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

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 06 Jun 2013 09:15:29 -0400
Message-id: <51B08B71.7020508@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

I strongly agree with your examples and with your final point:    (02)

> 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.    (03)

The main point I disagree with is your claim that I disagree with you:    (04)

> John's statement appears to deny that.    (05)

Since it "appears" that I disagree, I'll try to clarify my points.
Unfortunately, some of them are likely to dig an even deeper hole.    (06)

>> 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 design a car, you can manufacture thousands of identical 
>> but that design will not be true of any other model.    (07)

> And when someone designs a bridge or an automobile, he comfortably uses and
> relies on Newtonian mechanics to predict its behaviors in many regards.    (08)

I agree -- but only for those rare cases when it is possible to control
all the conditions for measuring and relating all the relevant data.    (09)

> He [the engineer] emphatically does not say:    (010)

>> the laws of human science ... have a narrow range of definiteness
>> and a large area of vagueness, uncertainty, and multiple exceptions.    (011)

I'm sure that you know very well what engineers actually say:
"All models are wrong, but some are useful."    (012)

For more than just a one-line slogan, look at any of the books by
Henry Petroski:  _To Engineer is Human_,  _Success Through Failure_.
Following is a review of _To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure_.    (013)

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/books/to-forgive-design-by-henry-petroski.html    (014)

> 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 
> -- what we do can have practical value, as long as we can tell the difference.
> Do you disagree?    (015)

I agree.    (016)

The critical phrase is "as long as we can tell the difference".
Determining where to draw the line is art, not science.  As Niels Bohr
said, "An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that
can be made in a very narrow field."    (017)

Note the word 'narrow'.  Expertise is always narrow.  And the expert
learns those mistakes in the "School of Hard Knocks" -- but reading
anecdotes about them in books such as Petroski's can help.    (018)

> 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).    (019)

I certainly agree that the second half of the sentence is true about
the laws of science.  But both I and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr,
believe that *exactly* the same principle holds for every law passed by
any legislature:    (020)

> The primary rights and duties with which jurisprudence busies itself
> again are nothing but prophecies... a legal duty so called is nothing
> but a prediction that if a man does or omits certain things he will be
> made to suffer in this or that way by judgment of the court.    (021)

Source:  http://constitution.org/lrev/owh/path_law.htm    (022)

And by the way, it is not a coincidence that OWH was one of the six
people in the "metaphysical club" founded by William James.  They
included 3 lawyers and 3 scientists, one of whom was C. S. Peirce.    (023)

Explaining that connection would explain a lot more, but it would
require a lot more time.  For a discussion of the quotation by OWH
and its relationship to the metaphysical club, see pp. 6-18 of    (024)

    Fisch, Max H. (1986) Peirce, Semiotic, and Pragmatism, Bloomington:
    Indiana University Press.    (025)

John    (026)

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