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[ontolog-forum] A different approach to ontology

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "RK Stamper" <stamper.measur@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 7 May 2008 17:25:56 +0100
Message-id: <6f4c5f960805070925gc62882eu582e90bf0f9f8eeb@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Colleagues,    (01)

This contribution reconstitutes a discussion started on 21 Feb just
before I moved to rural France with a very narrowband connection to
the Internet. I could not keep pace. I'm back there with the same
difficulties now.    (02)

At least I learned that I am living on a different planet from my
newfound colleagues in ontolog. Although we are working on much the
same problem, my team pursues a radically different line from yours.    (03)

Your interest in computer solutions seems to dominate whereas we
regard the application of computers as important but of secondary
importance after our concern for human use of information in social
behavior, especially in organizations.  We explore: the making and
maintenance of meanings; intentional behaviour in the exercise of
responsibility and power; and forms of knowledge, the socially
valuable products of information.    (04)

Mutual understanding between people on different planets presents
problems.  My computer-oriented colleagues, when given a brief
introduction to our work typically respond by saying: "Very
interesting but, you know, it can't possibly work."  In fact, even for
applying computers, it does work; indeed it works far better than our
wildest expectations.    (05)

Take that last statement as an invitation to challenge us. We are
strongly empirically orientated.  Among the results that may interest
you is the Semantic Normal Form (SNF), a canonical schema (ontology to
you) that captures some essential features of human perception and
cognition.    (06)

We confess to ignorance of OWL or related languages.  Encountering
them at British Computer Society meetings, they do not appear to be
relevant to our work.  We are always open to persuasion.    (07)

[As additional background to this discussion you might like to read at
http://www.reading.ac.uk/IRC/Research/irc-research-publications.asp],
a paper that I wrote for (ICCS 2007), a new an audience for me, that
included many interested in the semantic web. Its title is 'Stumbling
Across a "Soft Mathematics"  . . .'.    (08)

The ideas are above all PRACTICAL. However you may think otherwise
because most of our discussion is philosophical. That is not
surprising as those practical results would have been unattainable
without a novel metaphysical position concerning the nature of
existence (ontology as I understood it until joining ontolog).    (09)

Our metaphysical position (ontology-1) has no need to meet the very
difficult criteria of philosophy; it must however deliver a good
engineering solution to the problems of ensuring that the meanings of
signs on paper or in computer files can be connected to all kinds of
things that appear in the conduct of practical human affairs.
Moreover, those connections must withstand scrutiny, especially by
courts of law when disputes are adjudicated or by commissions
enquiring into practical problems with a view to formulating workable
policies.  Empiricism is essential.    (010)

What's practical about our results?  On reflection, I should give you
at least a partial answer to this question before you read the
discussion.    (011)

Most importantly, from an IT perspective, is the SNF, the canonical
schema, which induces a high degree of stability in computer-based
systems.  It also leads to a 5GL that even nave users find rather
easy to understand.  The canonical schema + 5GL lead to a Semantic
Temporal DataBase.    (012)

Practical applications have demonstrated that these tools and the
associated methods can cut the costs of developing, supporting and
maintaining computer-based systems by about a factor of 10.  We'd like
even more opportunities to demonstrate this.    (013)

Other practical results have nothing to do with IT but with the
understanding of organized human behaviour and the design of
organizations, in particular those that are specified in legal norms
such as laws and contracts.    (014)

Our research goal can be formulated thus: as people behave in an
organized way when they share a system of social norms, find a way of
representing these norms formally and tools for interpreting them, if
possible by machinery.  After several decades of support from British
and Dutch Research Councils and the computing industry, we think we
have reached that goal.    (015)

This ontolog discussion has confronted me with some searching
questions. I hope it will interest you and persuade you to continue
probing.    (016)

Regards    (017)

Ronald Stamper    (018)

PS Many collaborators deserve acknowledgement but I'll mention only
two, Yasser Ades of Greenwich University and Kecheng Liu of Reading
University.
________________________________
The discussion started with my posting of 21 Feb 2008, which I provide first.    (019)

I have taken the liberty of repeating passages in the postings, of
Matthew West and then of John Sowa.  Please forgive the redundancy but
I'm sure it will be easier to follow than my discarded attempt to edit
it more severely.    (020)

Wherever you find passages bracketed RSRS>> passage <<RSRS they are my
latest additions, some of which replace original responses that I've
lost.    (021)

______________________________________    (022)


>From Ronald Stamper            on 21 Feb 2008    (023)

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) 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 this 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."    (024)

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 'nave' 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    (025)

----------------------------------------------------------------
>From this point on, I'll indicate the author for each passage. (These
are John Sowa, Matthew West and Azamat Abdoullaev and myself)  My
first responses are marked RS> and my second ones RSRS>>.    (026)

________________________________
Matthew West            on 23 Feb 2008    (027)

Dear Ronald,    (028)

I guess I'll take a shot at this.  See below.    (029)

Regards,    (030)

Matthew West    (031)

RS> Dear Colleagues,    (032)

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.
RSRS>> Mea culpa <<RSRS
RS> 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
MW: So that isn't that there is no reality without agents, only that
what is known must be known by an agent, presumably because only
agents can know things. Sounds to be like you might be more interested
in epistemology than ontology.
RS: Perhaps I should not have inserted the word "knowable". We may
imagine all kinds of things and believe in some of them but the only
ones we can deal with in our practical affairs are those that some
agent or other can deal with.    (033)

MW: Well this is different again. This is being agnostic about what
actually exists, things might or might not. What matters are the
things you can interact with. I wonder if this is pragmatics, or
pragmatic?    (034)

MW: I think you have a reasonable case if you take the view that there
might be all kinds of stuff out there, but what you are interested in
is the stuff you can access/interact with in some sense, rather than
stating, as you appear to do above, that only the stuff an agent can
interact with actually exists.    (035)

RS: When one holds an apple, one experiences it as the things one can
do with it.    (036)

MW: Well first I would say that the experience is a thing (exists) as
well as the apple.    (037)

RS>  When the apple tastes good, this direct experience has  nothing
to do with knowledge, which enters into the picture only when
expressed in words or other signs. We say that knowledge is erroneous
or true, thus acknowledging that it has properties that the experience
 of the apple or its taste do not have.  Distinguishing the sign from
the reality is essential for this approach.    (038)

MW: Well OK, but I'm not sure this gets us anywhere. This would fit
with just about any ontological approach.    (039)

b)    the agent must discover its own reality in the flux of events
and actions.
MW: Are you saying here that there are actually multiple realities,
which are what agents discover, or that there is one reality, that
different agents have different views on based on what different
agents discover (know again)?
> RS:  We must begin by considering isolated agents.    (040)

MW: Why *must* we do that? Why can't we start with the single reality
that all these agents exist in?    (041)

RS> Because no isolated agent can rely on any other to provide it with
a useful model of its world; each one is responsibe for discovering in
the flux of events and actions its own reality in which it must
survive with as much comfort as it can and that depends on its model.    (042)

MW: Again, OK, but I'm not sure where this gets us. This would be OK
under any ontological approach. It does not have to be an ontological
foundation, and seems to me to be a big commitment you are making.    (043)

RSRS>> Yes, different realities for different isolated agents.  When
they are no longer isolated, their communities negotiate various forms
of consensus. The nave realist avoids that 'big commitment' by
making, what seems to me an unreasonable assumption that all any one
need do is to open his or her eyes to see a world full of ready-made
individual things that fall into ready-made categories all of which
can be given names in their own language. That's just closing one's
eyes to the complex and important processes through which we arrive at
a provisional consensus and then continually revise it.  <<RSRS
RS> 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.
MW: I confess I am unfamiliar with Gibson, I further confess that I do
not have the time to read up on him, interesting though it sounds.    (044)

