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Re: [ontolog-forum] Finnegans Web

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Smith, Barry" <phismith@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 05 May 2007 14:33:02 -0400
Message-id: <20070505183322.CELK16517.mta11.adelphia.net@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
At 01:30 PM 5/5/2007, Pat Hayes wrote:
>>  >PatHayes writes:
>>>The real problem that
>>>we face is this. One can take two people who agree completely about
>>>the facts, and agree to use the very same logic to represent those
>>>facts in, and yet they will produce different ontologies. (The
>>>well-known example of how best to represent time and change is the
>>>one I know in the most detail.) Moreover, those ontologies can be
>>>formally inconsistent with one another. One cannot simply merge
>>>together sentences from two such ontologies and expect to get a
>>>sensible result. There are no *experiments* to resolve such
>>>ontological differences, since the two authors agree about the
>>>empirical facts; but one (for example) insists that there are two
>>>distinct ways of existing in time, while the other treats these
>>>simply as two (amongst many) ways to carve up a spatiotemporal
>>>universe. The two authors here might be Barry Smith and me,
>>>respectively. The differences are not empirical, but (sorry)
>>>philosophical: in fact, they are *ontological*, in the original,
>>>pre-AI, pre-Web, sense of that word. They reflect divergent,
>>>incompatible, ways of thinking about some aspect of the world.
>>>Differences like this cannot be resolved experimentally; and all the
>>>evidence so far available suggests that to even attempt to 'resolve'
>>>them, in the sense of deciding on a winner, is only going to alienate
>>>a sizeable fraction of the user base.
>>>Now, what should we do about this? All the proposals I have ever
>>>heard boil down to one of three alternatives: (1) ignore it and hope
>>>it will go away (2) for each such conceptual debate, decide on one of
>>>the alternatives and make it the single standard (somehow: perhaps by
>>>compulsion, as some military funders seem to assume; perhaps by
>>>commercial pressure, as PatC seems to suggest) or (3) find ways to
>>>translate between them as they arise. I strongly believe that the
>>>only long-term feasible method is (3), and we have made considerable
>>>progress along these lines, enough to suggest that the translations
>>>are always possible and often fairly easy, once one approaches the
>>>problem in a pragmatic frame of mind. If all ontologies were written
>>>in IKL, we could definitely do the translations for almost all of the
>>>problems I aware of. In particular, option (2) simply isn't going to
>>>work. People will simply not agree on what is the single right way to
>>>write ontologies. Nor should they have to: there is absolutely no
>>>reason why they should. Any attempt to enforce (or otherwise
>>>persuade) the entire planet will only produce the kind of
>>>interminable semi-philosophical debates that we are already having.
>>Pat is doing very well
>Thank you, Barry.
>>until he inserts the phrase 'enforce ... the
>>entire planet' into the discussion.
>Perhaps the rhetoric did get a little flowery there.
>>The OBO Foundry
>>(http://obofoundry.org) is realizing alternative (2), for biomedical
>>ontologies, by involving only certain parts of the planet on an
>>entirely voluntary basis.
>Oh, let me say at once that I have no problem with this, and didn't 
>mean to argue against such initiatives. Of course alternative (3) 
>isn't meant to imply that every single separate ontology must be 
>done in isolation; quite the contrary, in fact. The SWeb idea 
>envisions communities forming, or being organized, which will cohere 
>around the use of an agreed ontological framework. I hope that many 
>such flowers bloom, and that many people get trained in their use, 
>just as there are such intellectual clusters in almost every 
>technical domain of application (the XML 'community', the UML, PSL, 
>XMD 'communities', etc..)
>>One benefit we can claim is that we are
>>giving non-experts in ontology much needed guidance as to how to
>>represent, for example, size for tumors in such a way as to do
>>justice to the fact that this varies with time. If all biologists
>>working together on a given set of problems can be encouraged to
>>represent this in the same way, then benefits of different sorts
>>flow. We are visibly making progress as a result.
>No doubt: and I don't mean to in any way disparage the advantages of 
>this arrangement when it works (and virtually any such framework is 
>better than no framework at all, no doubt). However, any such agreed 
>method has its dark side: things it cannot represent as well as a 
>different approach can. There is no universal ontological solvent. 
>So there will be rivals, developed perhaps for a different purpose 
>but which someone will discover can be used in this domain very 
