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Re: [ontac-forum] Problems of ontology

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 17 May 2006 18:57:20 -0400
Message-id: <446BAA50.5060609@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Azamat, David, and Eric,    (01)

First of all, the view I presented is definitely not a rejection
of "the ultimate goal of science".  It is, in fact, a recognition
of the difference between the process and the goal.    (02)

JS>> The view of science as a unified body of theory is totally
 >> unrealistic.  Even physics, the hardest of the hard sciences,
 >> is a hodge-podge of thousands of mutually inconsistent models
 >> for each area of application.  As Bundy said, there is no such
 >> thing as a unified model of everything.    (03)

AA> What i found so disturbing about your position, it is not
 > its partiality, but rather its apparent rejection of the ultimate
 > goal of science led by ontology, to set an all-comprehensive and
 > unified description of the world.    (04)

My basic claim is that science is not yet finished.  Science is
first and foremost a methodology for asking and answering questions
about the universe.  And every research scientist will tell you
that whenever they find the answer to any important question,
they discover that it always leads to even more questions.    (05)

And what on earth do you mean "led by ontology"?  Aristotle
explicitly put metaphysics *after* physics because it's
impossible to do any decent work in ontology without first
having a great deal of empirical evidence.  Without empirical
data, the only subjects you can work on are pure uninterpreted
logic and mathematics.  They're useful tools, but certainly
not capable of "leading" science.    (06)

AA> And the high goal of science...    (07)

We don't disagree about the goals.  My only point is that we
still have a long way to go before we reach them.  Perhaps
we might get there in a few more centuries, or perhaps it may
take billions of years.  Nobody knows.    (08)

AA> ... the task of ontology is to give us the overall structures,
 > uniformities, patterns, laws and constraints within which all
 > the many changes in the world take place...    (09)

I don't disagree.  My only point is that it might take us millions
of years to get a complete answer.  We certainly don't have anything
remotely resembling a final solution today -- or even a good outline
of a final solution.    (010)

AA> For without a common standard ontology as a common code of meanings
 > and rules, there is no base and foundation for the whole enterprise
 > of ontological semantic technology, or intelligent applications...    (011)

No!  Absolutely not!  That is the ultimate goal, not the starting
point.  The best we can say is that every attempt to design a
unified theory of everything has failed.  Yet somehow the genus
Homo has survived for about two million years without it. Perhaps
we may have a better foundation in another million years or so.    (012)

DE> That's the best description of the enterprise collection of
 > legacy systems -- what we're tying to inter-operate on, right?
 > -- that I've seen in a long time.
 > While there may in fact (in the class-room) be something called
 > "computer science," such purity is very hard to find in legacy
 > systems land.    (013)

Unfortunately, *every* system becomes a "legacy system" the instant
it is released to the customer.  That is when the engineer's dilemma
kicks in:    (014)

    Customers never know what they want until they see what they get.    (015)

That causes version 1.0 to be replaced by version 1.01, 1.02....
And every version is incompatible with every previous version,
with every subsequent version, and with every piece of software
produced by any other vendor.    (016)

DE> I wonder if there is any correlation between how valuable
 > a system is and how chaotic it is.    (017)

Every system becomes more chaotic with each release.  Windows NT
version 3.5 was probably the cleanest.  That's when Bill Gates
declared that the support for the display had to be brought into
the kernel for NT 4.0 -- then the bugs really began to multiply.    (018)

Today, Windows XP is bad enough, but Digital Rights Mismanagement
(DRM) puts chaos directly into the kernel of the operating system.
If you want to preserve even a modest amount of sanity, I suggest
that you buy your last version of Windows in 2006 before Vista is
inflicted upon us.  For 2007, do not think of using any software
that incorporates DRM.  (For evidence of this point, look at the
iPod by Apple.  Sony failed because they tried to implement DRM
in their device, but Apple wisely ignored DRM.)    (019)

EP> All my thoughts and effort toward mapping and merging upper
 > ontologies have been centered on the creation of a merged lattice
 > of types and and a merged lattice of relations.  For my purposes,
 > this is where I seem to be getting value.  Theory boundaries seem
 > to me to be more arbitrary and less useful stuff with which to
 > integrate databases.  I'm still not sure if we actually differ
 > on this point.  I'm suspecting that we agree.    (020)

I agree that working with a lattice of types and relations is
important.  But as soon as you start writing axioms for those
types, contradictions begin to proliferate.  I like to quote
Peirce's remark (CP 4.237):    (021)

    It is easy to speak with precision upon a general theme.
    Only, one must commonly surrender all ambition to be certain.    (022)

    It is equally easy to be certain.  One has only to be
    sufficiently vague.    (023)

    It is not so difficult to be pretty precise and fairly certain
    at once about a very narrow subject.    (024)

The first point summarizes the futility of a trying to develop
a precisely axiomatized ontology of everything, but the second
point holds out hope of having a decent, but vague overview.
That's why WordNet is so useful -- it's vague, and it has very
few axioms.  Unfortunately, it still has contradictions.    (025)

The final sentence corroborates the point that Lenat makes about
Cyc -- the most important inferences are in the microtheories,
which are, in Peirce's terms, "very narrow subjects" about
which it is possible "to be pretty precise and fairly certain".    (026)

Summary:  I agree with Azamat about the goals of science, but I
don't believe there is any evidence that we are even close to
reaching a final theory of everything.  For supporting evidence,
I highly recommend the following book (which assumes a good
mathematical background, by the way):    (027)

    _The Road to Reality:  A Complete Guide to the Laws of the
    Universe_ by Roger Penrose, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York.    (028)

For an estimate of how close we are to a final theory of physics,
read the last Chapter 34, "Where Lies the Road to Reality."
Penrose believes that there is likely to be a major upheaval
sometime in the 21st century that will be at least as far reaching
and perhaps even more disruptive than the revolutions caused
by relativity and quantum mechanics in the 20th century.    (029)

That shows how far we still have to go just to find the basic
equations for the foundations of physics.  And even if we knew
the equations, they still wouldn't tell us what approximations
are necessary in order to make them applicable and solvable for
any practical problem.    (030)

So much for the hardest of the hard sciences.  When it comes
to economics, sociology, psychology, and their applications to
business and politics, we have *nothing* that can even come
close to 19th century physics.  We have a lot of practical
experience about "human nature", but *nothing* so far that
remotely resembles even the bare beginnings of a vague theory.    (031)

For the foreseeable future, the best we have are lots of usable
piecemeal results on narrow subjects, but no general theory of
everything.  That doesn't mean we should give up work on
fundamental science, but there is no end in sight.    (032)

Meanwhile, let's make use of what we have.    (033)

John Sowa    (034)

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