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Re: [ontolog-forum] Oooh, FOL is too hard to learn.

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2010 20:33:21 -0400
Message-id: <4CBCE751.9090004@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

I have taught predicate calculus to average engineers, and I believe
that the notation is truly *abysmal* and *unusable* for anybody who
is not a born and bred mathematician.  The ideas seem to sink in
while they're in the classroom, but by the next week, their minds
are totally devoid of any concept from the previous week.    (02)

> I think, John, that you are here exemplifying the top 20%, who think
> that every other competent engineer can do more or less what they do.    (03)

I most certainly do not believe that at all.  I know seemingly
intelligent people for whom anything that looks remotely like algebra
is an instant turn off.  I have spoken to publishers who say that
each equation that appears in a book will cut sales by 50%.  That
means 10 equations will reduce sales by a factor of a thousand.    (04)

> Many people use modeling languages in the same way, to state
> unclear thoughts clearly and often incorrectly.  They don't use
> use the language to mean exactly what the formal semantics of
> of the language says is meant by the syntax they used.    (05)

I completely agree.    (06)

> Many people have no problem with simple syllogisms, but are seriously
> confused about quantification.    (07)

I totally agree.    (08)

> And I can tell you first hand that the first encounter between
> electrical engineering students and boolean algebra is a filter -- the
> ones who will work in electronics understand quickly, the ones who don't
> understand quickly will become radar technicians or something.  It is
> not just the notation; it is the abstraction.  Many of the
> simplifications of gating logic are counter-intuitive.    (09)

Again, I have had exactly the same experience.    (010)

> FOL is not casual logic; it is a mathematical discipline.    (011)

We have to distinguish here between notations for FOL,
and the use of FOL as expressed in ordinary language.    (012)

> Many intelligent people can use logic correctly in their work, but
> they don't have the discipline, and most of them don't understand
> that there is a discipline.    (013)

Yes, that is certainly true.  I most definitely do *not* believe
that formal logic is the foundation for NL semantics.  On the
contrary, formal logic is an *abstraction* from NLs when they
are being used correctly -- even when (or perhaps especially when)
the people aren't aware of the underlying principles.    (014)

People who have no education beyond 4 grade can reason very
accurately about subjects they know very well.  But they're
hopeless when it gets to any kind of abstraction.  Unfortunately,
that point is true of engineers who have had 16 years of education.    (015)

> Conversely, the most astonishing use of FOL I have ever seen was a
> 3-year-old, who...    (016)

That's not a counterexample.  Three-year-old kids are much more
intelligent than the average engineer.  That's because they haven't
been brainwashed by 16 years of so-called education.    (017)

When computers first became available at large corporations,
scientists and engineers were among the *last* to use them.
They never learned to use them until their *children* shamed
them into learning how.    (018)

Summary:  I think we agree quite well on all these issues.
But I still maintain that they're not an excuse for designing
software and notations (such as UML diagrams) that do not have
a well-defined foundation.  People can benefit from a well
designed system, even if they don't know how it was designed.    (019)

John    (020)

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