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Re: [ontolog-forum] Looking forward at the past

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "RK Stamper" <stamper.measur@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2008 17:40:00 +0100
Message-id: <6f4c5f960810060940k29e014a4rc89a9e8138d078e5@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Dear Pat,


Yes, I do have an ontology that addresses the problems I raise.  Indeed it also leads to some interesting results in computing terms.


At its foundation is an ontology in the metaphysical sense, not in the Ontolog sense.  The core ideas will appear quite alien to the Ontolog community.  However, I shall try to explain but you must allow for the impossibility of my anticipating all the objections you might raise.


You and I may believe in an objective reality. But I emphasise that these are our separate beliefs.  Each of us can have direct knowledge of only the tiny fragment of reality existing in the individual's here and now. Using signs (language, gestures, pictures etc.) that stand for the things known directly, we can extend our knowledge to embrace distant, past and future things.  Using signs is essentially social.


Still confined to our individual here and nows, we each construct images of a 4-D world that we confidently treat as the one objective reality.  While "bounded in a nutshell" like Hamlet, each of us counts himself "a king of infinite space".  This amazing result depends upon our use of signs to form a society and share a composite view of the world. 


By taking our well-founded belief in an objective reality for granted, we fail to address the fundamental problem of how we have attained the wonderful result that Hamlet drew to our attention. Solipsism, despite its bad press, can help us find that explanation. 


James Gibson's Theory of Affordances provides an appropriate solipsistic account of direct knowledge.  An organism perceives, not by recognising a given, ready-made, objective reality placed in the window of its senses, but by discovering, through direct action and experience, what repertoires of behaviour the world affords it. 


ALL objects of perception are invariant repertoires of behaviour.


Directly perceived affordances are few compared with those we learn through indirect perceptions based on our collective, shared experiences.  These indirect perceptions depend on what we say to each other and the records and memories we keep.  All those linguistic and other signs also exist only in the present but they allow us to picture the past and future.


Ontologically speaking (metaphysical sense) reality consists of the affordances we recognise both individually and collectively.


You will be wondering where this might take us technically, formally or computationally.  I shall not disappoint you.


Building on Gibson's work, we see that all knowledge of the world depends a) on an agent to do the knowing and b) the agent's behaviour that embodies the invariants we treat as perceived things.  This suggests a syntax:

            agent affordance

            John upright

By realising or making available a repertoire of behaviour, the agent modifies itself, so that recursively we can say:

            (agent affordance) affordance

            (John upright) jump

Some affordances depend for their existence on two, coexisting antecedent affordances:

            (agent (affordance while affordance) ) affordance

            (John (paper while pencil)) draw

When we move from direct knowledge to knowledge shared by Society through the use of information, we need to treat Society as the root agent, for example:

            Society (person while person) marriage

            Society (John while Mary) marriage

But suppose they are not married; someone, perhaps John, can use a sign that stands for the marriage when he wants to propose:

Society (John, "(John, Mary) marriage" propose                 

where the quotes indicate that we are talking about a sign that stands for a marriage that does not yet exist, a sign that John employs to propose. 

Thus one builds a schema of ontological dependencies.  Imagine it as a semi-lattice rooted in the node, Society.  Each node has associated with it a tuple of intrinsic properties: identity, the universal of which it is a particular, one or a max. of two ontological antecedents, a start, a finish and authorities for the start and the finish. 


Those schemas have an empirical canonical form that leads to stability in any system based on them.  The data organised under such schemas can be manipulated using a very powerful, easily understood, 4GL that employs temporal operators. 


The Semantic Normal Form (the canonical schema) obeys a few strict rules, especially that for an affordance to exist all its ontological antecedents must coexist.  The SNF makes the 4GL possible.  While the SNF is linguistically neutral as it only deals with perceptions, each node / affordance in the schema can be labelled in whatever languages you want to work with.  The SNF contains the kernel of the meanings of those labels to which cultural variations or refinements of meaning may be provided by the start and finish authorities.


For requirements engineering and also for computing, the benefits are huge but one must swallow the ontology (metaphysical) on which the theory is based and learn how to construct empirically based schemas of ontological dependencies – not so easy but worth the effort.


Sorry to inflict such a long mail on you.





On Fri, Oct 3, 2008 at 4:59 PM, Patrick Cassidy <pat@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:


   You raise interesting issues.  Do you have an ontology or otherwise based computational system that demonstrates how you would address them?  Or can you point to one?




Patrick Cassidy



cell: 908-565-4053



From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of RK Stamper
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 10:29 AM
To: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Looking forward at the past



>       it makes some kind of sense that the past can be
> "seen" while the future is still not available for viewing.

                                                      -    Jeff Schiffel  following John Sowa

or, indeed, the other way round, provided that one is not taken in by

either metaphor.


In fact, speaking personally, I can see neither the past nor the future either before me or behind me.  The best I can do is to construct mental images of them that do exist now.  Of course, I make use of records and plans that are external signs provided that they also exist here and now.


Ontologically speaking (metaphysical sense), by riding on either metaphor, we take unnecessary risks believing in the existence of things past and future. Worse still, as a community interested in information and its uses, these metaphors deflect our attention from the challenge of the fundamental question: how do we use pictures, language and other signs to construct the past,  the future and distant things so that we can use them in the only world available to us, the here-and-now.   


Ontologically speaking (semantic web sense) I feel uncomfortable with all those formal ontologies that evade that fundamental question. Most of all I recoil from the unjustifiable faith that some place in possible worlds. Mental images composed of formal models in some platonic realm simply reproduces these metaphors of 'seeing' the past and future but in a more sophisticated shape.


Surely, any ontology (in either sense) cannot fully meet the needs of information systems engineering until it takes account of the people in whose present minds past and future necessarily reside, and how they arrive at their beliefs and place any trust in them.


Ronald Stamper



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