MW: This sounds like an ontology of behaviour, rather than a foundational
ontology.    (045)

RS: Note that, when an affordance registered by a simple isolated
organism ceases, that feature of the world ceases to exist.  Existence
outside the here-and-now presents problems that may be solved by using
signs: memory initially.    (046)

MW: "Exists" is a problematic term I find. In practice the problem
with your argument here is that the "signs" you have are meaningless
unless they refer to something. If that something does not exist, then
they do not refer to anything and they are non-sense. I think perhaps
you need to distinguish between what exists (my version) which is all
that has existed, does exist, and will exist, and what is accessible,
i.e. the present. That way your signs make sense, they point to
something that exists, but is not accessible.    (047)

RSRS>> How right you are!  But we choose to remove much of the
ambiguity by building on the most secure knowledge we have from our
ability to behave actively with things around us here and now.  We can
do that without using any words.  If we introduce language into the
picture, we begin to deal with the more extensive reality that I'm as
happy as you to believe in, whether it lies in the past or the future
or in another country I've never visited.  But it is quite clear that
this larger, extensive, longliving reality cannot be reached by anyone
except through the mediation of language, pictures and other signs.
As an information systems engineer, I'm interested in the processes
and institutions that enable us to make sense of this larger world.    (048)

RSRS >> You insist that 'the "signs" you have are meaningless unless
they refer to something'.  I would say that they fail to denote
anything but I'm willing to say that Jane Austen's novels are not
non-sense even though "Mrs Bennett" denotes nothing.  That name in the
context of the novel signifies (in Charles Morris's terminology) a
woman with such well draw characteristics that, if I went in search of
her, I would almost certainly recognize when my search had succeeded.
Not only novels but government policies and business plans are full of
words that signify but do not denote.  I'm very interested in how we
construct this shared reality and know how to determine the semantic
standing of its many components so that I know how to act on the basis
of what I read, for example.  I discarded logical positivism in my
youth. << RSRS    (049)

RS> We call our ontology-1 "actualism".
MW: I think this name has already been grabbed:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/
RSRS>> Thanks very much.  Here's a quote from that source: "Actualism
is the philosophical position that everything there is  everything
that can be said to exist in any sense  is actual. Put another way,
actualism denies that there is any kind of being beyond actuality; to
be is to be actual."   Note they say "everything that can be SAID to
exist"; this points to the community's negotiated model of reality;
the individual agents' perceived affordances are not 'said' by anyone,
they are directly experienced and are therefore more fundamental than
anything the agents talk about. We insist on including the things SAID
to exist as a result of negotiation when we move from the limited
worlds of individual organisms to the shared reality understood by
Society <<RSRS
MW: So what do the signs refer to then? If they do not refer to
something, they have no meaning.    (050)

RS> Bishop Berkeley's ontology is the nearest approximation I have
found.  He also 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."    (051)

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.
MW: Again, I notice you are talking about what agents know, not about
what exists.
RS: Knowledge, as opposed to direct experience, enters here at the
stage when isolated agents begin to interact, using signs, to form a
consolidated picture from their many different realities.
Epistemology in this approach concerns the manner in which individuals
can rely on signs as good quality vicarious experience. Ontology deals
with understanding experience as access to what exists.  The ground
for any ontology for an isolated individual must be its own
recognition of the affordances discovered in its own experiences. On
that basis we individuals can discover affordances beyond the reach of
our puny physiology+niche by employing the knowledge (signs) shared by
our community.  Thus we need epistemology as a tool for constructing
the greater reality that we so easily take for granted, and,
therefore, as partner to the rudimentary ontology for isolated
organisms.    (052)

MW: Now you are talking about how agents learn, again, this is not
about what exists. What exists is (hopefully) what they learn about
through their experiences, rather than things coming into existance as
they experience them. (I will assert that you did not come into
existence when you first e-mailed this group with a high level of
confidence).
>
RS> I'm no philosopher, theologian or politician but an engineer
looking for solutions that work.  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.
RSRS>> Your last comment brings out an important difference in our
ontology-1s: for you, existence is RS> independent of all agents
whereas I always relate every model of what exists (ontology-2) to a
root agent, basically individual persons but, later, Society when they
arrive at the consensus we take for granted. [So perhaps we should
call our actualism 'relativistic actualism'.]Wwould Berkeley have been
happy to treat God as the root agent?  <<RSRS
RS> In practical information systems engineering, ontology-1 leads to
a canonical form of ontology-2 (sophisticated data model).
MW: OK. Data models are one way of representing an ontology, but they
are also the cross over from ontology to epistemology, since that
specify the information we want to hold about certain things of
interest.
**********
RSRS>> Sorry! I grow impatient with the term 'ontology' being used for
what I think of as a 'sophisticated data model' or 'schema'.  I always
use 'ontology' to mean a metaphysical commitment to a particular
understanding about the nature of reality.  The fundamental reality
that an agent experiences has a structure that we can try to capture
in a 'schema' or ontology-2. When we do that, we give each node a
numerical identifier (a kind of pretence that we are escaping from
language!) that can be labeled in as many different languages or sign
systems as you wish.  The labels can also be experienced as
affordances, of course; a meaning is then a cognitive norm saying that
the sign "dog" stands for dog, which can be experienced directly but
is represented by the surrogate with identifier 8036504 in the schema.
 <<RSRS
RS: The ontology-2 of types/universals that a community constructs may
serve as a schema for a database under which to hold the
instances/particulars in the same structural form.  The strict
constraints on the schema ensure that different analysts should arrive
at a single canonical form. We claim only an empirical basis for this
Semantic Normal Form.  Could this have an axiomatic potential?
[edited]    (053)

MW: Well, data models generally contain relatively few axioms (the
cardinality constraints would qualify). But these can be added.
RS> Please give me your comments. Is our ontology-1 really new?  I'm
sure you will disabuse me soon enough if I'm mistaken.
MW: My question would be whether it is an ontology or epistemology.
RSRS>> Ontology at the fundamental, isolated agent level, with
epistemology playing an important role making sense of the shared
model of the world negotiated.
RS: Individuals' experiences provide the groundwork for an ontology-2
that a community or society can elaborate into a consensual version.    (054)

MW: The evidence is that there is no consensus, either on ontology-1
or ontology-2 see the current thread between Pat H and Pat C where Pat
C.    (055)

RS> What to accept into this consolidated ontology-2 is achieved with
the aid of the various tacit epistemologies people bring to judge what
to accept or reject.    (056)

MW: Yes, but these may be inconsistent. How are you going to
accommodate my 4-dimensionalsit intuitions that contradict your
foundations?    (057)

RS> Our approach incorporates an epistemology that requires one to
check what agents are responsible for the additions or amendments.    (058)

RSRS>> On further reflection, I conjecture that the Semantic Normal
Form would help to induce a consensus in the community but without
excluding the possibility of two or more mutually incompatible views.
Having used the ontology-1 to arrive at a schema, I would propose
conformity with the SNF constraints as one important epistemological
principle. <<RSRS    (059)

RS> 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.
RSRS>> By the way, you will not find this paper in the proceedings,
despite its being an invited keynote contribution.  Springer insisted
on owning the copyright; I offered them a license to using as they
wish but that was not enough.  I hate bullies, including, perhaps
especially, large corporations, so I persisted with my refusal.  I'd
be happy to supply a copy to anyone.    (060)

