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Re: [ontolog-forum] intangibles (was RE: Why most classifications are fu

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 12:44:32 -0400
Message-id: <4E1DCB70.10506@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Avril and Anders,    (01)

Those are good observations.  But I'd like to add a few comments.    (02)

AS quoting Mach:
> I was struck by the strange way in which scientists went on about
> selecting the simplest, thriftiest and the most efficient method
> of reaching their goal. Ernst Mach [19, p30]    (03)

Mach, as Einstein observed, was a good experimental physicist.
He was also a persuasive writer, as those quotations show.
But the principle of economy is not sufficient.  All it can give
us is data mining, which is useful for finding patterns in data.
But it cannot distinguish a scientific law from a coincidence
that happens to occur in an unrepresentative sample.    (04)

The quotation by Einstein (who was highly critical of Mach) is
based on AE's way of thinking, which made great abductive leaps
beyond the data:    (05)

> Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler.
> Albert Einstein [46, p121]    (06)

Part of Mach's PE is that a theory should never introduce concepts
or variables that could not be defined in terms of observables.
That principle became dogma for the Vienna Circle and behaviorism.    (07)

For physics, Mach and his followers stifled a huge amount of
research based on the hypothesis of invisible atoms.  They drove
Boltzmann to suicide.  (He suffered from depression, but it is
significant that he hung himself just as his family was leaving
to take the train back to Vienna.)    (08)

> Mach derived extreme empiricism by using PE, among other things.
> This is why Planck’s criticism against Mach’s PE can be seen as
> criticism only against extreme empiricism, not against PE itself.    (09)

PE is a useful guideline for choosing between alternatives that
have equal predictive power.  But Mach used it as a weapon against
any theory that used abduction to introduce concepts that were not
observable.    (010)

Note what Max Planck said:    (011)

> ... if the Machian principle of economy were ever to become central
> to the theory of knowledge, the thought processes of ... leading
> intellects would be paralyzed, and the progress of science might
> thus be fatally impeded. Max Planck [21, p26]    (012)

Planck had been persuaded by Mach to reject Boltzmann's hypothesis
of atoms.  But when he was studying black body radiation, he found
that Boltzmann's mathematics (with the addition of the now famous
Planck's constant) correctly predicted the observed data.  That
discovery completely changed his attitude toward Mach and Boltzmann.    (013)

In 1905, Einstein took the next great leap of abduction to assume
that the light traveling in free space could appear as streams
of particles quantized in units that involved Planck's constant.
De Broglie later took another huge leap to assume that streams of
material particles, such as electrons, could also appear as waves.
And Schrödinger took another leap to write his famous differential
equation that governed matter waves.  Mach would not have approved.    (014)

Einstein's abductive leaps for both the special and general
theories of relativity went far beyond the data.  One might say
that they followed PE because their equations were simpler.
But Lorentz had discovered the equations that Einstein adopted
for special relativity, and he was much more cautious in his
interpretation.  Einstein applied some math to those equations,
and out popped his most famous equation:  E = mc^2    (015)

For anybody who followed Mach, the idea that mass and energy
could be converted from one to another was a reductio ad absurdum
that made them reject the whole line of thought.  That was so
controversial that the Nobel committee awarded their prize to
Einstein for his work on quantum mechanics -- not relativity.    (016)

> [T]he conflict between scientific ideas [can be seen] as a struggle
> for life and as the survival of the fittest. Ernst Mach [19, p30]    (017)

That is a horrible metaphor.  Mach and his followers used their
conception of PE as a weapon that killed a great deal of promising
research.  Fortunately for Einstein, he had three brilliant papers
in 1905, and the Machians couldn't kill all of them.  Peirce had
a very accurate appraisal of Mach long before Einstein:    (018)

> Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without any
> metaphysics... and you have found one whose doctrines are
> thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics
> with which they are packed. (CP 1.129)    (019)

Although Einstein saved physics from the clutches of Mach and
the Vienna Circle, psychology and linguistics didn't have anyone
of his stature to save them.    (020)

In 1914, Leonard Bloomfield wrote his _Introduction to Language_,
which contained a good presentation of the ongoing work in semantics.
But in the 1920s, the behaviorists persuaded him that talking about
unobservable semantic issues was "unscientific".  So in 1933, he
dropped semantics from his highly influential book _Language_.
That became the primary textbook for the next generation of
linguists -- including, among others, Noam Chomsky.  Note that
Chomsky also used PE as a weapon to stifle his opponents.    (021)

AT quoting Scott Moore
> ... promise, swear, vow; also contract, bet, swear that,
> guarantee that, guarantee x, surrender, invite. In uttering e,
> S promises  H to A if S expresses:
> 1. the belief that his utterance obligates him to A,
> 2. the intention to A, and
> 3. the intention that H believe that S’s utterance obligates
>    S to A and that S intends to A.    (022)

That's a good statement, but note that it involves a Peircean triad:
"S promises H to A", and it uses concepts that are unobservable.
In legal terms, you can observe a killing, but you can only infer
murder -- because intention is not observable.    (023)

The behaviorists and logical positivists (i.e., the Vienna Circlers)
tried to avoid talking about beliefs, intentions, obligations...
In his later years, Carnap did some good work on modal logic, but
he was very cautious in limiting his logic to the barest minimum he
was able to formalize.  But Quine never accepted any modal logic.
He tried to reduce everything to first-order logic plus set theory.    (024)

Clarence Irving Lewis, who founded modern theories of modal logic,
was strongly influenced by Peirce, and he was very critical of
the ideas coming from Mach, behaviorism, and logical positivism.
Following is a comment that Lewis wrote in 1960:    (025)

> It is so easy... to get impressive 'results' by replacing the
> vaguer concepts which convey real meaning by virtue of common
> usage  by pseudo precise concepts which are manipulable by 'exact'
> methods  - the trouble being that nobody any longer knows whether
> anything  actual or of practical import is being discussed.    (026)

Alonzo Church was a famous logician who was willing to talk about
abstract entities and use intensional methods for representing them.
When he was invited to give a talk at Harvard, he deliberately chose
a topic that would irritate Quine:    (027)

    The ontological status of women and abstract entities    (028)

Note Church's concluding paragraph:    (029)

> To return to Quine and Goodman, it is possible, even likely, that the
> failure of their program will demonstrate the untenability of their
> finitistic nominalism....    (030)

Many people working in ontology today have been infected with the same
virus as Mach, Russell, Carnap, Quine, and Goodman.  Those people write
clearly and persuasively.  But their influence on psychology, semantics,
and ontology made it impossible to formalize or even talk clearly about
issues that are critical to law, finance, and business.    (031)

As I said in my previous note, philosophers like Searle rediscovered
some of the principles that Peirce enunciated.  But they are still
being attacked by people who caught the virus from Mach and the VC.    (032)

John    (033)

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