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Re: [ontolog-forum] ISO merged ontology effort "MCO"

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 2009 19:24:33 -0400
Message-id: <49E126B1.209@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Amanda,    (01)

I strongly agree with your concerns and suggestions.    (02)

AV> Too many proponents of this or that Upper Ontology appear to
 > be some combination of the following:  epistemologically naive;
 > confusing intuitive clarity with truth; unconcerned with application
 > (or at least, with the possibility of clearly determining how the
 > stuff folks need to reason about relates to their theoretical model);
 > confusing elegance with truth; confusing simplicity with truth...    (03)

I agree.    (04)

AV> ... it seems to me essential that models be in development wherever
 > people are driven to develop them.  The good decision points seem to
 > be where models meet, top and bottom, bottom and top...    (05)

That is also a point that Doug Lenat has been emphasizing for years.
He noted that the middle levels and the microtheories are the most
important for application development.  Bill Andersen, one of the
founders of Ontology Works, said that they had originally developed
a top-level ontology based on DOLCE.  But they have discarded it in
favor of domain-level microtheories for their work -- and a large
part of their current income is derived from "Semantic Federation
of Legacy Databases."  So much for the claim that an upper ontology
is necessary for integrating independently developed databases.    (06)

AV> The task or process of modeling all of the things, types, and
 > relations in some chunk of world is undoable. Applied ontology
 > projects that begin from this conception of their goal fail. They
 > produce less structured, complete, and coherent models than those
 > that begin in more focused way, if they produce anything at all.
 > In as many cases, they never get going or exhaust themselves in
 > a futile quest for completion.  After all, however small a chunk
 > of world you choose, you can always find more to model.  Ontology
 > is fractal.    (07)

I enthusiastically applaud that comment.  I like your concluding
point, which deserves a line by itself:    (08)

    Ontology is fractal.    (09)

AV> The ordinary process of modeling the things, types, and relations
 > in some chunk of world is given focus by a need....    (010)

I had been urging Lenat to work on applications since the early 1990s,
but he kept saying that research was their top priority, and they
didn't want to dilute their efforts.  But all their unfocused research
was of little value for serious applications.  Finally, they are now
working on applications, and they seem to be making some progress.    (011)

AV> Within a small-scale, well-defined domain, it's often the case
 > that little or no upper ontology is needed. The need comes when we
 > want to cross contexts, however defined. There are many of us working
 > projects with semantic interoperability at their core, now.  This
 > may be one reason a broader range of people are caring about upper
 > ontologies recently, and why some existing ones are being tried out
 > in new contexts.    (012)

I agree with the first two sentences, but I'd qualify the last one.
Many people are concerned about upper ontologies because they have
been brainwashed by "experts" who insist that they can't do anything
useful without one.    (013)

I wouldn't say that upper ontologies are useless, but for any
particular application, the domain-oriented terminologies are
far more important.  For integrating multiple domains, the
lexical resources with very few axioms, such as WordNet, have
been more useful than any of the formalized upper levels.    (014)

AV> In my experience, an upper ontology developed in one context
 > (application type or lack thereof, domain, people, etc), never fits
 > a new context nearly as well as one would have expected if it were
 > truly the sort of grounding, universal model its authors claim.
 > From an epistemological perspective, I find this immensely
 > unsurprising...  I find it nearly impossible to imagine how it
 > could be otherwise....    (015)

I strongly agree.    (016)

AV> ... the cost of allowing multiple representations (and letting
 > better and/or more comprehensive ontologies emerge) is not so high.
 > It's certainly lower than the cost of attempting to enforce any
 > existing Upper Ontology on everyone.  The modularity of ontology,
 > and the support for modularity in the existing representations and
 > technologies, already go a great distance toward enabling successful
 > implementations and interoperability without a single, unifying
 > theory at the top.    (017)

Yes indeed.    (018)

Summary:  Upper ontologies are still research projects, the lower
and mid level ontologies are the most useful for applications, and
the cost of trying to enforce an inadequate upper ontology can be
far greater than the cost of not having an upper ontology.    (019)

John    (020)

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