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Re: [ontolog-forum] Confusion about 'model'

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2007 12:13:58 -0500
Message-id: <8B41C332-98F9-487B-9C2E-D47CABD6CAE9@xxxxxxx>

On Jul 15, 2007, at 3:46 PM, Smith, Barry wrote:    (01)

> At 04:39 PM 7/15/2007, Gary Berg-Cross wrote:
>> Barry asked:
>>> But when one is building an ontology for, e.g., cell biology, is one
>>> trying to build a model of the cell, or rather to create a formally
>>> coherent controlled vocabulary for talking about cells and their  
>>> parts?
> Gary Berg-Cross responded:
>> I would say that we have 3 subjects here.
>> There is the cell in reality.  There are what are called
>> biological  models of a cell that have been developed as part of
>> that science and there is now an attempt an ontological "model" of  
>> the cell.
>> Of course, to be any good we should leverage the biological model to
>> guide us in what the  "coherent, controlled vocabulary" (and
>> constraints) of the ontological model will express. So we are not
>> trying to build a cell model from scrathc  but we are using a model
>> and adapting it to ontological purposes.  In the process we may
>> simplify the biological model to reflect expressivity constraints
>> etc.  So in the end we may indeed have a model, but at this stage of
>> ontological engineering probably not as good as the biological
>> one.  Of course in the process of formalizing things we may discover
>> some inaccuracies in the way the biological model expressed some  
>> things.
> This has certain uncomfortable consequences. E.g.:
> If we have a sentence in a biology textbook, say 'blood cells are
> non-nucleated', then is this about cells in reality (as I, and I
> guess common sense, would assume) or about cells in the biology model?    (02)

Quite.    (03)

We have come close to this particular debate in this forum before.    (04)

There seems to be an intuition along these lines:. (1) Reality is way  
more complicated than any description of it can do justice to. (1a)  
Even a small part of reality is way more complicated, etc.. (1b  
[optional]) Reality itself has no categories or concepts, so any  
description must impose a conceptual/cultural/whatever bias to the  
cold unculturated facts.) (2) Therefore, to say that our descriptions  
are 'about reality' is hubris, since (3) if they really were about  
this unreachably complicated (or non-cultural) reality, then they  
would have to be unimaginably complex themselves, because the only  
way we could claim such 'aboutness' would be to describe said reality  
so comprehensively that our descriptions could not possibly be about  
anything else. (4) But our descriptions are not unimaginably complex;  
in fact, they are pathetically simple. (5) So they cannot really be -  
or, perhaps, we cannot with justification claim that they really are  
- about actual reality. (6) So, they must be about something else, a  
kind of simplified version of reality, in fact, a simplified *model*  
of reality, which stands between our language and real reality like a  
gauze curtain (or maybe the wall of a cave) and (7) is just complex  
enough that our descriptions can with certainty be said to be about  
it, but (8) which may or may not be a true model of the awfully  
complex real reality: but (9) to determine that accuracy is not a  
matter for linguistic semantics, which by the very nature of things  
can only speak of the relationship between language and this model,  
not about the other relationship between this model and the real  
world it models.    (05)

I may not have given all the implicit arguments full expression here:  
but the central error in this line of reasoning seems to me to be  
step (3) and its conclusion step (5). True, all our descriptions are  
culturally biassed, incomplete, inadequate, etc.. All the same, they  
can still be about the actual world, in all its uncultural complex  
glory. They don't describe it fully, or impose a bias of their own,  
are selective in what aspects of it they focus upon, etc.. Still,  
they can indeed be about IT, and not about something else. The fact  
that they can be about it is about the only reason for having them at  
all, in fact.    (06)

Pat    (07)

> BS
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