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Re: [ontolog-forum] RDF & RDFS (was... Is there something I missed?)

To: Matthew West <dr.matthew.west@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2009 12:49:55 -0600
Message-id: <AF0942C6-4CD0-427D-82AC-0531D07458C2@xxxxxxx>

On Feb 6, 2009, at 12:17 PM, Matthew West wrote:
Dear Pat,
PS - I'm not sure about where this idea of a mental model of an ontology
came from. I never mentioned it, and I certainly don't have an ontology in
my head. Of course the ontology has to be represented in some way - CL,
RDFS, OWL, UML, EXPRESS, arse-barcodes, who cares ?
What is this thing that is in common between al these different file formats? Where is it, if not in your head?  This is rather like the old chestnut of saying what exactly a program is, if you can write the 'same' program in several wildly different programming languages. For example, quicksort can be implemented in just about any programming language, and its still quicksort. In CS we have the useful distinction between algorithm and program, maybe we need a similar terminological distinction for ontologies. Any suggestions?
[MW] Ok. So is the quicksort program in your head the same as the quicksort program in my head (I even remember writing one once in Basic)? Talking about what is in someone’s head just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid. It is at best a loose way of talking.
Speaking as a card-carrying cognitive scientist, I have to disagree. We have to be taking intuitions seriously here. They are our prime, perhaps our only, source of guidance when writing formal theories. 
[MW] Now you are shifting ground. You  started by saying that what was in your head was what was in common with these different file formats. It is quite different to say that there is something in our heads that we are using.

Maybe this phrase has been unfortunate. By "in the head" I meant only that the commonality was identified using an intuition that the instances had something recognizably in common. For example, I can recognize a program as being an implementation of Quicksort because in have, in my head, an understanding of what constitutes Quicksort. Im quite happy to just say that Quicksort, the algorithm, is an abstraction, if you prefer that way of talking. We still need a way to refer to the 'abstract' version of an ontology, if we believe that such things exist: the thing that stands in the same relation to a number of formal ontologies that an 'abstract' algorithm stands in relation to any of its renderings as programs in a formal programming language. 


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