MW: I'd be interested. Is it available on the web?    (061)

It will be mounted on the web at Reading University, Informatics
Research Centre  www.reading.ac.uk/irc wherer you can search for me.    (062)

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.
MW: Have you read John Searle,  The construction of social reality ?
RS:  Indeed!  This approach goes much further; it assumes the social
construction of physical reality too, at least beyond the private,
individual experiences of it.    (063)

MW: I think you missed my point. Searle is a realist. The later
chapters of his book are a defence of realism. Can I suggest you
re-read them? He would be anything but supportive of what you are
suggesting. What he did do was distinguish between those things that
are socially constructed, and those things that exist even when we do
not.    (064)

RSRS>> Re-reading done!  I am as content as you and Searle to BELIEVE
in an external reality independent of us all.  We may philosophize
about this vast external reality but, as an engineer, I can deal with
only the part accessible to my assistants and I. Each of us can deal
directly with a very small part and only when there to do so.
However, within that small part of that external reality, we can deal
with ink marks on paper, vocal sounds etc. that we can use
conveniently to stand for other things.  Deploying these semiological
resources, our team can reach a high degree of agreement about what we
perceive and how we label them or depict them. For simple things near
to hand, our forebears achieved perceptual agreement many millennia
ago, and we take it for granted.  As we belong to the same species, we
tend to recognize virtually the same affordances in the flux of action
and signals around us  that helps too.  But notice how difficult it
can be for a student of cytology to begin to see under the microscope
what a trained scientist perceives so easily: acquiring those
perceptual norms entails a great deal of discourse between student and
teacher. Most people can ignore these issues but, as an information
systems engineer, I need to understand how we use information (signs)
to build and work with our models of reality.  Working from scores of
concrete examples, we arrived at our rather extreme version of
actualism, which does serve our engineering purposes remarkably well.
<<RSRS
RS> 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.
MW: Right.
RS> None of the conventional ontology-1s seemed to work.
MW: Which ones did you try? Realism is the one I favour (along
probably with the majority of others here). What was it that did not
work about realism?
RS> We looked for candidate ontology-1s to meet our need for a
semantic principle.  A meaning should define a reliable route from a
sign to what it stands for in some domain recognized by an ontology-1.
Thus Platonic Realism is the realm of ideals reached from a
mathematical expression via the imagination of a mathematician 
helpful when doing mathematics but not open to empirical examination
and timeless. Formal Semantics takes one from a sign in one formal
system to a sign in another, via a formal transformation  appropriate
for computing and some styles of mathematics but it does not help to
bridge the gulf between symbols and the world of practical affairs.
Conceptualism  signs stand for concepts or percepts in the minds of
people (Sausurian semiology, much of linguistic semantics, IT's
conceptual schemas, IFIP 8.1 report on a Framework for Information
Systems Concepts etc); does not allow empirical study unless the
meanings of the undefined terms cross the gulf; anyway whose concepts
should we employ?.  Possible Worlds where signs map onto a domain of
set-theoretic structures by means of mathematical functions culled
from thin air (some kinds of logic, Montague Semantics)  such domains
of possible things are beyond the reach of empirical methods.
Dictionary Meanings that map words onto another verbal domain (EDI
Semantic Repositories or other dictionaries)  valuable if the
undefined terms cross the gulf into practical affairs, otherwise they
still confine one within a world of signs.  Nave Objectivism where we
all put on our spectacles and see the same given reality  fine for
doing the shopping but useless when it results in a legal dispute.
Realism goes much further than the things one can see with one's
spectacles.  Socially Defined Reality as understood by "the man on the
Clapham omnibus" in words of a 19thC judge in an English court, was
the semantic principle that we finally but naturally adopted as most
of our case studies were drawn from the law. It depends on the
perceptions of a sample of human agents and uses them to provide the
mapping from the words in, say, a legal statute to the world they deal
with in their everyday lives.    (065)

MW: What about structural realism, or scientific realism? These are
firmly based on a scientific foundation.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/structural-realism/    (066)

RSRS>> To quote from your source: "Scientific realism is the view that
we ought to believe in the unobservable entities posited by our most
successful scientific theories."   This would not suit us because it
expects one to start to build our ediface on the most refined products
of the system that we want to explain.  We need as a foundation the
perceptions of ordinary people, perhaps including our hominid
ancestors.  Our quest would be complete if the results could
contribute to an explanation of how "our most successful scientific
theories" and, I may add, our best legal system could have evolved
from that clunky foundation.  << RSRS    (067)

RS> Finally we adopted Gibson's Affordances    (068)

MW: Yes, but I don't think this is a basis for existence, it is only a
basis for dealing with existence and learning about it.    (069)

RSRS>> That's no problem to us because we deal with existence in two
steps: firstly we are interested in the existence of those things we
can experience directly; only then do we move to consider things whose
existence we can only talk about.  The reality we can experience
directly is the foundation of our analysis, for which Gibson's Theory
of Affordances serves well.  Our participation in philosophical
discourse on existence will always be tinged with skepticism.  The
various ontology-1s I listed above serve people working in maths,
linguistics, logic etc and we have no objection to their use but our
extreme version of actualism provides, for us, that essential bridge
between signs and some agent's direct experience of the invariant
repertoires of behaviour that Gibson calls 'affordances'. <<RSRS    (070)

RS> [to Gibson's Affordances we have] added social norms, which are
invariants repertoires of behavior that the social sphere affords an
agent.  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
[people] raised as members of society incorporate many extra
perceptions that have been supplied by others and [are preserved
among] the community's shared perceptual norms.  Moreover the reality
of the social world also depends on the many 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.    (071)

RSRS>> Incidentally, I've been surprised by the ontolog participants
that lack of concern about relating their ontology-2s to the tangible
reality of everyday practial affairs.  It seems that the community
takes that step for granted while looking for  a 'secure' foundation
in logic. <<RSRS    (072)

RS> Berkeley explained a person's perception of a tree as the result
of an idea in His mind,    (073)

        MW: Now that is beginning to sound like conceptualism.    (074)

RSRS>> Angelic Celestialism, we might say.  Even more inaccessible to
> empirical study! <<RSRS    (075)

RS> 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.    (076)

MW: How? I would have thought the tree was sufficient for continuing
to accept the tree's existence.    (077)

RSRS>> No, not at all. Your remark suggests a simple objectivist
position: the tree and all the other things, including the quad, have
their independent existences; they just continue to be there
regardless of anyone. And I would make the same assumption most of the
time.  But our sever actualism forces one to ask how I can believe
that the tree continues to exist  it is a very reasonable position
but not unassailable, especially as I have not been near my college
for some years!   Having left the quad, the tree ceases to exist among
my direct experiences, as a realized affordance here and now.  But my
memory of it and my written  note about the tree does exist here and
now with me outside the quad in another city.  <<RSRS    (078)

MW: I repeat, that if there is nothing that exists that these notes
refer to then they are non-sense. I might as well start talking about
Slartibardfast and how he made the crinkly bits on Norway.    (079)

