Re: Roles and dependence (John F. Sowa)
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 1995 22:10:37 +0500
From: (John F. Sowa)
Message-id: <9510010210.AA04623@west>
Subject: Re: Roles and dependence
Content-Length: 4596
Precedence: bulk
>From Pat Hayes:

>An example, from CYC as of a few years ago. I have always had a very clear
>mental distinction between an individual thing and a mere patch of
>space-time. CYC also had this, but the writers discovered after a lot of
>work, and to their surprise, that the distinction seemed to be
>unnecessary.(Doug, please comment on this in case I have it wrong.) This
>was a real empirical result, on a par with CERN discovering only one
>particle where theory has predicted two. 

If they seriously believe that, then they must be more muddled than
I thought they were.  And if you seriously believed that, you would be
able to reproduce their proof from memory.

What I can believe is that for their particular system, they were not
able to find any case where an individual thing and a patch of space-time
had any distinguishable consequences within the system.  That may well be true,
but it would by no means be a fact of science or a fact of logic, but a
mere artifact of their particular axiomatization.

>The top levels of our classification networks need to be be DISCOVERED, not
>imposed from above by 'theoretical work'. None of this ontological
>semiphilosophising is remotely precise enough to count as 'theory' relative
>to any empirical discovery, in any case. As soon as one comes up with
>slightly peculiar examples, this classification gets just as muddled as any
>other a-priori top-down classification.

Or for that matter, just as muddled as any other a-posteriori bottom-up
empirical classification.  As I said in my paper for the ontology workshop,
Aristotle established a paradigm for doing ontology that has never yet
been improved upon:  a synthesis of abstract metaphysics, linguistic
analysis, and detailed empirical studies.  You need all three, and any
attempt to work purely top-down or purely bottom-up is doomed to failure.

And by the way, Aristotle's mastery of detailed empirical studies has
been very much unappreciated in recent years.  But his unquestioned
authority for so many centuries was the result of his painstaking
accuracy in analyzing, dissecting, and classifying the thousands of
plants, animals, and other curios that were brought back from the known
(or conquered) world by his former pupil Alexander the Great.

Aristotle explicitly said that you had better know a lot of physics
before you can start the next topic, metaphysics.  Most of his empirical
results are obsolete today, but he also scored quite a few coups -- like
pointing out that sponges are animals.  And no one has ever improved upon
(and very seldom came close to equaling) his methodology.

>My suggestion is that we simply put 'thing' at the top, and immediately
>split it into the highest-level categories that make actual clear sense in
>the domains we are describing....

Some very good people have been doing that for a very long time.  They
are called lexicographers, and their results are known as dictionaries.
Those dictionaries are extremely valuable resources for doing knowledge
representation.  But they are still not as well organized and axiomatized
as we need.  They are, for the most part, based on Aristotle's logic
of syllogisms and his method of definition by genus and differentiae.
We could do a bit better if we used a bit more up to date logic;
Peirce and Whitehead tried and made some progress.  And since I have
mentioned Peirce and dictionaries in the same paragraph, I should also
mention that CSP contributed about 5,000 definitions to the _New Century
Dictionary_ -- a very large, unabridged dictionary that was published
at the turn of the last century.  It has long been out of copyright, and
it has been shamelessly pilfered (or used as a resource) for most of the
major dictionaries of the 20th century.  So besides being a logician and
a philosopher and a mathematician and an engineer, Peirce also had some
solid experience as a lexicographer.

> ... We are in a
>better position than most of the philosphers ever were to discover what the
>REAL categories of human thought actually are.

We are only in a better position if we take into account the best work
that has been done by all of our predecessors and contemporaries and
do the very hard work of synthesizing it with the latest results that are
available from linguistics, physics, and all the other empirical sciences.

But I have seen no evidence whatever that anyone has done or is doing such
a grand synthesis.  I will agree that our position is better, but I wish
that you would show me any evidence that anyone is actually taking advantage
of that great position.