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Re: [ontolog-forum] Next steps in using ontologies as standards

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2009 02:34:57 -0500
Message-id: <49757EA1.7030301@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat,    (01)

I know *exactly* what you are trying to do, and your comments
show that you haven't seriously examined the definitions in
Longman's dictionary, which you keep citing as a paradigm.    (02)

PC> It is clear that you have completely misinterpreted the
 > proposal I have been making.    (03)

I'll summarize your proposal:    (04)

  1. Find a set of primitive concepts that are common to all
     natural languages.  These would be similar to the defining
     vocabulary of Longman's dictionary for students who are
     learning English as a second language.    (05)

  2. Use those primitives to define a much larger vocabulary of
     terms and thereby relate them by means of those primitives.    (06)

This idea is not bad for writing a dictionary that is intended
to be used by students who *already* learned the concepts in
their native country and just need to learn the English words
for them.  Just look at a typical definition:    (07)

   energy.  The power which does work and drives machines:
      atomic/electrical energy | the energy of the sun.    (08)

If the students had already learned the concept, this kind
of definition would enable them to relate the English word
'energy' to their previous knowledge.  But for an ontology,
this definition is worthless.  In physics, the words 'energy',
'work', and 'power' express three different, but related
concepts that are defined by different formulas.  For an
ontology, the above definition would be worse than useless
-- because it happens to be false.  Almost every definition
in that dictionary is either false or hopelessly vague.    (09)

PC> The whole point of creating an FO by a large consortium
 > is precisely to be certain that the views representing many
 > different interests and ways to express knowledge are taken
 > into account...    (010)

A consortium or committee is good for evaluating proposals,
but they can't solve the unsolvable.  Just look at the way
the Newtonian concepts of space, time, mass, and energy
evolved in the progression to relativity and quantum mechanics.    (011)

Those words are used in all three theories (and many other
variations).  But those words are *not* defined in terms of
primitives.  They are related to one another by various
equations.  Furthermore, the equations in the three theories
are not only different; they are contradictory.  There is
nothing that remotely resembles defining primitives.    (012)

That observation is true for every formal ontology.  There
are no primitives.  There are just equations (or other
kinds of formulas) that relate the terms.  The words in
one theory and its successors are frequently the same
or similar.  But the equations that relate them are
very different.    (013)

There's a fundamental reason why it's impossible to use any
subset of natural language vocabulary as ontological primitives:
NL words are intended to be used in a open-ended number of ways,
but ontological terms are absolutely precise within the scope
of a particular theory.    (014)

That distinction creates an inherent conflict:    (015)

  1. There are common ideas expressed in the basic vocabularies
     of many different languages, as many people such as Len Talmy
     and Anna Wierzbicka have shown.  But the corresponding words
     are vague, with many different *microsenses* that vary from
     one "language game" to another.    (016)

  2. Formal ontologies and scientific theories require sharply
     defined terms that denote values that can be measured
     precisely.  Those terms are defined only within a formal
     theory (or language game), and any paraphrase in the words
     of #1 is at best a vague approximation.    (017)

The Longman's defining terms (or anything similar, such as
Wierzbicka's primitives) are inherently vague.  They cannot
be used to define ontological terms that must have a precise,
formally defined sense.    (018)

John    (019)

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