RSRS>> I can use these records to support my belief and also to help
me persuade others that the tree is still there.  After a little
while, the tree may no longer be there, having been felled preparatory
to some building work.  I can phone a friend with rooms overlooking
the quad, or ask a person who has just left the college to check the
validity of my belief.  If questioned about it, I can justify it
because of a number of shared cognitive norms concerning the longevity
of oak trees, the conservative practice of the college fellows in the
management of their property, especially their desire to keep any
two-hundred-year old tree if at all possible. Thus, through the
skilful use of signs that Society has evolved, it acts as the agent
responsible for our collective knowledge.  Society experiences the
tree as a realized affordance, an aggregate perception, that I can
share by communicating with other members of Society. That's why we
choose to replaces God by Society for good information engineering
reasons.   In all our business and legal schemas/ontology-2s the Root
Agent is Society    (080)

RSRS>> An analogy might help: When you perceive your pet cat sitting
on your lap, you do so by aggregating the even more direct experiences
of some cells of your body.  As the cat moves, those cells cease to
register the pet's contact but others now do so.  Through your nervous
system, you aggregate the signals from many nerve endings and continue
to perceive  the cat.  Similarly, Society perceives more than any
individual person can  the hole in the ozone layer, for example. A
nerve cell does not need the whole-body view but a person can usually
obtain a 'copy' of the Society view when needed. We justify treating
Society as the Root Agent because Society can perceive things beyond
the reach of any one of us by aggregating our reports of our direct
experiences, yet we individuals treat the Social view as our own
common sense view of the world. <<RSRS    (081)

MW: Sorry, I am happy to accept that what I believe exists may not be
the same as what does exist, but you are not going to persuade me that
the only things that actually do exist are the things I can perceive
at this moment. Now if you want to talk about accessibility, rather
than existence, then we may be getting nearer the point, although I am
still not sure that I would agree, but at least we would be able to
talk to each other.    (082)

RSRS>> Bear with me! We are not so far apart.  I'm trying to solve a
class of information engineering problems that call for what may seem
a very narrow-minded view of the nature of existence.  Your term
'accessibility' helps.  If I am using information (computer-based) for
running a nuclear power station or administering social security or
otherwise dealing with matters affecting the survival and welfare of
people, I have the onus of responsibility upon me.  It is vital that
my records and each element within them relate to things that are
accessible in some sense or other.  I have chosen an ontology-1 that
supports the thorough investigation of the routes that provide access
between data and reality.  If they are unreliable my decision-making
and my ability to discharge my responsibilities will also be impaired.    (083)

RSRS>> I think I now realize why we sometime talk past one another.  I
cannot recall any ontolog contributor showing concern for
responsibility.  It appears that most ontolog colleagues focus on
running computer-based systems rather than human organizations, so
understandably, responsibility has no relevance to them.  In human
affairs, information has no value unless it communicates someone's
intentions and/or until it results in changing the attitudes of
others. Thus human understanding, which entails responsibility,
differs fundamentally from machine understanding. <<RSRS    (084)

MW: But we can only communicate these things using signs, and these
signs only make sense if they refer to something that exists.    (085)

RSRS>> We can refer:
1) by denoting something that exists and we can prove it by taking
someone (in principle) by the hand to show them, or
2) by signifying something that does not exist but would be recognized
by the interpreter who would know when he had succeeded in finding it.
 As I pointed out earlier, Jane Austen's novel make sense because most
of the language signifies things, just as out plans signify non
existent states of affairs as well as denoting existing places and
resources we shall use. <<RSRS    (086)

MW: I have tried to show how you could adjust your approach to be
consistent with realism rather than contradict it using accessibility
rather than existence. I think it is a more productive route to
follow, otherwise you will always be having to explain to people like
me why you have abandonned realism, and usually (as with me) failing
to be convincing.    (087)

RSRS>> I hope I'm now beginning to convince you that my approach is
consistent with realism whenever you choose to use it: you need only
BELIEVE that realism is appropriate for what you want to do, as, when
I go shopping, I abandon actualism in favour of realism. <<RSRS    (088)

RS> [Returning to Berkeley's tree in the quad]  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. [With Society
keeping an eye on things instead of God, we can be reasonably sure
that many a thing continues to exist.]
RSRS>> Even when we cannot see it. <<RSRS
MW: This sounds like something based on our collective knowledge
again, tied perhaps to beliefs.
RS> Exactly!
RS> The rich world we ontolog participants believe in lies beyond the
perceptual reach of any isolated human being.
MW: So here at least you seem to acknowledge a world independent of
our perceptions.    (089)

RS: Not unconditionally  only as a valuable heuristic for everyday
decision-making at the shops. When I revert to actualism, I treat
realism as a belief that calls for justification in semiological
terms.    (090)

MW: I think all this stuff is useful in determining how to develop an
ontology, but is not a replacement for realism.    (091)

RSRS>> Both have their place. <<RSRS    (092)

RSRS>> Realism is ontologically more generous.  Within its framework
you could construct an explanation for actualism.  However, in an
actualist framework, realism would appear as a system of belief,
roughly as outlined:    (093)

RS> Society enables us to aggregate our puny individual experiences
through the information we exchange and the norms we share. We test
them until we arrive at the familiar picture of an apparently
objective reality.    (094)

MW: Sounds like epistemology again.    (095)

RSRS>> SKIP THIS NEXT BIT  RS> Epistemology serves as a toolkit for
building an ontology-2 that exploits the very simple experiences of
many individuals.  The ontology-1 of extreme actualism enables us to
build, from the world views that unaided individuals can construct, to
the sophisticated world views that Society can develop.    (096)

MW: But it is not a necessary commitment to achieve this.
<<RSRS    (097)

RSRS>> AND MOVE ON TO DRAWING SOME PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS FROM
ACTUALISM. THIS NEXT SECTION SHOWS HOW ACTUALISM, INCORPORATING THE
IDEA OF AFFORDANCES LEADS TO THE ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE OF A FORMALISM
SUITABLE FOR REPRESENTING NORMS AND WHAT THEY MEAN. <<RSRS    (098)

RS> 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:    (099)

        Agent affordance
The root Agent must be a particular (convention: uppercase capital and
lower case for universals).  During the Agent's realization of this
affordance.1, it is, in effect a modified kind of Agent able to
experience some other affordance.2 [that is is ontological dependent.]
         (Agent affordance.1) affordance.2
When an affordance ceases to be realized, as far as the Root Agent is
concerned, that thing totally ceases to exist.    (0100)

MW: But only as far as the agent is concerned, not necessarily in
reality, right?    (0101)

RS: Yes!  If the agent is a simple organism with no memory (not
> counting evolved, instinctive patterns of behaviour) then, when that
> affordance ceases to be realized that particular ceases to exist.  If
> the agent is more sophisticated, with a memory and a role in Society,
> then the thing may continue to exist, for practical purposes, until
> every memory or record of it is expunged.  Then the thing does cease
> to exist for all practical purposes.    (0102)

MW: I think you confuse existence with accessibility again.    (0103)

RSRS>> No!  I just limit my attention to the accessible things for
simple engineering purposes <<RSRS    (0104)

RS> The environment may afford the Agent two of these repertoires of
behaviour simultaneously:    (0105)

        Agent (affordance.1 while affordance.3)    (0106)

again becoming the modified agent [able now to experience affordance.4
that is ontologically dependent on the other two affordances.]    (0107)

         (Agent (affordance.1 while affordance.3)) affordance.4    (0108)

RSRS>> These constructs apply recursively so that, from the Root
Agent, one has a semi-lattice of affordances, each of which depends
upon one or two, but no more, other affordances. You may interpret
this structure as an ontology-2 for that agent.  This new notion of an
ontological dependency arises from the idea that the agent perceives
the world as invariant repertoires of behaviour or affordances. <<RSRS    (0109)

Thus the effective existence of anything depends fundamentally on the
agent who takes responsibility for his/her/its choices.    (0110)

