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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontology similarity and accurate communication

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2008 14:02:23 -0500
Message-id: <p06230900c3fb317de963@[]>
At 1:36 PM -0400 3/10/08, Patrick Cassidy wrote:
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Content-Language: en-us
To clear up misinterpretations:
[PH] >> Second, even a conceptual defining vocabulary is not a formal foundation ontology, since you are using 'defining' in the dictionary sense (which is of limited, if any, use when describing formal ontologies).
       I have tried to explain several times that the word ³defining² in the phrase ³conceptual defining vocabulary² is used in an analogical way, and that the foundation ontology will consist mostly of concept specifications that use necessary conditions, not necessary and sufficient conditions.

Then it is not analogous to the dictionary case (which as far as I can see, is the only motivation for your entire proposal.) You can't have it both ways: if you are making an analogy based on definitions, but not meaning actual definitions, then you need to either elucidate the analogy more carefully or abandon it (I'd suggest the latter).

 But if you believe that only an ontology with all N&S definitions will be useful, then I can only disagree.

Of course not, but then I don't use the term "definition".

Too many useful basic notions are not N&S definable.  If you are merely objecting to the use of the term ³defining² in that phrase, then substitute any other word you consider less problematic for your own use.

No, I want to understand what YOU mean.
[PC] >> You say that psycholinguistic research has already disproven the notion that children can learn to communicate with a common vocabulary by the experience of seeing words used in context to refer to objects and events.
[PH]  > No, I did not say that. At some level this is clearly true, as this is simply a description of what children in fact actually do (if you substitute 'hearing' for 'seeing', and avoid the question-begging use of 'refer to' in the last phrase.) The question is, how do they do it? And what I heard you saying was that they did it by a process of association: that when a word is used 'near' an object or event, that proximity is enough to induce an association between words and their meanings which constitutes the word-meaning mapping underlying linguistic competence
     And no, I did not say that mere proximity of a word and object is enough to associate a term with a meaning.  I never used the word ?near¹.  What I said was ³words are associated with their meanings by experience in context².

I used scare quotes to acknowledge that you did not use the word, but "experience in context" implies near, I presume. Or if it does not, perhaps you could tell us what YOU mean by 'context'.

  Of course, the process of language learning involves multiple clues, including possibly an innate ability to exclude certain combinatorially possible syntactic constructions from the grammar.  My point was that the language learning process is sufficiently *similar* in different people learning the same native language, that the process supports the ability of learners  to develop a common internal ontology (of unknown structure) that is very close.

Again, that simply does not follow. You are begging the question entirely. I didn't bring up this whole topic of language learning, note: you did in order to justify this idea of a 99.9% common ontology, and I repeat, regardless of the psycholinguistic data, in fact, that is poppycock: nothing about language learning supports the claim that we all have 99.9% agreement on our mental models.

   I merely alluded to a couple of components of the learning process as examples of things that would be similar among learners.  Of course, saying this doesn¹t prove it, and your doubting it doesn¹t disprove it either.

Of course not, but the burden of proof is on you, seems to me.

    You correctly point out the disputes among adults when trying to formalize a common ontology.  But in those cases the terms used need to acquire a much more precise meaning than the terms used in normal communication.

Exactly. It follows, then, that agreement on word meanings in normal usage does NOT imply agreement on meanings at the level of precision needed to support a formal ontology. Which is exactly what I have been arguing through this whole thread, and you have until now been denying.

 Even though they consciously try not to get hung up on terminology, it appears to me that some disagreements still are caused by a desire to fix a specific meaning to a term, where different ontologists have a different notion of how that term should be formalized.  My suggestion is to formalize all of the different notions, and give them different names.

In what POSSIBLE sense can that be said to amount to agreement to within 99.9% ? I agree this is an interesting, though naive, engineering strategy, but it can't possibly be aligned with your arguments about common mental ontologies and language learning.

