attributes such as shapes, color, etc.    (07)

Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek discovered Quarks and Gluons similarly by
inference from observation of symmetries and patterns of transformation
of particles. These phenomena may appear similar to scattering but are
more like change of property or conversion of one type of particle to
other. The more complex the phenomena, often more dimensions are
required such as Up-Down quarks etc. or attributes. However, our
understanding improves if we can aggregate our complex findings and even
though approximately, we can describe the phenomena for all practical
purposes. Hence while we wait for the ultimate unified theory (which we
hope will not render this life without quest!), we have to do with
approximate enough understanding for the purpose for which we intend to
use the theory or ontology.    (08)

Hence I take John's observation as a great pointer for us to agree to
acceptable levels on theory and philosophy, even though not perfect, and
move on to create solutions from use of ontologies.    (09)

Thanks.    (010)

Ravi    (011)

(Dr. Ravi Sharma) Senior Enterprise Architect    (012)

Vangent, Inc. Technology Excellence Center (TEC)    (013)

8618 Westwood Center Drive, Suite 310, Vienna VA 22182
(o) 703-827-0638, (c) 313-204-1740 www.vangent.com    (014)

Professional viewpoints do not necessarily imply organizational
endorsement.    (015)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F.
Sent: Saturday, July 26, 2008 2:17 PM
To: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: [ontolog-forum] History of the Atomic Hypothesis    (016)

There has been a lot of debate on this list about the relevance
of philosophy to science and the relative importance of science
and common sense for the foundations of ontology.    (017)

As an illustration of the issues, the hypothesis of atoms has
undergone a slow development with many surprising twists and
turns since it was first proposed around 440 BC.  A century ago,
the physicist/philosopher Ernst Mach was still fighting a losing
battle against the hypothesis of "unobservable" atoms.  But the
latest electron microscopes can now produce pictures of atoms
at the picometer scale.    (018)

The attached picture shows four kinds of atoms in a crystal:
lead (white circles), zirconium and titanium (fuzzy white blobs),
and oxygen (smaller fuzzy gray blobs).  For the article see    (019)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080724150342.htm    (020)

Note that one nanometer would correspond to a line of about
8 zirconium, titanium, and oxygen atoms in this crystal.    (021)

Following is a brief summary of the development of the atomic
hypothesis from Leucippus and Democritus (440 BC) to the middle
ages, the Renaissance, and the early days of modern chemistry:    (022)

.html    (023)

The chemists were far ahead of the physicists in adopting the
atomic hypothesis.  Robert Boyle (1661) used the term "corpuscles"
in his influential book _The Sceptical Chymist_.  The modern theory
is based on John Dalton's book of 1803.  For an excerpt, see    (024)

http://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/dalton.html    (025)

At the bottom of that excerpt is Dalton's table of atomic weights,
which are systematically skewed by his erroneous assumption that a
molecule of water is composed of one atom of oxygen and one atom
of hydrogen.  For other classic papers in chemistry, see    (026)

http://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/papers.html    (027)

William Whewell, who first coined the words 'scientist' and 'physicist',
made important contributions to the history and philosophy of science.
But he also expressed doubts about the atomic hypothesis (1840):    (028)

http://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/whewell.html    (029)

Many physicists were highly skeptical about atoms, and Boltzmann
had to fight an uphill battle to get acceptance for his theory of
statistical mechanics.  See    (030)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/statphys-Boltzmann/    (031)

Following is a more detailed history of atomism from the 17th to
the 20th century:    (032)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atomism-modern/    (033)

This brief survey suggests several points that are important for
foundational issues in ontology:    (034)

  1. There has never been a consensus about detailed foundational
     issues in philosophy, science, or common sense.    (035)

  2. Developments in one of those three areas have major impacts on
     the others, and what is called common sense is very strongly
     influenced by currently fashionable ideas.    (036)

  3. We should be highly skeptical about any proposed foundation for
     an upper ontology, despite any claims of support from science,
     philosophy, common sense, mathematics, or "mainstream" fashions.    (037)

This cautionary note does not imply that we should *never* have an
upper ontology, but that the detailed axioms are likely to undergo
major revisions over time.  The term 'atom', for example, is still
in use after 2500 years.  But the axioms associated with it have
changed enormously over the centuries, and they are likely to
continue developing over time.    (038)

As I have said many times, a loosely axiomatized terminology
is immensely valuable.  Detailed axioms are essential for many
important applications.  But they are much less likely to be
universally acceptable, and they will inevitably undergo
major revisions when applied to different kinds of problems.    (039)

John Sowa    (040)

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