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[ontolog-forum] Another approach

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "RK Stamper" <stamper.measur@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2008 11:57:58 +0000
Message-id: <6f4c5f960802210357r69de37ees7aa264ecb7d6f5a@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Dear Colleagues,

I've been eavesdropping ontolog for a while.  Now I'd like to contribute new thoughts on an ontology-1 (in the philosophical sense). I hope they are relevant to axioms and ambiguity, among other things.

I hope this message is not too discourteously long.

Our research aimed to find a way of specifying the norms that govern organized human behavior.  The practical results are very promising but they depend on finding a new metaphysical foundation, in particular an ontology-1 recognizing, to all intents and purposes, that

a)    there is no knowable reality without an agent; and that

b)    the agent must discover its own reality in the flux of events and actions.

This builds on James Gibson's Theory of Affordances: no organism opens its sense 'windows' onto a ready-made reality but, from the flux of information generated by activity (including its own), the organism must discover the invariant repertoires of behavior, that the environment affords it.  These 'affordances' are the things it perceives. 

We call the ontology-1 "actualism". Bishop Berkeley's ontology is the nearest approximation I have found.  He had to explain what happened to the tree in the quad when no one was around to perceive it. As expressed succinctly in the well-known limerick:

There was a young man who said "God

Must think it exceedingly odd

If he finds that this tree

Continues to be

When there's no one about in the Quad."

We substitute Society for God, with excellent effect.  An isolated human organism will know little of reality without the cooperation of the rest of Society. 

I'm no philosopher, theologian or politician but an engineer looking for solutions that works.  Some have accused me of an anti-individual political bias but this approach does not diminish the importance of the individual. Belief in God or in any other Truth, is unaffected within this paradigm, provided you acknowledge that these are beliefs for which you bear responsibility

In practical information systems engineering, ontology-1 leads to a canonical form of ontology-2 (sophisticated data model). We claim only an empirical basis for this Semantic Normal Form.  Could this have an axiomatic potential?

Please give me your comments. Is our ontology-1 really new?  I'm sure you will disabuse me soon enough if I'm mistaken.

I gave a paper at the 2007 ICCS (the series that, I believe, John Sowa instigated); sadly he was not there.   But that now encourages me to introduce the ideas to this group.

Our research on the formalization of social (and legal) norms, which started at the London School of Economics, forced us to handle semantics rigorously while never losing sight of the human connection between sign and reality.

Talk of meaning obliges one to start from the fact that Signs have meanings because they stand for real things. Hence, to have a clear position on meaning, one must make a commitment about the nature of reality.

None of the conventional ontology-1s seemed to work. Finally we adopted Gibson's Affordances and added social norms, which are invariants that afford repertoires of behavior in the social sphere.  Gibson's Theory of perception of the material world is insufficient to explain an individual human's perception except, perhaps, in cases of enfants sauvages. The rich perceptions of those raised as members of society incorporate many extra perceptions that have been supplied by other people and form the community's shared perceptual norms.  Moreover the reality of the social world also depends on the many other behavioral, cognitive and evaluative norms that we also derive from the community that nurtures us.  Therefore we have taken Society as the root agent in our model of perception. 

Berkeley explained a person's perception of a tree as the result of an idea in His mind, so that we can accept that the tree continues to exist in the Quad when "nobody" can see it, because God is always there. 

Without the mysterious intervention of God, Society provides an empirically testable explanation for continuing to accept the tree's existence. Based the cognitive norms shared across Society and using the reports of responsible observers, checked by critical discourse with others, we can justify believing that the tree still stands in the quad.

The rich world we ontolog participants believe in lies beyond the perceptual reach of any isolated human being. Society enables us to aggregate our puny individual experiences through the information we exchange, the norms we share. We test them until we arrive at the familiar picture of an apparently objective reality.

To represent fully something that we believe exists, we must say who perceives it and what affordance the agent realizes for the period of its existence.  So we need sentences of the form:

                Agent affordance

The root Agent must be a particular (convention: uppercase capital).  During the Agent's realization of this affordance, it is, in effect a modified kind of Agent able to experience some other affordance.

                (Agent affordance) affordance

When an affordance ceases to be realized, as far as the root Agent is concerned that thing totally ceases to exist. 

The environment may afford the Agent two of these repertoires of behaviour simultaneously:

                Agent (affordance while affordance)

again becoming the modified agent

                (Agent (affordance while affordance)) affordance

Thus the effective existence of anything depends fundamentally on the agent who takes responsibility for his/her/its choices. It also depends on the coexistence of some other, 'ontological antecedents'. Between the Agent and the affordance in question one may draw a lattice where each affordance has one or a maximum of two antecedents.  If this lattice includes the antecedent affordances that are necessary and sufficient for the existence of the one being analysed, one will have a schema in Semantic Normal Form.

A little example (I'll leave you to draw a graphical version) is a marriage:

   marriage (person-1 (Society), person-2 (Society))

If person-1 proposes such a marriage, he (usually) must use a sign that stands for that marriage, which does not exist:

        proposal (person-1 (Society), "marriage ( . . . .)")

As the ontology-1 only allows us to talk about things existing here and now, everything in the past or future is available only in this semiological form. 

SNF-compliant schemas are very stable and systems built on them can accommodate changes of requirements with remarkable economy. Looked at from another angle, the schema in SNF has a valid generality across cultures, while able to accommodate any differences through the variations in the authorities that determine when things start and finish their existence.  This supports the accretion of semantic information without imposing any artificial uniformity.  Presumably, these properties are highly relevant to the semantic web.

SNF-compliant schemas can be aggregated.  We have built some quite large schemas but need far more experience to discover where the limits lie.

Building a schema in SNForm is not a trivial task, by the way.  If you wish to try, don't fall into the trap of treating an ontological dependency as a cause-effect relationship.  Your schema can represent only what exists here and now, as defined by the Agent and its activities.

Every node on the schema should be accompanied by a list of attributes that includes the identifier of the thing it stands for, the universal it instantiates, when its starts and finishes its existence and the authorities that determine these start and finish events/times.

Our Legally Orientated Language for manipulating data held under SNF-compliant schemas allows us to represent social norms precisely and in a form that 'naïve' users find easy to understand.

We have designed many and built some systems (but not yet enough) using these concepts with marked success.

The formal aspects need far more work

Awaiting some feedback, with my regards,

Ronald Stamper


PS: It has taken some time to be able to send this message and now I'll be away from my desk for a few days.  -  Further apologies!

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