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Re: [ontolog-forum] Digital Ontology and digital ontology

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 2009 12:16:36 -0400
Message-id: <49F488E4.8080105@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Paola, Azamat, Christopher, and Mike,    (01)

PDM> But some passages in the lecture seem to create the impression
 > that physical world results from a certain kind of computation...    (02)

I agree.  And that's a metaphor that is helpful to a certain extent,
but it also has some connotations that may be more distracting than
illuminating.    (03)

Peirce's semiotics is even more general than computation, since
every kind of computation processes signs.  But the idea of signs
also has connotations that can be distracting.  For such reasons,
I think it's important to use multiple ways (or paradigms) for
describing the same phenomena in order to emphasize what is
common beneath all the terminology and metaphors.    (04)

AA> But there are noted physicists, who could see the things i
mentioned... S. Weinberg [24 October 2002, "Is the Universe
a Computer?" The New York Review of Books].    (05)

Thanks for the reference.  I found the full article on the web:    (06)

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15762    (07)

I agree that the claim that the universe can be adequately modeled
as a cellular automaton is dubious, but I'd like to quote another
point from Weinberg's review:    (08)

SW> The central theme of the book is easily stated. It is that many
 > simple rules can lead to complex behavior.  The example that is
 > used repeatedly to illustrate this theme is a favorite toy of
 > complexity theorists known as the cellular automaton...    (09)

I believe that central theme is important.  But I'd also like to
add that the traditional continuous mathematics used in physics
also leads to enormous complexity.  Newton's simple equation F=ma
leads to and explains very complex kinds of systems.  The carbon
atom combined with a dozen or so other kinds of atoms leads to
the enormous complexity of organic molecules, DNA, and life.    (010)

I think that Weinberg makes many important observations, but I
strongly disagree with his concluding sentence:    (011)

SW> In the study of anything outside human affairs, including the
 > study of complexity, it is only simplicity that can be interesting.    (012)

The only things that people can observe and act upon are extremely
complex systems.  It took thousands of years of civilization to
discover those simple equations of theoretical physics (or those
simple cellular automata).  But people still see, feel, and think
about those complex things and events.    (013)

AA> The prolix volume mentioned was just a good instigation to view
 > the similarities and differences of two types of ontology.    (014)

It's important to recognize those differences, but the issues
discussed by Wolfram and Weinberg are very far from the central
focus of the ontologies discussed in this forum.    (015)

All the ontologies we have been considering focus on complex things
and events that people see and talk about.  They deliberately ignore
issues in the foundations of physics and the universe, either from
a digital or an analog point of view.    (016)

CS> I think [Wolfram] does in fact claim that the real world has
 > a certain underlying simplicity.    (017)

I agree, but he also talks about the complexity that arises from
that simplicity.  For the kinds of ontologies we have been discussing,
the central focus is complex things and events.  Any simulations or
foundations in either quantum mechanics or cellular automata are
very far removed from the focus of those ontologies.    (018)

CS> But his work is about how apparently real-enough complexity
 > can be produced by simple automata.  And on NKS p469 he does say
 > this:
 >   "But it does mean that if one once discovers a rule that
 >   reproduces sufficiently many features of the universe, then
 >   it becomes extremely likely that this rule is indeed the final
 >   and correct one for the whole universe."    (019)

I agree that any such rule would be very interesting.  But it would
have almost no effect on the ontologies such as Cyc, SUMO, BFO,
Dolce, or any of the others we have been discussing.    (020)

MB> I thought that the idea that the complexity of the real world
 > can arise from very simple patterns had been well explored by
 > Holland and others in the "complexity" world. Surely that's no
 > longer a contentious point...    (021)

I agree.  But the kind of simplicity that Wolfram and Weinberg
are searching will have little or no effect on the ontologies
discussed in this forum.  Even if they discovered the magic rule
that governs the entire universe, the application of that rule
would involve an immense amount of computation before it could
explain anything that we see every day.    (022)

But there are some very important lessons we can learn from those
discussions:    (023)

  1. No ontology that has been proposed in this forum adequately
     addresses the fundamental principles (whether digital or
     analog) that govern the universe.    (024)

  2. The central focus of our common ontologies has been the kinds
     of things and events we experience every day.  Those things
     are immensely more complex than the simple foundations of
     theoretical physics (whatever they may be).    (025)

  3. The categories in our ontologies are at best useful descriptions
     and approximations of commonsense phenomena.  They are not and
     cannot be considered the ultimate foundations of everything.    (026)

  4. No currently available ontology has proved to be adequate for
     describing everything that people talk about and write programs
     to process, but they have been useful for many purposes.    (027)

  5. Therefore, our standards for ontology should support and relate
     an open-ended variety of specialized ontologies for different
     purposes.  No single one of them can or should be considered
     the foundation for everything that we talk about or need to
     process on our computer systems.    (028)

John Sowa    (029)

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