 If that process results in a **logical contradiction**, it is my expectation that one or more of the formalizations specifies a concept that is not primitive

OK, let me immediately give you a counterexample. DOLCE and BOF both require the categories of continuant and occurrent to be disjoint: nothing can possibly be both a continuant and an occurrent in these ontologies. Other ontologies ( I have one, and I think the same is true of Cyc) allow both categories with pretty much the same properties of the respective types, but allow them to overlap. These two categories of ontology are logically incompatible: adding a Cyc axiom to DOLCE will immediately produce inconsistencies. And yet this is all concerned with very basic topics of how to describe time and change, without which a nontrivial ontology can hardly be said to be possible.

 This latter expectation is part of the ³conceptual defining vocabulary (CDV) hypothesis².  But this can only be proven by attempting specifically to create a foundation ontology as a CDV.

As is often the case, it is much easier to refute than to prove.
 The question of whether people actually use an innate common ontology is a scientific question, but the methods for investigating that are likely to be horrendously complex, and I do not think that past efforts to create a foundation ontology at Cyc actually address this specific question.

I agree, and it would have save a lot of time if you had not brought it up.

 The development of a foundation ontology as a CDV would not itself prove that the internal ontologies of sixteen-year-olds are similar, but it would at least show that it is possible to have some reasonably small set of concepts that can be used in combination to describe the meanings of a very large number of other more specialized concepts.  That knowledge would be very useful, in my opinion.
    The common terms in English can have multiple meanings.  Yet, it appears to me that assertions using those terms by people trying to be clear are almost always (> 99%) unambiguous, taken in the full context of the text.   So I believe that there is a disambiguation process that results in the selection of the proper sense, at least 99% of the time.

That begs the question by assuming that there is a single sense. But you may work with your sense and I with my sense, and most of the time our conclusions agree well enough for us to cooperate. We say that we both understand 'the' meaning of the word, when there is no single meaning.

 Three amplifications:
(1)    That statistic represents a use-weighted accuracy.  There may be some basic terms that are misinterpreted with a lot higher frequency, but those terms, if they exist, appear to be used infrequently.  This accuracy is intended to refer to accuracy in interpreting written text, read in a context in which the background of the communication is already known.  Spoken language may be more accurate, by having more situational referents and an opportunity for feedback; it may be less accurate if too much knowledge in the hearer is assumed.
(2)    The senses in which terms are interpreted may still be quite vague.  That would leave room for misinterpretation in the case where the vagueness masks an important distinction.  But I believe that where there are important distinctions, people trying to be clear will use more specific terms or phrases to avoid significant misinterpretation.
(3)    The senses that are represented by the basic linguistic defining vocabulary may not be identical to some enumerated sense in a given dictionary.
[[[3]]] [PC]  >> None of this is a theory of language acquisition, but it is a description of how people can acquire the *same* meanings
         [PH] WHY is it that? You keep saying that, but even your own account does not support this claim.
           I didn¹t think that suggesting a hypothesis ­ stated as such -  required an actual proof of the hypothesis.  But I did say that my own observations suggest that communication using the basic vocabulary is highly accurate, and that that implies a common set of meanings that can be attached to the words.  This estimate of accuracy is a non-systematic observation that would need proof if one wanted to investigate the hypothesis.  I think it would  be the first thing that needs proof, if one were to properly investigate the notion of a common ontology used in language understanding.  I am not aware of whether the accuracy of basic communication has been formally investigated (didn¹t do a literature search ­ Googling some relevant phrases has not lead to anything on point).    If you don¹t think that linguistic communication using the basic words (Longman¹s,  e.g.) is accurate, perhaps you have some reason for that skepticism, which I would like to hear.  But the ambiguity of
Individual words is not at issue.  The question is, if one person tries to explain something to another, using the basic words in their basic senses, how often is the explanation misunderstood?

Suppose the answer is, almost never. It STILL does not follow that people all have the same internal ontology.


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