MW: [effective] As opposed to the actual existence of anything.    (0111)

RSRS>> Effective in an empirically demonstrable sense as opposed to
presuming existence of anything.  As an engineer, I want to deal with
things that are accessible to my observations and/or actions <<RSRS
MW: This sounds like beliefs again.
RSRS>> Not yet, I'm still talking about the directly experienced
affordances of a simple, isolated agent. Beliefs enter the picture
when several sophisiticated agents have an ability to use signs to
represent the object of belief, whether written, pictorial or  (held
in memory). But the foundation of their collective view rests on the
perceptual abilities of the individual agents. <<RSRS
RS>  [The perception of any one thing] also depends on the coexistence
of some other, 'ontological antecedents'. An important result is the
canonical nature of the semi-lattice if it conforms to certain rules.
First is the constraint of a maximum of two antecedents for each
affordance. Secondly, the lattice between any affordance and the Root
Agent must contain all and only those antecedent affordances that are
necessary and sufficient for its existence.  Such a schema we call a
Semantic Normal
The SNF represents the here-and-now world of the Root Agent.  When a
community of individuals can communicate and construct a collective
model of the world, the schema can handle things beyond the
here-and-now of the individuals by using signs to represent them.  Of
course, when you plan to do something, you have to talk about things
that do not exist but they are represented in words, diagrams etc, all
of which do exist here and now.
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 must use a sign that stands
for that marriage, which does not yet exist:
        proposal (person-1 (Society), "marriage ( . . . .)")
As the ontology-1 only allows us to talk about things existing here and now,
MW: Oh, so you are a presentist too then are you?
RS> Yes, absolutely!  It's a marvelous discipline making one sees things as
> they are.    (0112)

MW: Oh dear. I find quite the opposite. Can I suggest:
Hawley, Katherine  How things persist Oxford: Clarendon Press 2001
and for something more abbrassive:
Sider, Theodore Four Dimensionalism - An Ontology of Persistence and Time 2001
Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-926352-3    (0113)

RS> As everything in the past or future is available only in this
semiological form, I'm probably a presentist of the Series-A type. The
present one has to view not as a moment but as defined by the
currently realized affordances, which makes the concept of the present
multi-layered.    (0114)

RS>  I sense your despair!  Try the "take-me-by-the-hand-and-show-me
test.  Our approach only deals with things that pass this test.
That's what I mean by seeing things as they are, as distinct from
seeing them as we imagine them residing in the realist's past, future
or possible worlds.    (0115)

RSRS>> Signs that exist in the here-and-now we use to construct other
times and places, at least in a conceptual form.  When building a
schema (ontology-2), one must keep this idea firmly in mind.  Creating
an SNF-compliant schema is not easy, especially checking that the
lattice of antecents includes all and only those that are necessary
for the existence of the affordance in question.    (0116)

RSRS>> I should say a little more about the SNF-compliant schema.
Associated with every node is a set of attributes. They are:
        identifier
        sortal of which it is a particular instance
        antecedent-1
        [antecedent-2] optional
        start
        finish
        authority for start
        authority for finish
They are all intrinsic to an affordance.  The identifier represents
the invariant property of the affordance; the sortal or universal
tells us what ability of the agent makes possible the recognition of
taffordances of that sort; I've already dealt with the antecedents;
although we cannot visit the start and finish of the affordance, we
can refer to their start and finish events or supply the identifiers
of affordances that coexisted with them (note that this means that
times exist only as signs and relationships between them); Society is
always the ultimate Root Agent but authority is placed on particular
responsible agents (never machines or software modules) or distributed
among them when the authority is a norm (as copyright law determines
when a particular copyright starts and finishes its existence). When
dealing with documents or other items of information, the authorities
play an important role in their provenance (related to epistemology).
<<RSRS    (0117)

RS> 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.  (Thus the meaning of 'marriage' depends on
which civil or religious community acts as the authority.) The SNF
schema supports the steady accretion of semantic information without
imposing any artificial uniformity.  Surely such properties might be
highly relevant to the semantic web.
SNF-compliant schemas can be aggregated.  We have built some quite
large schemas but we need far more experience to discover where the
limits lie.
MW: Large I discover is a relative term. Is large for you 100 entity
types, 1000 entity types, 10000 entity types 100,000 entity types or
1,000,000 entity types?    (0118)

RS:  You are quite right to ask.  Here, in our remote French hamlet, I
have none of the data.  However I can offer guestimates for some
systems:  Higher Education admin, c.600; Packaging and Marketing for a
large brewery, c.1000; Marketing and Distribution for Electrical White
Ware, c.400; Raw Material Quality Control for a Food Manufacturer,
c.200; Medical Insurance Policy, c.200; etc.  These are large enough
for the specification of computer applications in those areas.    (0119)

MW: These are of the sort of size as the data models I produce for
Shell in similar areas, so it is interesting that we have such
opposing approaches.    (0120)

RS> But we need far more experience to discover where the limits lie.
RSRS>> We are always willing to collaborate, if anyone is interested
in providing case studies or live projects.  <<RSRS    (0121)

RS> 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.    (0122)

MW: I prefer realism and 4-dimensionalism, so I think I'll pass on this.    (0123)

RS>  Space: We cannot start by assuming dimensions and spatial
coordinates.  The Agent is the origin of his experienced space;
dimensions arise from the topological invariants he/she discovers;
material objects define other places and routes between them can be
added; a coordinate system can be built on those foundations.    (0124)

RS> Time: [SORRY FOR THE REPETITION] 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.    (0125)

MW: So when does the number two start and finish, or the colour green?    (0126)

RS: For an isolated agent everything starts after the agent comes into
existence and finishes no later than the agent's death. For most
animals that is or is nearly the case but they also start with some
abilities to perceive certain sorts of affordances by inheriting them.
For social agents with varied and sophisticated semiological skills,
we can build theories about the Big Bang and we may therefore believe
that many different shades of green began to exist in the spectra of
various elements soon after, but these are beliefs. Labeled shades of
green that members of society actually experienced and about which
they can communicate probably came into existence (my guess) 100,000
years ago. But colour categories are culturally dependent and probably
change over time. As for the number two, we know that some birds and
animals instinctively recognize this number and human babies probably
learn to recognize it quite quickly, so for our human society two has
a rather ancient start.  Of course this actualist approach does not
prevent our adopting a form of realism and believing that two has
always existed in some Platonic Realm. The infinite and the eternal do
not exist in an actualist's world except as signs, such as rules
(signs for norms) governing processes for generating integers or other
numbers that have no necessary termination.    (0127)

MW: So again, what exists is strictly relative. So agents are going to
disagree violently about "green" because they will have different
conceptions of when it started.    (0128)

RS> I hope they will not be violent because different communities have
different ways of categorizing colours. (eg: Lakoff, Women, Fire and
Dangerous Things, pp 330-334. Indeed I would expect that most
universals are culturally dependent to some degree.    (0129)

RS> Our Legally Orientated Language for manipulating data held under
SNF-compliant schemas allows us to represent social norms precisely
and in a form that 'nave' users find easy to understand. We have
designed many and built some systems (but not yet enough) using these
concepts with marked success.    (0130)

MW: Can you say what the applications you have built do?    (0131)

