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Re: [ontac-forum] Theories, Models, Reasoning, Language, and Truth

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Smith, Barry" <phismith@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 08:48:27 -0500
Message-id: <>
At 02:43 AM 12/19/2005, you wrote:
>I already apologized for my overly brief summary at the
>end of the earlier note, but I would claim that the
>following point is syntactically and semantically correct:
>JS> As soon as those environmental features are detected
> > by the nerves or instruments, they may be called "marks",
> > which are the most basic signs.  A mark does not become
> > a token until it is interpreted as an instance of some type.
>BS> I think there is a confusion here between what things
> > are called, and what things are.  Sentence 1 is about the
> > former; sentence 2 involves an unfortunate shift to the latter.
>The best answer anyone has ever given to the question of what
>things *are* is Whitehead's process ontology:  Everything is
>in flux, and what we typically call "objects" are slow-moving
>processes that may be characterized by "forms of definiteness".    (01)

I think that there are better answers than this, at least for the 
practical purposes of using ontologies to support biomedical 
research. I also think your confidence here is at odds with your talk 
of 'knowledge soup' elsewhere.    (02)

>Those forms are the patterns that enable us to characterize
>aspects of processes that we can recognize at repeated encounters.
>Whitehead developed this ontology during the early years of
>relativity and quantum mechanics, and it is still an ontology
>that is highly compatible with both modern science and common sense.
>In the ontologies of both Peirce and Whitehead, what is most
>"real" are the laws that govern the development of the processes.
>When we say something *is* X, that means the process we perceive
>can be characterized by the pattern named X.  When something
>becomes X, that means the pattern named X has started to be
>true of it.
>This is not a version of nominalism that treats physical laws
>as merely summaries of observed data.  Instead, I agree with
>both Peirce and Whitehead that laws are closer to reality
>than any familiar "things".  In other words, there is a reality,
>it is possible to learn more and more about it, but we can never
>be sure that any view we currently hold is the ultimate truth.    (03)

Good    (04)

>For reasons such as these, I believe it is pointless to claim
>there can ever be a clear distinction between what things are
>and what we call them.    (05)

I think this is still a mistake, I'm afraid, which rests on a 
confusion between ontology and epistemology. The fact (if it is a 
fact) that we can never MAKE such a clear distinction (epistemology) 
would not imply that there IS no such clear distinction (ontology). 
And we have very good evidence that there was such a distinction 
(trivially) for billions of years on this planet before any organisms 
existed, when the 'what we call them' term of this relation was empty.    (06)

It was within the planet so constituted that we evolved.
BS    (07)

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>    (08)

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