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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: Sun, 16 Mar 2008 14:14:37 -0500
Message-id: <47DD719D.3030005@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew and Pat,    (01)

An integrating ontology is a goal that many of us have been pursuing
for over 20 years:    (02)

PC> You don't think you need to worry about the upper ontology for
 > integration?
 > Then everyone will have their own (potentially incompatible) meanings
 > for person, place, organization, time, object, substance, artifact
 > (manufactured object), event (happening), group, path, properties
 > (attributes/relations), organism, reasoning, emotion, gravity,
 > agents, goals, obligations, exchange, money, liquid flow....    (03)

I worry about it constantly.  The only correction I would make
to that point is the replacement of "will have" with "does have".
If God handed down Avril's "perfect" ontology on tablets of stone,
it would do as much to stop the proliferation of ontologies as
His earlier tablets did to stop vice.    (04)

Following is our current state:    (05)

  1. We don't have a perfect ontology, we don't know whether any
     of our very many proposed ontologies are even adequate, and we
     don't see anybody who has a current proposal who is willing to
     drop it in favor of any other.    (06)

  2. We do have billions, if not trillions, of dollars of software
     that supports the world's economy, and we see legacy software
     that is 40 years old or older still in daily use -- none of
     which is or will be converted to any "integrating" ontology.    (07)

  3. But we do see a history of thousands of years of civilization,
     in which people with very divergent views manage to cooperate
     on task-specific terminology to accomplish major goals.    (08)

As I have said many times, I have not abandoned the search for
suitable foundations for ontology.  But given the above, the major
question is how to get from where we are to where we want to be.
My suggestion is that point #3 is a good place to start.    (09)

MW> When you develop your interfaces with a single ontology, then
 > for each system you have only one ontology to integrate with,
 > rather than one per system that you interface to. Also it is the
 > same ontology you integrate to for all systems, and that is
 > another benefit.    (010)

Yes, that has been the goal for at least 20 years or more.    (011)

JFS>>  But the types at the upper levels may become very abstract
 >> and sophisticated.    (012)

MW> I agree that there are some abstract concepts. But they are
 > relatively few (tens rather than hundreds in an ontology of
 > tens of thousands).    (013)

Yes, but those very few concepts may have an enormous number of
implications.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be in the upper level.    (014)

MW> Of course those that are dealing with things at a lower level
 > of abstraction do not even need to be aware of these.  Most people
 > are happy when they can see that the next immediate supertype is
 > appropriate.    (015)

I agree.  And that is why task-specific interoperability has
worked so successfully for people (and, I would claim, for most
computer agents as well).    (016)

JFS>> For example, consider some of the sophisticated notions in
 >> relativity and quantum mechanics, which must be accommodated
 >> by any truly global ontology...    (017)

MW> I would not see this as upper ontology stuff at all. This
 > is the stuff of detail at a very low level of reality.    (018)

I agree that we do *not* want to put relativity and QM into
the upper levels.  But by the term 'accommodate' I meant that
the upper levels must be neutral with respect to any or all
physical theories, including Newtonian, QM, string theory, etc.
Whitehead's system achieves that, but without mentioning QM or
relativity in any way.    (019)

MW> So what you are saying is that when you are integrating
 > some external ontology with yours, you do not need to worry
 > about its upper ontology. That I would agree with.    (020)

Great!  That is the primary point I wanted to emphasize, and
I'm happy that we agree.    (021)

John    (022)

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