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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: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 12:30:05 -0500
Message-id: <47DEAA9D.1010809@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew and Patrick,    (01)

Some comments:    (02)

JFS>> those very few [upper-level} concepts may have an enormous
 >> number of implications.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be in the
 >> upper level.    (03)

MW> Not what I have seen, I see small number of important things,
 > but they are inherited by a lot of stuff, and thus support
 > consistency.    (04)

That's what I would call "an enormous number of implications".
Every general property and mechanism of Animal has implications
for Cat, Dog, Worm, Fish, Koala, Wombat, or Binturong.    (05)

PC> Cyc and Ontology Works claim to be able to integrate databases
 > with an ontology.  I am involved in a project exploring the
 > technology to do that.  Each of these methods uses a single upper
 > ontology for the integration process.    (06)

I would expect that to be true for a great many commercial databases,
most of which are very superficial.  An employee database might say
that every employee is a human being, but it's not likely to go into
any details about human biological functions.    (07)

That illustrates my point that interoperability depends on agreement
at a task-oriented level, not at a global level.    (08)

PC> The point of the "Conceptual Defining Vocabulary" is precisely
 > to enable people to cooperate by sharing data in a form that will
 > support accurate automated inferencing.  No one needs to modify
 > the local application, just to map the data to the common foundation
 > ontology.    (09)

Data sharing for many commercial applications would is commonly
supported by a large collection of low-level definitions that are
compatible with many different upper level ontologies.  For example,
employees typically have an employee id, department, manager, work
location, soc. security number, home address, and optional spouse,
children, etc.  The connections of those concepts to an upper-level
ontology is irrelevant for a great many practical applications.    (010)

MW> So for example, there are ontologies where you will find employee
 > as a subtype of person, and others that understand it is not.    (011)

I don't know which way you are advocating, but I'll summarize my
position:    (012)

  1. There is a fundamental distinction between natural types, such
     as Cat or HumanBeing, and role types, such as Pet or Employee.    (013)

  2. Every instance of a role type is a subytpe of some natural type,
     but it may also be a subtype of other role types.  HeartSpecialist
     is a subtype of Physician, which is a subtype of HumanBeing.    (014)

The English word 'person' is an anomaly because it is derived from
the Latin 'persona', which meant the role a human being (Latin 'homo')
played in the theater.  Therefore, the root meaning of 'person' is
a role type.    (015)

Unfortunately, English does not have a single word for 'human being',
such as the Latin 'homo',  Therefore, 'person' has become ambiguous.
It often means the natural type HumanBeing in addition to the role
some human being plays.  That role use was insinuated into a decision
of the US Supreme Court by the railroad industry in the 19th century.
That has caused enormous confusion in the legal system:    (016)

  1. The US Constitution reserved certain rights for human beings.    (017)

  2. Unfortunately, it used the word 'person'.    (018)

  3. Therefore, corporations, which may be involved in actions
     performed by some employees, can be considered to play the
     role of the human being that actually performed the action.    (019)

  4. Therefore, the railroad industry claimed, they are acting
     as "persons".  (Note that they did not say that corporations
     are acting as "people" -- that would expose the ambiguity.)    (020)

  5. Therefore, corporations have the same rights as human beings.    (021)

The nine justices of the Supreme Court were too intelligent to
make such a stupid blunder.  But a clerk, who was paid by the
railroad industry, inserted the word 'person' into the way the
decision was reported.  And that tiny word led to enormous
confusion for over a century.    (022)

John    (023)

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