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Re: [ontolog-forum] Offline note

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 31 May 2009 13:15:10 -0500
Message-id: <66636B01-6142-44B8-8E75-4584CC3003EA@xxxxxxxx>
On May 31, 2009, at 4:45 AM, Sean Barker wrote:
> In berating people about thinking they have solved a problem  
> (context) while not having done years of work in the subject, one is  
> reminded of Kuhn's book of scientific revolutions, in which (as I  
> remember) he notes that often someone new to the field is the source  
> of the revolution, not being hide bound by existing thinking -    (01)

The progenitors of new scientific paradigms who are not hide bound by  
existing thinking are *never* (at least in post-medieval times) "new  
to the field".  They are in fact intimately familiar with the dominant  
paradigm — "normal" science, in Kuhn's terminology — and are well- 
trained in it, typically by those who are still "stuck" in the  
dominant paradigm.  What distinguishes them is that they have both the  
brilliance and the mental agility to see the implications of anomalies  
that have been missed entirely or inadequately explained by the  
existing paradigms but which are in fact key to the development of  
revolutionary paradigms.  Black body radiation is a good example —  
even though Planck's law, formulated in 1900, comported perfectly with  
the anomalous experimental data surrounding  BB radiation, it took  
nearly two decades and a succession powerful results from brilliant  
young physicists (Einstein, Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Pauli,  
Schrödinger, etc) using the quantum hypothesis before the classical  
optical and electro-magnetic paradigms of Newton and Maxwell were  
completely overthrown.  (Ironically, Planck himself was "stuck" in the  
old paradigm and never allowed himself to believe in the reality of  
quanta.)  Without their intimate knowledge of the classical paradigms,  
the young physicist would not have been able to recognize the crucial  
anomalies *as* anomalies nor would they have been able to demonstrate  
the explanatory shortcomings of the classical paradigms and argue so  
convincingly for the superiority of the quantum hypothesis.    (02)

> citing particularly Watson in the discovery of DNA.    (03)

I think this is actually a rather unique case, as it was basically the  
final step in the creation of a new field — molecular genetics —  
rather than a change from one paradigm to another.  It did not  
supplant classical Mendelian genetics so much as supplement it by  
providing it with a molecular foundation.  Indeed, Mendel's work is  
probably a better example of the creation of a revolutionary paradigm,  
as it overthrew several popular competing theories of inheritance.    (04)

> One of the BIG problems with ontologies is that the proponents are  
> really bad at explaining the subject. It took me a couple of years  
> to realise that ontologies are merely data models with AI gubbins  
> (explaining this, and then explaining why the AI gubbins is useful,  
> is how I get funded by engineers). Perhaps the biggest problem is  
> the depth of knowledge of some of the contributors (John Sowa  
> particularly). There is a huge amount to learn from John, and he is  
> brilliant at putting it clearly, but IMHO what is needed is not just  
> a clear statement of the theory so far, but a paradigm shift.    (05)

Perhaps so, but unless you can deliver *results* on the basis of a new  
paradigm, it seems to me that you need to be able to explain very  
convincingly where the old paradigm gets it wrong to warrant a radical  
shift in the direction of research.  Anyone without deep knowledge of  
the existing paradigm will be utterly incapable of doing so.    (06)

> The shift I suspect is needed is from thinking about how symbols  
> represent knowledge to thinking about how knowledge fans out from  
> symbols.  That is, how the use of a symbol invokes a set of  
> knowledge processes in the recipient - these may be simple, as when  
> we say "the number on the dial is six", or complex, such as "Amy  
> Winehouse is the apotheosis and nadir of post-modern femininity".  
> Deciding the truth of the former is a very much simpler process than  
> deciding the truth of the latter.    (07)

Ok, well, that's a start I suppose. ;-)    (08)

> And in both cases we are still using the same definition of symbol  
> as C. S. Pearce, which John S. has referred to on more than one  
> occasion.    (09)

Forgive the pedantry (esp if this was just a typo), but it's  
"Peirce" (pronounced "purse").    (010)

-chris    (011)

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