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Re: [ontolog-forum] Copyright in Taxonomies: Leading case in US law (ADA

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2010 09:04:42 -0500
Message-id: <6BC32255-902E-467D-82E5-219815085E0C@xxxxxxxx>
On Oct 28, 2010, at 2:53 PM, Peter F Brown (Pensive) wrote:
Can you point me to a “classification *system*” that is not human-created?

Of course not.  No one is disputing that.  The disputed claim is that no such systems "reflect any 'natural' objective truth or set of 'facts'". That is an utter non sequitur.
Your comments about different classification systems of modern astronomy would seem merely to underline my point, surely:

Then surely you have missed mine.

they are all the product of human reasoning

Of course astronomy — the scientific study of the heavens — is a product of human reasoning.  The question is whether the heavens themselves are one way rather than another and, hence, that astronomical systems can be considered objectively true to the extent that they reflect the way the heavens actually are.  It does not follow from the fact that astronomy is a product of human reasoning that its content is somehow nothing more than a story or myth.  It is, to say the least, credible to hold that it is an objective fact that earth is not flat and fixed in space and covered by a solid dome on which the stars are hung and through which water passed to cause rain; to hold that that "classification system" just flat got it wrong.  Likewise, it seems much more than credible that our modern classification system of planets, stars, and galaxies, on which the earth is a speck in an incomprehensibly huge universe, gets the facts pretty much exactly right.

backed up, to greater or lesser extents, by observation and calculation.

What's the point of observation and calculation if there are no objective truths?  What we observe is a world that pushes back, that puts constraints on what we can say, and which cannot be structured and described in any way that we choose. It is, at the least, a credible position that the reason for this is that the world itself exhibits a structure that we strive to capture in our classification systems and that classifications succeed to the extent that they get that structure right.

I’m not suggesting that Lakoff settled anything but at least he and Rosch highlighted and criticised the absence of any serious scientific inquiry into “classical” classification (folk) theory that Western philosophy has unquestioningly assumed and taken as axiomatic for more than two millennia before Wittgenstein started to question it.

If really think W. has been that influential in contemporary philosophy of science you need to read a bit more widely.

Back to my central and main observation: as all classification systems are the product of human creativity, they are eminently copyrightable.

From which it sure seems to follow that the classification of, say, natural numbers into primes and composites, the reals into algebraic and transcendental, and functions into computable or uncomputable are all "eminently copyrightable".  So too the classification of the elements in the periodic table; the classification of subatomic particles into leptons and quarks, blood into its various types, microbes into archaea, bacteria, fungi, viruses, protista, and symbionts, etc.  Your thesis is not only philosophically untenable but, it seems to me, appalling and dangerous, as its logical end is the corporate ownership of every aspect of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

That's all I will say about realism/anti-realism, a topic that has serious rabbit-hole potential and, hence, is best avoided in this forum, which already too often consists in idle speculation and free association (h/t Ed B.). The issue of copyrighting scientific knowledge, by contrast, does have important practical upshot and warrants further discussion.

Chris Menzel

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