RS>  See the list above.  For most applications the ontology-2s were
used to implement systems employing conventional methods. Our interest
has been to add to the ontology-2 the norms that govern the starts and
finishes of things in order to complete the specification of the human
system roughly in the manner of drafting legislation to govern the
actions of people in the domain. We then have the further interest in
automating the implementation of computer applications from such
system specifications.  We have implemented one administrative system
this way with truly marked success: even with a first attempt,
development costs were cut by a factor of three, support and
maintenance costs by a factor of seven in comparison with a similar
system implemented using a tailorable package that had already evolved
over 200 different implementations. Subsequently we found that nearly
all our maintenance costs had been caused by the initial adoption for
a short period of orthodox requirement specification methods that
introduced 'malignant structures' (Ades).  Perhaps more importantly,
our methods were able to suit the exact needs and all the needs of the
organization whereas the organization using the packaged solution had
to be altered to fit the package and some of their functions had to be
met by marginal annotation of printouts.  Because the SNF schema
components are reusable, and because we can perform the analysis much
more quickly now, we are confident that development costs can be
reduced by another factor of three. We'd welcome the opportunity to
test the methods on other applications.    (0132)

MW: We find the same thing with a 4-D approach, possibly more so.    (0133)

RS> Note that although we have been funded by Research Councils in the
UK and the Netherlands, we have never had any amount of funding
approaching that of CYC.    (0134)

MW: Nor have I (or anyone else for that matter).    (0135)

RS> The formal aspects need far more work.
Awaiting some feedback, with my regards,    (0136)

Ronald Stamper    (0137)

________________________________
Next, JS responds to both of us.    (0138)

John Sowa  23 Feb 08    (0139)

Dear Ronald and Matthew,    (0140)

In my previous reply to Azamat, I emphasized that all mathematical
theories have exceptions, which are sometimes more important than the
cases that the theory was intended to cover.    (0141)

One reason why I like semiotics is that it brings many more cases
under the same umbrella.  Everything we are dealing with in both
natural and artificial languages are signs of various kinds, and the
boundaries between the two kinds of signs are usually vague.    (0142)

RSRS>>  Semiotics inspired and contributed to our extreme form of
actualism.  For semiotics it has the important results of compelling
the actualist to recognize the remarkable role that signs play in what
we might call the collective construction of reality, especially the
past and the future. <<RSRS    (0143)

JS> We may claim that the axioms are the ultimate criterion of what
any term means, but we are using NLs to talk about those criteria and
to explain the limitations.  And as we have seen, we cannot agree
among ourselves.  Even a logician who understands our formalism won't
know the intended applications and exceptions of any axioms we state
in that formalism.    (0144)

MW: I have no problem with what you say here.    (0145)

RSRS>> But the actualist would have a problem! Instead of treating
"the axioms as the ultimate criterion of what any term means" he would
insist that the ultimate criterion of the meaning of a sign must be an
agent's ability to connect the sign to something that the agent
perceives.  If we treat Society as the root agent, the meaning will be
established by a shared norm that enables members of the language
community to make, broadly the same relationship between sign and
object.  That entails a degree of uncertainty until one specifies the
meaning as interpreted by a particular individual, which is exactly
what we do in practical affairs by relying on the judgment of a
specified person usually with appropriate qualifications and
experience (qualified medical practitioner, certified engineer of some
kind, the judge hearing a case etc). <<RSRS    (0146)

JS> Some comments on the notes by Ronald and Matthew:    (0147)

RS> ... there is no knowable reality without an agent;    (0148)

MW> So that isn't that there is no reality without agents,    (0149)

JS> Please note that Ronald said "no knowable reality".  I agree with
his point, even though I also believe that reality doesn't depend on
agents for its existence.  But there is vastly more to reality than
anybody can ever know.    (0150)

RSRS>> Note that I prefixed my statement with "to all intents and
purposes"       It might also help to subdivide knowing into:
a)      knowing directly through current, active engagement with the subject and
b)      knowing indirectly through the use of signs supplied by others or
in one's own records and memories.
Knowledge type b) entails believing in what those signs represent.  I
believe in all kinds of real things beyond my current, active
engagement with them, but I make a point of admitting that they depend
on my use of signs.<<RSRS    (0151)

MW> Yes. I was just clarifying the point that what is known must be
known by an agent, presumably because only agents can know things.
Sounds to be like you might be more interested in epistemology than
ontology.    (0152)

JS>> The words 'epistemology' and 'ontology' create an enormous amount
of confusion.  The people who are the most confused are the ones who
think it is possible or even desirable to separate them.    (0153)

MW> Yes I agree, you can't really separate them. But you do move
between them. So for example, it is one thing to say that a person has
a skin colour, and it is another thing to know the skin colour of a
particular person, or to require in your database that you must know
the skin colour of any person about whom you hold any information.
This for me at least is what I mean when I talk about moving from
ontology to epistemology. It sounds to me that Ronald is assuming that
things he doesn't know about don't exist. So perhaps it is more that
he is making a sort of closed world assumption.    (0154)

RSRS>> Thank you, John, for your reassurance.  I had tried to separate
them without convincing myself.  That underlines the importance of my
caveat "to all intents and purposes", which insists on an
epistemological bridge between the world that exists according to our
individual direct, active knowledge and any larger reality that we
construct collectively.  For anyone interested in semiotics, this
strategy has the benefit of forcing us to examine in detail the
processes that enable us to construct the practical, everyday notions
about the nature of reality such as a nave objectivism we use when
doing the shopping or Platonic Realism we use when doing mathematics.
<<RSRS    (0155)

JS> Perhaps God with his infinite mind might have a "true" ontology,
but anything that we call an ontology is limited by what we know
or think we know.    (0156)

RSRS>> If you are a theologian, you may believe in God's "true"
ontology, as Bishop Berkeley did, but as a mortal information systems
engineer, I want to understand how to arrive at such beliefs. You
emphasize this, yourself, in your next remarks. <<RSRS    (0157)

MW>: I don't think he is talking so much about theories, as brute
facts. Ronald seems to be assuming that what is not known to exist
does not exist (again brute facts).    (0158)

RSRS>> Yes, at least "for practical, everyday purposes". <<RSRS    (0159)

JS> Semiotics forces us to be clear about the sources of signs and the
agents who are interpreting those signs in terms of other signs.  That
provides a more solid foundation than any attempt to define an
ontology that claims to be independent of sources and agents.    (0160)

When you read a story in a newspaper, anonymous sources are always
*less* credible than named sources.  The same is true of a scientific
report or an ontology.    (0161)

MW>: I quite agree. As it happens I have just been working on a
provenance data model for reference data for ISO 8000.
>
RS> the agent must discover its own reality in the flux of events
 and actions.  RSRS>> or take on trust what others say, in which case
a provenance trail plays a key role in our epistemology. <<RSRS    (0162)

MW> Are you saying here that there are actually multiple realities,
which are what agents discover, or that there is one reality, that
different agents have different views on based on what different
agents discover (know again)?    (0163)

JS> That's a good question.  I suggest that we avoid talking about
different realities.  It is better to say that each agent has  "its
own view of reality".    (0164)

MW: Yes. But is that what Ronald means?    (0165)

RSRS>> No! Each isolated agent has its own reality. The expression
"its own view of reality" presupposes the existence of just one
reality observable by whom, we are not vouched safe unless by God as
in Berkeley's opinion.  I find it safer to assume that each organism
constructs its own directly experienced reality (for a given species
these must be quite similar), while human communities, whose members
can discuss their experiences, will construct much richer shared
realities that will still differ between communities and over time for
the same community (a problem familiar to those interpreting the
historical record).  Any given belief about reality within one's own
or any other community may be the subject of disputes through which we
evolve and reconcile our models of reality.  For our survival and
comfort we need to make sure they work.  Physicists debate the
existence of gravity waves; European citizens who have experienced
wars between nations have difficulty with a war with an abstraction,
such as 'terror'.  <<RSRS    (0166)

