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[ontolog-forum] Laws: physical and social

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 02 Jun 2013 08:12:03 -0400
Message-id: <51AB3693.30008@xxxxxxxxxxx>
In various notes to Ontolog Forum, I emphasized the importance of laws
(both physical and social) as a foundation for ontology.  I won't go
into all the details, but I'd like to make a few comments:    (01)

  1. Laws of physics provide a more fundamental explanation of many
     properties than the notions of "disposition" or "tendency".
     Physicists, for example, would explain why glass is fragile
     along the following lines:    (02)

     "Look at the structure of the material and how the atoms and
     molecules are linked to one another.  Given that structure
     and the laws of quantum mechanics, you can predict that under
     certain conditions, something made of steel will bend, and
     something of the same shape but made of glass will break."    (03)

  2. Many people have found the term 'disposition' to be useful in
     defining terms in an ontology.  I have no objection to using
     those terms to simplify an explanation.  But I would *not*
     treat dispositions as fundamental.  The word 'disposition' is
     just a shorthand way of saying that there exists a law that
     makes a certain kind of prediction.    (04)

  3. For the social sciences, the interactions are far more complex
     than in physics.  But there are regularities that can be used to
     make predictions that have a high probability of being correct.
     For example:    (05)

     a) If you go to a store and pay the asking price for an item,
        the sales clerk will take the money and give you the item.    (06)

     b) If you drive on a highway and stay on the designated side
        of the road, other drivers will stay on their side and
        avoid hitting you or your car.    (07)

     c) If you work for a company and repeatedly fail to do what
        your manager asks you to do, you will be fired.    (08)

For reasoning about social interactions, the laws aren't as strict
as the laws of physics, but game theory has proved to be useful.
Following is a survey article from the _Scientific American_:    (09)

The economics of fair play    (010)

Following is an influential book on the subject:    (011)

    Axelrod, Robert (1984) _The Evolution of Cooperation_,
    New York: Basic Books. Revised edition, Perseus Books, 2006.    (012)

It's significant that Richard Dawkins, who wrote the book
_The Selfish Gene_, wrote a highly favorable forward to the
revised edition of Axelrod's book.    (013)

I'm happy to see that Dawkins endorses Axelrod's book, but
I remain skeptical about the memes that Dawkins proposes.    (014)

For more info about related issues, see Axelrod's home page:    (015)

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/    (016)

I followed some of those links to a review of Daniel Dennet's
book, _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_ by H. Allen Orr:    (017)

    http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Orr.html    (018)

 From the concluding section of the review:    (019)

> Although he has produced a provocative and intermittently
> entertaining book, Dennett's chief claim is unconvincing.
> Darwinism may have little to tell us outside of biology.    (020)

I strongly agree with that last line.  I also agree with
Orr's criticisms of Dennet's version of memes.    (021)

In summary, I believe that laws of nature and social behavior
are a better foundation for ontology than dispositions.  I
would also recommend game theory as a useful methodology
for reasoning about social behavior.    (022)

John    (023)

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