>usefully for some purposes (just as people discovered that Petri 
>nets can be used to plug some expressive gaps in description 
>logics). Then one has a choice: to instruct them not to do that, or 
>to find some way to put the rival frameworks together. The problem 
>now is that this way will almost certainly involve moving outside 
>the ground rules of both of the frameworks, and doing something 
>'illegal'. And if those notions of what is 'legal' have been 
>incorporated into standards or (worse) into software, then this 
>translation process has been artificially made much harder than it needs to be.
>>The OBO Foundry has no objection to mappings a la alternative (3)
>>(see http://obofoundry.org/cgi-bin/table.cgi?show=mappings), though
>>it has proved much more difficult in medicine than Pat here suggests.
>>(3) may indeed be the right solution in the long run. But I believe
>>that it can be successful only if different groups first follow
>>alternative (2) in coherent fashion to create a solid basis for later
>>mappings. For alternative (3) surely gives ontology developers too
>>little guidance as to what to do in the short run.
>Perhaps. But what bothers me is this idea that ontology developers 
>need to be given 'guidance'. By who? By the ontology experts? But 
>there are no ontology-writing experts, really. We are all beginners 
>at this game. By philosophers? Excuse me while I laugh. By 
>engineers? Librarians? Software designers? Management experts? 
>Nicola Guarino? There are no end of people ready to give such 
>advice, but none of them have any real qualifications to do so; and 
>all the advice given is controversial.
>On the other side of the coin, I have been constantly surprised by 
>the extent to which people in the wide world have come up with new 
>ontological ideas when left to their own devices. Would anyone in 
>the existing 'ontology community' have thought of the idea of 
>folksonomies? Would anyone have thought that a virtually empty 
>ontology (the Dublin Core) could acquire great ontological force 
>simply from being re-used in a large, and essentially socially 
>defined, set of transactions (FOAF)? I certainly didn't predict 
>either of these, and I didn't hear anyone in the ontology community 
>predicting them before they actually happened. What worries me is 
>that by setting up 'academies' to explain to the great unwashed how 
>to use these terribly sophisticated tools we have invented, we may 
>be stultifying creativity and invention.
>No doubt this tension between exposition and limitation is 
>universal, and both are needed. I think that Barry and I can agree 
>that some form of (2) and of (3) is necessary in the long run. What 
>I tend to protest about is a version of (2) which implicitly or 
>explicitly claims universality for the whole of human thought; but I 
>agree that great benefits can flow from organized attempts to create 
>ontological versions of a 'controlled vocabulary', especially for a 
>technical community for whom accuracy of communication is vital; and 
>that do achieve this it may be essential to impose a single 
>overarching ontological 'top level' framework on the whole.
>>It is a bit like
>>wanting to populate a library by encouraging people to write books
>>using bits of Hebrew, bits of French, bits of Gaelic,
>In my vision of the Sweb, it is more like throwing a lot of kids 
>together who all speak different languages. And what happens then is 
>that at first a pidgin is spoken, with a simplified and crude 
>grammar and a mix of vocabularies; and then, in one generation, an 
>entirely new creole language appears. Never underestimate the 
>ability of people to find ways to express things :-) And whether 
>they talk proper, like, in some teecher's opinion, ain't really to the point.    (01)

I am reminded of the elegant way in which, when all those novice 
drivers were thrown together on the roads in the early days of 
motoring, a sort of pidgin rule of the road evolved, with a mix of 
people, some driving on the left, some on the right, some down the 
middle, some zig-zagging at random, waving at each other as they 
passed in the night; and then miraculously, in one generation, a new 
creole rule of the road appeared, to which everyone has ever since 
been happy to conform, with nothing like laws or policemen being 
needed to enforce the matter.    (02)

Or of the way in which 19th-century physicist kids were happily 
jabbering away together while doing their experiments, measuring in 
fathoms, rods, chains, furlongs and various pidgin mixtures thereof; 
and then, in one generation and with no adult guidance whatsoever, an 
entirely new creole language appeared, called the International 
System of Units, whereby the results of all the physics experiments 
being performed across the entire planet became suddenly comparable 
in one fell swoop.    (03)

BS    (04)

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