MW> I notice you are talking about what agents know, not about what exists.    (0167)

JS> Nobody -- human, alien, or robotic -- can ever talk about what
exists apart from what it knows or believes about what exists. As I
said, omitting the sources can never improve credibility.    (0168)

MW:> Again, I am more concerned with the assumption that nothing
exists that I do not know about.    (0169)

JS> I'll pass over the discussion by Ronald and Matthew about terms
like 'actualism', 'conceptualism', 'data models', and Searle.    (0170)

RS> Based [on] 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.    (0171)

MW> This sounds like something based on our collective knowledge
again, tied perhaps to beliefs.    (0172)

JS> Yes, but that is the best test for what anyone can claim to know.
Since ontologies are limited to what people know, we can't have a
better criterion for an ontology than an extended period of critical
discourse and testing by disinterested experts.    (0173)

MW> But only as far as the agent is concerned, not necessarily in
reality, right?    (0174)

>>RSRS Matthew, you are invoking a reality independent of everyone.
I'm prepared to believe in it, along with other ontolog discussants,
but when it comes to engineering, I'm only prepared to take into
account things we can at least observe either directly (laboratory
equipment) or indirectly (atomic particles).  The isolated agent can
experience laboratory equipment directly and, after creating with
others a theory and experimental procedures, each agent can experience
the atomic particles via a chain of signs.  Every one of us starts as
a benighted agent groping in the dark before contributing our limited
direct experiences towards the construction of some apparently
objective model of reality that we all BELIEVE in.  <<RSRS    (0175)

JS> An ontology is a structured collection of signs intended by some
agent to represent some aspect of reality.  When you read a story in a
newspaper, a report by anonymous sources is always *less* credible
than one that states the sources.  The same is true of an ontology.    (0176)

MW> Yes, but if this is what Ronald was trying to say, I don't think
it was very clear.    (0177)

RSRS>> Bear with me!  I certainly do have difficulty explaining this
extreme actualism probably because it calls for a radical shift of
paradigm that depends on recognizing two levels of knowing: the basic
level of direct perception of things by active engagement with them
and the collaborative perception of a greater reality (the one we now
take for granted) that depends on the agents exchanging information
about their direct perceptions to arrive at a broadly acceptable
consensus about what exists. <<RSRS    (0178)

RS> Our kind of schema or ontology-2 can represent only what exists
here and now, as defined by the Agent and its activities.    (0179)

MW> I prefer realism and 4-dimensionalism, so I think I'll pass on this.    (0180)

JS> It doesn't matter what philosophical position you hold or what
kind of representation you prefer.  Any statement you make about
ontology will be limited by your sources of evidence and the
experiments you or people you trust have performed to test that
evidence.  A good methodology leads to a better correspondence to
reality than a bad one.  But you can't make claims about what exists
that are independent of your methodology.    (0181)

MW> That is not what Ronald was saying. He was saying that it is not
possible to represent what does not exist here and now.    (0182)

RSRS>> On the contrary!  I'm saying that we can only know about things
that do not exist here and now by representing them.  When one
constructs a schema (an ontology-2) based on this idea, it must
represent only things that are here and now, and for representing past
and future things we must use signs that stand for them.  Those signs
do exist here and now and form part of the individual agent's directly
knowable reality.  We are so fluent in our use of linguistic and other
signs that we clearly imagine ourselves located in an infinite,
eternal 4-D universe: a wonderful, useful image we have collectively
constructed. <<RSRS
>
MW> So when does the number two start and finish, or the colour green?    (0183)

JS> That's a fair question.  I think that Ronald went too far in
saying "every node on the schema should be accompanied by a list of
attributes...."    (0184)

>>RSRS When we introduced the start and finish attributes, it even
seemed to us that we might be going "too far".  But I'm now convinced
that it was the right decision, one that brings at least two benefits.
 Firstly, it compels one to accept the consequences of actualism: for
all practical purposes, reality consists only of those things that an
agent can perceive as affordances (invariant repertoires of behaviour,
such as partitioning a pair of objects, placing them in one order or
the other, etc), so, although I BELIEVE that numbers have existed and
will exist as long as the universe, numbers are directly perceived by
an agent only during the existence of the agent, thus we bracket her
perception of the number two between the agent's birth and death
That's quite a long time if that agent is Society. Agents able
semiologically to combine their experiences begin to develop socially
shared notions of two and other numbers, thus the existence of two as
a social construct lies between the start and finish of the community
(defined by its shared perceptual and other norms).  Secondly,
acknowledging that everything has a start and a finish imposes a
simplification that introduces the powerful notion of ontological
dependency, which leads to the canonical ontology-2 (the Semantic
Normal Form) and its many practical consequences.  The start and
finish of green raises no serious questions as we know that the
perception and labeling of colours is culturally dependent.  << RSRS    (0185)

JS> It would be better to say that every sign type should have a
traceable link to its definition.  Then the definition of 'two' would
say that it represents an abstract entity that satisfies Peano's
axioms and as an abstraction, it is outside of space and time.
Similarly, the definition of 'green' would specify that green as a
type is outside of space and time, but any instance of green occupies
a particular space-time region.    (0186)

John    (0187)

RSRS>> Our extreme kind of actualism does not allow one to use
sophisticated mathematics and logic as foundation stones because they
are  if you'll permit the metaphor  the pinnacles and finely
sculptured figures adorning a cathedral of knowledge.  Cathedrals
stand on deep beds of jagged stone and rubble hardcore. Our
foundations are the rough-and-ready affordances perceived by
individual agents; though crude and tangled together nothing else can
withstand the weight of a whole cultural edifice. Mathematical and
logical forms stand out along its skyline as pinnacles of cultural
achievement; among them Peano's axioms are just such a precise
abstract restatement of the ordinary affordances of numbers, and our
modern notions of time and space are also sophisticated cultural
achievements. However, in the actualist view, nothing stands outside
space and time: the root agent is the origin of those dimensions,
which it must perceive as affordances.  <<RSRS    (0188)

_______________________________________    (0189)



John Sowa to Matthew West -                      24 Feb 08    (0190)

Dear Matthew,    (0191)

Just one more comment:    (0192)

MW> It sounds to me that Ronald is assuming that things he doesn't
know about don't exist.    (0193)

JS> I agree his comment that "the agent must discover its own reality"
is misleading at best and wrong if taken literally.    (0194)

RSRS>> No!  I'm willing to be taken literally.  No one can supply to
any of us or to any other organism the direct experiences among which
each individual agent must discover the affordances (invariant
repertoires of behaviour) that form the reality it perceives.  We can
talk about all kinds of things that do not exist in this fundamental
way, including fictional things such as Harry Potter and the computer
HAL, as well as things we don't regard as fictional such as the hole
in the ozone layer and J K Rowling (and other people I have never met)
whose actual existences we establish by using signs in various,
carefully regulated ways such as scientific discourse as practiced by
trusted learned institutions or such as the population register and
the use of names of people in the publishing business (How do I know
that J K Rowling is not a pen name?). These issues are central to any
science of information systems.  We must add to that agenda the
question of where we get our beliefs in various ontology-2s (schemas).
 What empirical tests can be applied to them?  Who do we trust to
construct them? etc.  <<RSRS    (0195)

JS> But I had interpreted his use of the word as a synonym for the
word 'Lebenswelt' or 'Innenwelt".  (See the definitions below by John
Deely, following the work by Jakob von Uexkll.)    (0196)

