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

To: "A. J. Vizedom" <ajvizedom@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 17:10:49 -0400
Message-id: <49E3AA59.9000503@xxxxxxxx>
Amanda,    (01)

First, let me say that your email is a "keeper".  I find myself agreeing 
with almost all of it.  In brief:
  - We need to spend our time building real ontologies that solve real 
  - We can use upper ontology concept sets where they help in supporting 
and elucidating the models we make.  (We tend to re-create these concept 
sets on our own when we need them; better is to reuse them.)
  - We need to have good means of access to the concept sets in proposed 
upper ontologies, so that we can reuse them.
  - In this way we can learn what upper ontologies and concept sets are 
most useful, and perhaps to what purposes, and upper ontologies that are 
useful will "emerge".    (02)

I hope I got these tenets right.  I would naively identify these as the 
properties of a social system.    (03)

In the course of your email, you mentioned two other things that I think 
are important, but more in the background:    (04)

> 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.     (05)

Yes, but even small domains reuse certain patterns: part and grouping 
relations, temporal relations, and the list you give below: Event and 
Process, Individual and Organization, Conceptual and Physical, and 
Information.  These are areas in which you need reference models to 
support automated reasoning about the domain, and the domain experts 
(SMEs) take some such model as given.  So you don't want to burden the 
SME with the model (unless you can't figure out which one s/he is 
using), but you still need one.    (06)

> When a well-defined, context-specific ontology project occurs with
> cross-domain interoperability in mind, part of the task becomes the
> inclusion and/or connection with of defining concepts and relations that
> possible non-domain users would recognize.  Middle-to-upper ontology
> questions come in quickly here, and naturally.     (07)

Yes.    (08)

> SMEs understand and can
> supply clarifying relations to such cross-domain concepts as  Event,
> Process, Place, Time, Individual, Organization, Information, Physical
> thing.    (09)

No.  They understand, but they are often unable to verbalize the 
concepts they have.  And there are critical variations.  I believe this 
is only true in the light of what follows:    (010)

>  Supporting ontologists can ask the questions to identify what
> well-defined concept a SME is invoking.  Ontologists are better able to ask
> the right questions and specifiy the right concepts because an experienced
> applied ontologist is a sme about these mid-to-upper concepts. The
> ontologist is therefore able to *ask the right questions*: the questions
> that distinguish the upper categories from each other, define the upper
> relations.    (011)

Yes!, but there is more to this.  The ability to deal with SMEs and "ask 
the right questions" is a skill, and that skill is different from the 
ability to construct a cohesive ontology from the answers.  I don't know 
how to teach this skill. I have worked with other knowledge engineers, 
some of whom have it and some of whom don't, and there doesn't seem to 
be a correlation between the ability to extract the information and the 
ability to use it well in designing ontologies.  And those who are weak 
in this area invariably insist on imposing some predefined scheme on the 
conversation with the domain expert, because they can't understand 
his/her model as s/he expresses it.  So some of the "imposition from on 
high" that one sees is, and may be intended as, a crutch for the 
knowledge engineer who is handicapped in this way.    (012)

(This may be one of those things you had to learn as a baby, dealing 
more with language than with things, so you learn by listening more than 
by doing, or vice versa on both accounts.)    (013)

Amanda later takes up this theme, but with a different instrument:    (014)

>  It does
> mean a certain tolerance of complexity, of pockets of unknownness. It does
> mean that we may ourselves not be able to see how all the different
> perspectives fit together; that's a kind of unknownness that some people
> find intolerable or equate with relativism (in the sense that is opposed to
> realism).     (015)

It is important to realize that a difference in viewpoint can produce an 
importantly different "factorization of the problem space".  If you look 
at an image of the earth in non-visible light spectra, you may not 
recognize any element, even though the thing itself is the same.  Or, 
you may recognize some elements roughly, but not in fine, and not in 
relationship to others.  This kind of thing regularly occurs in the 
perspectives of different SMEs on the same business activity.  Amanda 
hints that this is not "relativism", and she is quite right.  This is 
"reality" in someone's understanding, but that understanding is 
"correct" and may be intrinsic in the thing/situation and is shared by 
other SMEs who have the same background or the same concerns.    (016)

And in many of these situations, we cannot build a single model of the 
elephant that meets the needs of all the viewpoints.  It is not that the 
ear is the fan and the body is the wall; it is that the body is a wall 
and is soft and permeable and generates heat and moves, and so does the 
ear, but it is not a wall. ;-)    (017)

And last, but not least, the Amanda Vizedom aphorism:
> Ontology is fractal.    (018)

I have to think about that. :-)    (019)

-Ed    (020)

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    (021)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (022)

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