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Re: [ontolog-forum] Laws: physical and social

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Barkmeyer, Edward J" <edward.barkmeyer@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2013 12:42:16 -0400
Message-id: <63955B982BF1854C96302E6A5908234417E0A945B5@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

You wrote:    (02)

> Can you find any examples where what I said was wrong?  A very precise and
> detailed specification is always for a specific project.  When you design a
> bridge, that design holds for a single bridge for a single location.  If you 
> a car, you can manufacture thousands of identical cars, but that design will
> not be true of any other model.    (03)

And when someone designs a bridge or an automobile, he comfortably uses and 
relies on Newtonian mechanics to predict its behaviors in many regards.
He emphatically does not say:    (04)

> >> the laws of human science ... have a narrow range of definiteness and a 
> >> area of vagueness, uncertainty, and multiple exceptions.    (05)

That was my concern.   I said:    (06)

>  The reality is that for our application domains, the "narrow range of 
> covers most of the domain of interest, [and we have to engineer for known
> uncertainties].    The implication of that characterization
> is importantly different -- what we do can have practical value, as long as 
>we can
> tell the difference.    (07)

Do you disagree?    (08)

The distinction between social contracts and scientific laws, which neither of 
us mentioned, is that the purpose of most scientific "laws" is to predict the 
behavior of individual phenomena (on some scale).  Capturing the existing 
"disposition" of individual things is the purpose.  The nature of social 
contracts is to regulate individual phenomena, not to predict it.  Creating a 
"disposition" in *most* individual members is the purpose.  As a consequence, 
social contracts are reliable predictors of aggregate social phenomena, but 
unreliable predictors of individual social phenomena.  It is true that in the 
case of subatomic particles, science has a whole different category of 
uncertainties that may be similar to those of social phenomena (I wouldn't 
know).  But for ontology development, there is a big difference in "vagueness, 
uncertainty , and exceptions" between the scientific "laws" governing the 
construction of a road and the social laws governing driving on the road.  The 
scientific laws predict the behavior of every such road, with known degrees of 
uncertainty.  The social laws do not accurately predict the behavior of every 
driver with much less than 100% uncertainty.  Your statement blurs this 
important difference in scale.  And that difference in scale is the difference 
in practical value between stating the scientific law as an axiom and stating 
the social law as an axiom.  The required knowledge engineering technologies, 
the nature of the ontologies, and the nature of the value in their predictions, 
are significantly different.  The philosophical comparison you make is at best 
irrelevant, and effectively false, for most practical applications.    (09)

You are rightfully respected in this community.  Taken out of its philosophical 
context, in comparing the laws of science with social laws,  your statement 
will mislead less-informed people.  That is why I objected.      (010)

"Never say anything in an email that you don't want to appear on the front page 
of the New York Times."    (011)

Best regards,
-Ed    (012)

P.S. Advertisement of vested interest:  The mission of NIST is to enable 
industrial science and engineering to make accurate measurements of individual 
physical phenomena and to understand the nature and magnitude of uncertainties. 
 Our job is to distinguish the definite from the uncertain.  I believe that 
that mission can be aided by developing FOL ontologies.  John's statement 
appears to deny that.      (013)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                     Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Systems Integration Division, Engineering Laboratory
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8265             Work:   +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8265             Mobile: +1 240-672-5800    (014)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST, 
 and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (015)

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