JS> Instead of confusing people by using the word 'reality' in a
metaphorical sense.  I recommend the words 'Lebenswelt' or 'Innenwelt'
as useful technical terms.    (0197)

John
_________________________________    (0198)

                        From
http://web.archive.org/web/20060221134707/http://www.ut.ee/SOSE/deely.htm    (0199)

Umwelt (UW) -- "a vehicle for expressing especially the role of
biological heritage in the use and function of signs, rather than for
expressing what is species-specifically human in the use and function
of signs."  (Deely's definition)    (0200)

Lebenswelt (LW) -- "I have proposed that the term Lebenswelt should be
adopted to express an Umwelt which is species- specifically human,
retaining Umwelt to express the generic idea of an objective world
which is in every case species- pecific consequent upon biological
constitution."  (Deely)    (0201)

Innenwelt (IW) -- The inner world of human experience, thought, mental
models, feelings, wishes, hopes, fears, etc.    (0202)

RSRS >>  These terms are most interesting.  How do they relate to our
actualist notions of various realities?  We can expect that organisms
with the same biological heritage to construct for themselves very
similar realities; even though bats and dolphins cannot tell us how
they understand their worlds, we can reasonably assume that they must
have roughly the same Umwelt.  Each particular bat, dolphin or human
will have a particular inner world of perceived affordances differing
in detail from the generic, species-specific Umwelt of the bats,
dolphins and humans.  The specifically human Lebenswelt and Innenwelt
raise problems for me.  Are they aspects of our semiologically
constructed worlds?  The Lebenswelt fits with the socially constructed
reality with Society as the root agent, its apparent objective quality
influenced by its collective acceptance.  The Innenwelt also depends
on the use of signs with which a person constructs mental models with
associated attitudes ('I wish to too see Hamlet performed at the
National Theatre tomorrow evening.' or 'I fear that Northern Rock will
run out of funds by noon.' In the Lebenswelt we can model a particular
person's Innenwelt but it belongs to what we usually call the
subjective realm.    (0203)

_________________
Azamat Abdoullaev to RS  11 Mar 08    (0204)


 Dear Ronald,    (0205)

It is sad that your requests for professional opinions fell under an
argumentive silence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silence. Pity,
because your ideas are well formulated and clearly expressed even
regardless their conceptual inconsistencies. I'd like to read a more
systematic account to have better understanding. Now only some
principal questions and remarks.    (0206)

RSRS >>  I cannot complain of argumentative silence firstly because
Matthew West and John Sowa have challenged me most helpfully and
secondly because I started the discussion not realizing it would
become impossibly slow while I had no broadband connection to the
internet. I thank you for your encouragement but I am still waiting to
be shown my "conceptual inconsistencies" although I always assume they
must be lurking somewhere. The tough questions I have been thrown
arose from my inadequate exposition of a new ontology-1 and its
implications. These ideas took several decades to evolve, partly
because we ourselves were resistant to many of them. Conventional
realism is much more comfortable to live with than this wild notion of
actualism  that is until it becomes familiar and until its
extraordinary practical benefits become evident.  I am sure it is full
of wrinkles that will need to be ironed out but I'm equally sure that
it can make huge lifetime reductions in costs of IT systems and also
contribute to the understanding and design of organizations,
regardless of IT.  << RSRS    (0207)

AA> Actualism looks equivalent to presentism, declaring that only Now,
the present day exists. The world of today is its key subject matter.
So everything past is nonexistent, everything future is unreal.    (0208)

RSRS >> Yes!  Be careful because 'real' and 'reality' are vague terms.
 Individually we can be most confident only about the few things we
can know directly through our actions.  Along with you, I BELIEVE that
much more exists; I do so because I can communicate with you and
others and I have learned how to judge what to trust about additional
information about the world.  So I have accepted the shared picture of
the world as a larger reality to which I have access through the
mediation of other agents with whom I share language and many other
semiological skills.  Where I can, I seek direct experiences that will
test what I'm told; and I remain perennially skeptical.  Much of the
material world lies beyond the direct observational capacity of a
single person, so, as a Society, we have to construct that part of the
physical world in addition to constructing our social reality.    (0209)

We should also include the fictional realm of literature and art as
well as the mythical and religious realms as parts of reality (in
another sense of that vague word), these present another part of
reality that our emotional and socially sensitive Lebenswelt and
Innenwelt can experience directly. If actualism in our form forces one
to acknowledge that much of the physical reality is socially
constructed, I cannot  as a logical positivist would  dismiss the
fictional and mythical worlds as unreal, but I'm forced to acknowledge
that their roles are often as relevant as the physical facts in the
world of practical affairs or even more relevant, as when maintaining
relationships with other people.    (0210)

I am as keen as anyone to find ways of dealing with practical affairs
in a scientific, empirical, rigorous and even in a formal way, when
appropriate, and actualism appears to make that possible because it
compels one to relate reality to agents who are responsible for their
perceptions and how they use them.  Actualism in no way excludes other
ontology-1s (understandings of the nature of reality) it only requires
one to treat them all as beliefs that need to be tested and justified
as far as possible.  Part of our justification of actualism is that it
works very well in such practical domains as the design and
implementation of IT systems as well as supplying new insights into
organizational problems.    (0211)

The social sciences, especially economics, because of their tendency
to make physics its touchstone of scientific rectitude, they have
tried to exclude or grossly over simplify (eg: homo economicus) the
essential characteristics of human beings.  Actualism brings into the
core of any theory or model or ontology-2 the notion of responsibility
for adopting any norm or attitude.  Using a formalism based on
actualism, you can say whatever you want but you cannot do so without
stating (or leaving an empty, accusatory field) who is responsible for
deeming anything to start or finish its existence.  The little
illustration of a schema in my initial posting should be accompanied
by a list of attributes for each node, two of them being pointers to
these responsible authorities, such as the person who makes and
accepts the proposal of marriage and the community responsible for the
kind of marriage and also the priest or official whose words signal
the start of the marriage.  <<RSRS    (0212)

AA> Ontology states ''what there is exists'' or '' what exists there
is''. The modes of existence as reality, being, or the state of
existing are as diverse as: actuality, presence (ubiquity, immanency,
hereness, thereness, occurence), possibility (potential, chance),
eternity or timeless existence, spirituality, transcendence,
mentality, animation, subsistence, virtuality. Time comes from the
future while History comes from the past. So, no more physical
sciences, no more historical sciences. The infinite and the eternal
are also beyond of actualism, no more fundamental mathematics and real
ontology. Don't you think that it is a poor ontological choice when
ultimately real is only the present moment of an infinitely complex
world.    (0213)

RSRS >>  I hope that my comments in the discussion above have
persuaded you that, as actualists, we are all free to believe in
histories and plans, the Platonic realm of mathematics with its
infinite and eternal things.  Nothing is subtracted, but we do add an
obligation: we must consider how we make and justify these histories,
plans, theorems and theories, all of which exist as signs of many
kinds.  Just try to escape from you own here-and-now!  When you give
up trying, come back to the here-and-now, relax and enjoy the past and
future, the infinite and invisible in the shape of the books, pictures
and other signs that are right here and right now, standing for them
all, but do so with an enhanced critical, skeptical attitude.
Actualism only asks us to see the world as it is.  << RSRS    (0214)

Thanks,
Azamat Abdoullaev
EIS Encyclopedic Intelligent Systems Ltd
Cyprus, Russia    (0215)


______________________________    (0216)

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