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Re: [ontolog-forum] Visual Complexity

To: patrick@xxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2007 12:12:24 -0600
Message-id: <p0623090bc1efc3f3f6f6@[]>
>Apologies for the delay. I have been in meetings all day on Mountain time.
>Pat Hayes wrote:
>>>and perhaps the "my ontology first and last" crowd has a
>>>point. If we don't simply all use the same one, then integration is
>>>simply not possible. Reasoning that if we can't go beyond the formal
>>>language, there is no basis for comparison.
>>The basis for comparison is the semantics: formally, the model 
>>theories. That (or some equivalent mechanism) is how precise 
>>comparisons between ontology languages must be made. Just rendering 
>>the intended meaning in rather loose English is not a sufficient 
>>basis for writing translators.
>Err, how did "loose English" become an issue? I don't recall arguing 
>for the use of "loose English" or at least that was not my intent.    (01)

OK. Sorry. I was being over-prickly there, and reacting to something 
you didn't intend. Your point is however often used (by others) to 
argue that we must base all ontological insights in natural language, 
even sometimes to the point of arguing that ontological analysis IS 
the analysis of natural language concepts, so that Wordnet is a kind 
of ontology.    (02)

>My intent was to say that formal languages or model theories *all* 
>have some unstated basis upon which they are operating. (cf. my 
>comment on infinite regress below)    (03)

Well, perhaps indeed that must be true, but we can attempt to keep it 
to a minimum. Conventional FO Tarskian model theory seems pretty 
minimal to me: it assumes there are individual things which are 
distinguished from one another, and that relations hold between them. 
That is all. Exactly what a relation is, is not specified, only that 
relations are true or false between any two or more things, ie that 
membership in a relation is determined. So it rules out certain kinds 
of vagueness (although the theory allows for various kinds of 
indeterminacy, by allowing many interpretations). This is some 
conceptual burden, true, but it is hard to see how it can be made 
much less. (Adding fuzzifications of various kinds seems to me to be 
adding conceptual burdens rather than removing them: in McCarthy's 
words, where do all those numbers come from??)    (04)

>>>You may have a point that ontologists skip over what they assume is
>>>universal knowledge or assumptions and therein lies part of the
>>>difficulty in integrating ontologies, particularly since they can't see
>>>beyond their formal languages, cf. your earlier point.
>>No, you misunderstand me. Ontologists don't skip over this stuff. 
>>They are obliged in fact to wrestle with it. Cyc consists of little 
>>else, millions of such 'facts'. My point is that looking at the 
>>words people use is of little help in getting this common-sense 
>>stuff formalized, since people rarely use NL words to talk about it 
>>(and when they do, the words usually hide, rather than reveal, the 
>>true ontological structure. As an example, look at the multiple 
>>uses of spatial prepositions like "on" in English. Cyc is obliged 
>>to distinguish around ten different senses of the meaning of 
>>Your phrasing "see beyond their formal languages" is revealing. If 
>>you think that the use of a formal language restricts ones 
>>imaginative scope in describing the world, I suggest to take a look 
>>at http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=5493
>Sigh, looks like an interesting book (for those who did not follow 
>the link: Holes and Other Superficialities by Roberto Casati, 
>Achille C. Varzi. Unfortunately out of print and available used for 
>$62.).    (05)

Oh, sorry, I didn't check that. I chose it because it is such a fun 
read. Other references can be used to make the same point. And it 
might be in a library near you :-)    (06)

>My point was that any language or model is by its very nature based 
>upon assumptions that are not stated in the language.    (07)

True, but see above.    (08)

>>>because it is "meaningless" to try to look beyond those formal
>>No, I do not claim that. However, I do think that formalizing ones 
>>intuitions is a very good way to sharpen their meaning; and I know 
>>that one often finds hidden weaknesses or gaps in the intuitions 
>>when one does this as an exercise.
>+1! Yes, I quite agree.
>My point may have been to minor to be noticed. It was not my intent 
>to attach formal languages or models or to suggest that they are not 
>quite useful. So you are defending against attacks that it was not 
>my intention to make.    (09)

Sorry. I do get a little trigger-happy in these email shoot-outs. Now 
I read you more carefully, I entirely agree (but am content to accept 
the very minimal burden that FO notations such as CL put upon us.)    (010)

Pat    (011)

>>>From a topic maps perspective, if you say they are "same as"
>>>then there was some basis on which you made that assessment. Why not
>>>simply make that explicit?
>>Well, I would like to hear more about what counts as a 'basis' 
>>here. If every claim must have a basis, we seem to be in an 
>>infinite regress.
>I am *not* arguing for infinite regress but I am arguing that one 
>should acknowledge that every formal language or model makes claims 
>which it does not justify because that would lead to the very 
>infinite regress that you point out.
>What I resist is the suggestion that any formal language or model 
>(cf. John's response) can be constructed that states the basis for 
>every claim it makes. John can very validly argue that common logic 
>is very fit for its intended purpose and I have no basis on which to 
>dispute those claims. That does not mean that common logic has 
>somehow sprung forth free of claims for which no basis has been 
>That is no way is a criticism of the usefulness of formal languages 
>or models. Nor does it justify the use of "loose English" when it 
>comes to the construction of formal ontologies. But, it does mean 
>that formal languages or models should not be considered as having 
>been constructed on the basis of goals and assumptions that are not 
>As I said above, the point may have been too minor to be noticed. My 
>point was that no matter how formal or labored over a formal 
>language or model may be, it remains *a* view and has no greater 
>claim to being free from unstated assumptions than any other. And 
>yes, there will always be claims for which no basis has been stated.
>That in no way, at least to me, denigrates formal languages or 
>models or makes them less useful.
>Does that help?
>Hope you are having a great day!
>Patrick Durusau
>Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
>Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
>Member, Text Encoding Initiative Board of Directors, 2003-2005
>Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!    (012)

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