The point you miss is that the foundation ontology does not need to take
a stance on **any** theories that are contradictory, it merely needs to
provide the conceptual vocabulary with which to **describe** theories people
build. Alternative theories can be represented in extensions to the
foundation ontology (or in John Sowa's terms, as a 'lattice of theories').
In that way, the similarities and differences among theories can be
logically specified, and where there are consistent though syntactically
different representations, they can be translated into each other. No
ontology can make people agree on inconsistent models, but having the
logical vocabulary to properly describe the differences will allow people
(and machines) to recognize where the differences are, how the differences
affect practical issues, and whether there is data that can refute any of
the proposed models.
My confidence comes from 15 years of looking at all of the examples
(there aren't many) of "inconsistent" ontological representations, and
realizing that they fall into one of two different categories:
(1) different models.
Consider Newtonian and Einsteinian space.
For simplicity let us say per Newton "space is flat(Euclidian)"
And per Einstein "space is curved"
The foundation ontology has the meanings of 'space', 'flat(Euclidian)'
And the attribute relation 'is' encoded. It can describe the two
The two theories themselves are contained in a "physics" extension
Foundation ontology. More detail can be added as needed, using a
logically consistent representation of the basic concepts (i.e.
I believe that this is in essence similar to the way that Andreas Tolk
His approach to alternative models. I view the foundation ontology
set of concept representations that do *not* depend on models for
there are disputed alternatives, and I believe that that set of
ontology elements is large enough to serve as the conceptual
which all of the alternative models can be described. One point
that Andreas made,
if I interpret him properly, is that it often occurs that what
as different "models" are actually different *views* that are
consistent, but contain representations of different aspects (e.g.
of the same entity. In such cases, both *views* could be
a consistent ontology, because they can be translated into each
other, using the
basic concept representations. (01)
(2) terminology disputes
The function of a foundation ontology is not to force anyone to accept
Person's use of a particular term, but to create logical
specifications of terms
So that similarities and differences in term usage can be accurately
In one example of this problem, a very competent ontologist described
a session in which
there was a discussion of the meaning of being "inside" a structure;
is the paint on
the wall inside or is it part of the structure? When one views the
as a defining vocabulary, the answer is quite obvious - to say the
is "inside" is one meaning of "inside" (insideIncludingPaint), and if
wants to say the paint is part of the structure, and no part of the
structure is "inside",
then one creates a different relation (e.g. insideNotIncludingPaint or (02)
insideNotPartOfStructure)). If both relations are useful, then both
need to be included in one's ontology. They are not inconsistent
unless one insists on giving relations with two different meanings the
same label. (03)
. . .or combinations of both.
When looking over Pat Hayes' catalog of time theories, there were
"theories" that depended in different models of time, but they could
described using the same basic conceptual vocabulary. In the
one can have open intervals, closed intervals, and semi-open
are all different things, and confusion arises only if one tries to
different concepts the same label. Likewise, one may have two
functions called generically "concatenation"; to concatenate two
"glass intervals" and have the resulting interval continuous is a
Function from concatenating those two intervals and having the
Interval missing a point in the middle. No problem occurs as long as
One doesn't try to give the same label to two different functions. (04)
Both of these common cases are consistent with, and can benefit from,
using a logically consistent set of ontological representations of the
primitive concepts that can accurately describe the alternatives. (05)
Perhaps you can suggest a very specific case where there is a logical
that *cannot* be described using a single logically consistent set of
If you accept this description of the structure and function of a common
foundation ontology, there still remain two questions:
(1) how many basic concepts are there that can be agreed on, once one
That all **logically consistent** views (translatable into each
other) can be
Represented in the foundation ontology itself, or in some internally
(2) Will the inventory of logically consistent basic concepts in fact be
Enough to ontologically describe any data structure in any
If not, how frequently will the foundation ontology need
I don't know the answer to these questions, and they can only be answered
by a serious attempt to build such a foundation ontology, and test it
systematically for its adequacy as a conceptual defining vocabulary. I
believe that it is important to answer those questions, because if we can
identify a necessary and sufficient inventory of primitive concepts that
will give us a powerful tool to enable accurate semantic interoperability by
using the foundation ontology to translate information from one viewpoint to
Do you have no curiosity at all about whether such an inventory of
primitive concepts exist? Do you think that answering this question is
actually valueless? (09)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-
> bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Ed Barkmeyer
> Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 1:00 PM
> To: Patrick Cassidy
> Cc: '[ontolog-forum] '
> Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Next steps in using ontologies as
> Patrick Cassidy wrote:
> > Your gut skepticism is not surprising, but I tried hard to find
> > objective criticism of the proposal in your response, and couldn't.
> Interesting. I need to write more clearly. Have you looked at the
> collection of biological ontologies in Mark Musen's Bioportal? How
> different models of human anatomy did you see? Why is there not one
> consistent model? And what is the secret formula for removing that
> Ask Steve Hobbs about the effort to develop OWLTime, which is a very
> "small" fundamental ontology in your vast undertaking. They had to
> choose among three competing models of time, after giving up on
> reconciling them. Pat Hayes' paper documents the fundamentally
> different axiomatic approaches. According to you, a well-funded
> community of great minds will find one model they can all agree on.
> What makes you think so?
> My gut skepticism is based on published experience. My apologies for
> failing to mention more than the biological work and the conflicting
> standard upper ontologies. With a bit of effort, I can find a few
> others. But my mathematical training tells me one counterexample
> disproves a theorem.
> What evidence is your unbridled optimism based on?
> Edward J. Barkmeyer Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
> National Institute of Standards & Technology
> Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
> 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263 Tel: +1 301-975-3528
> Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263 FAX: +1 301-975-4694
> "The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
> and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."
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