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

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2005 10:05:33 -0500
Message-id: <43A6CC3D.1040307@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Barry,    (01)

Those are also good questions:    (02)

JS>> 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".    (03)

BS> 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.    (04)

Three points:    (05)

  1. I said that W's approach is the best answer so far, but I
     did not claim that it is the only answer or the final answer.    (06)

  2. It is compatible with an Aristotelian or other approach
     that makes objects fundamental, since those objects can be
     classified among the various "forms of definiteness" at
     lower levels of the ontology.    (07)

  3. In any case, an important part of my recommendation is to
     avoid making a firm commitment to any upper-level ontology.
     When you say that "Boston is a City", it is irrelevant whether
     you think of a city as a process, an object, a place, or a
     society.  Later on, some of those issues may become relevant,
     but different systems built on different foundations can
     very nicely use the information that Boston is an instance
     of the type City, even though they may have different answers
     to the question of what a City *is*.    (08)

Fundamental principle:  For communication, what you call something
is much more important than what it is.  For detailed reasoning,
it is *essential* to avoid making more commitments than are
necessary for the problem at hand.    (09)

JS>> 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.    (010)

BS> Good    (011)

I am very happy that you agree, because I believe that this point
is fundamental for developing a framework for communication among
interoperable systems.    (012)

JS>> ... I believe it is pointless to claim there can ever be a
 >> clear distinction between what things are and what we call them.    (013)

BS> 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.    (014)

As we agreed above, we can assume (a) that there is a real world,
(b) that the laws about how that reality behaves are both more
fundamental and more readily knowable than the ultimate nature
of anything in it, and (c) what we call those things is
independent of what they are.    (015)

The brilliance of Peirce's solution is that he cut through the
distinction between ontology and epistemology by focusing on signs
and leaving the question of fundamental ontology as an undecided,
and perhaps undecidable, empirical issue.    (016)

In the concluding chapter of Penrose's book _The Road to Reality_,
he summarizes the previous 1000+ pages by saying that we are
still very far from a final "theory of everything" and that we
might never discover any such theory.    (017)

We are certainly not going to solve the ultimate issues of ontology
in the ONTAC WG, and I believe that we should not impose any partial
solution on everyone.  The upper level, if any, should make very
minimal commitments.  How minimal is a matter to be determined.    (018)

John    (019)

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