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

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2008 14:01:20 -0500
Message-id: <47DC1D00.90801@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew,    (01)

That extensive experience in practical application is extremely
important, and I believe it is a requirement for any proposed
ontology before it can be seriously considered as a standard.    (02)

MW> We have done rather more than sketch some ideas with ISO 15926.
 > It is now supported by some 20+ systems.    (03)

Yes, but Whitehead's ontology is a very rich and detailed system,
which, I believe, is capable of subsuming everything or almost
everything else (including, I suspect, ISO 15926 and many other
systems).    (04)

Whitehead himself developed a very large and formal, but still
comparatively small subset of it in some earlier books.  But the
full-blown version is designed to cover the universe from the lowest
levels to the highest levels with all living things, etc., in great
detail.  That project is so ambitious it is very difficult to
complete, but I believe something like it is necessary, if we are
ever going to have a global ontology.    (05)

JFS>> Since most NLs tend to treat space and time in something like
 >> a 3+1 coordinate system, any 4D system will have to support
 >> such mappings in both directions -- at least locally.    (06)

MW> Indeed. However, I think this is worth the effort.    (07)

It's not only worth the effort, it is necessary for people to
learn it, extend it, and understand translations from it.    (08)

MW> The key point about messages, is that if they all conform
 > to a common ontology, mapping in and out at the system interface.
 > This introduces consistency and improves maintainability of the
 > interfaces.    (09)

Yes, but that's a very big 'if'.  Any new system must support
a smooth transition from and coexistence with legacy systems,
future revisions and extensions to the new system, eventual
replacements when it becomes a legacy system, and communication
with other systems designed for other purposes by people who,
rightly or wrongly, think they have a need for something else.    (010)

JFS>> I suspect that the upper levels of any globally consistent
 >> ontology would probably be highly abstract and not easily
 >> translatable to colloquial NL statements.    (011)

MW> Well if you think that saying things can be classified,
 > classes can have subtypes, and individuals can have parts is
 > abstract, then yes, but these do not seem very abstract
 > statements to me.    (012)

The is-a operator, by itself, can be stated in two simple
English words.  But the types at the upper levels may become
very abstract and sophisticated.    (013)

For example, consider some of the sophisticated notions in
relativity and quantum mechanics, which must be accommodated
by any truly global ontology.  Trying to incorporate such
notions along with all the more familiar notions in a complete
and consistent way is what Whitehead was trying to do.  That's
why his system is still incomplete.    (014)

JFS>> That is one reason why I would throw away the upper levels
 >> of most terminologies, including WordNet.    (015)

MW> I wish you would stop saying this. The real problem is
 > people putting the wrong things in upper ontologies, not there
 > being something wrong with them per se.    (016)

I do not view WordNet and various terminologies as ontologies,
but rather as lexicons that are used to link NLs to formal
ontologies.  When I say "throw away" the upper levels of such
systems, I mean that their function at the interface between
NLs and formal ontologies does not require and is, in fact,
incompatible with their having an upper level of their own.    (017)

MW> As I once said to one of our senior managers about a failed
 > project: the fact that something has been done badly does not
 > mean it cannot be done well.    (018)

I am not saying that WordNet and various terminologies have
failed.  On the contrary, they are extremely valuable resources.
But they are *not* ontologies, and calling them ontologies
confuses the issues.  Tacking an upper level on them makes them
look like ontologies, and that is a step in the wrong direction.    (019)

John    (020)

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