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Re: [ontolog-forum] Relating and Reconciling Ontologies

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2011 15:43:53 -0400
Message-id: <4DB1DA79.4040403@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ali,    (01)

> Questioning the wisdom of a single, unique, mandated ontology is not the
> same as arguing for a set of ontologies growing "without limit" - this
> is simply a false choice.    (02)

I agree.  I have no quarrel with an agreement to mandate specific
ontologies for specific purposes.  That is the whole point of the
microtheory organization of Cyc.    (03)

Cyc does have an upper level ontology, but Lenat said that the
upper level is not as important as the middle and lower levels.
I'm not sure what he means by that in practice, but I feel it is
an important step away from mandating a universal upper level.    (04)

And when I talk about growing without limit, I would consider the
major growth to be in the lower level microtheories.  I would not
expect a huge increase in the number of upper levels.    (05)

> If there are groups operating within a field with irreconcilable
> differences in their core ontologies, do we really want to go down
> the route of mandating that one is necessarily privileged over the other?    (06)

Of course not.  The example I give is physics.  Physicists agree that
Newtonian mechanics has been superseded by relativity and quantum
mechanics.  But they also know that for human-scale objects moving
at reasonable speeds on earth, Newtonian mechanics generates the
same results (within the accuracy of the measuring instruments).    (07)

Yet even for a single system, such as an automobile, there are
subsystems for which different choices of ontology are important:
fuel combustion inside the engine, electrons flowing inside the
computer that controls the engine, laser-based devices for
measuring speed and distance, etc.    (08)

Engineers are very good at making independently designed systems
work together, even when they are based on different principles.
Mother Nature is even more skillful:  note that the healthiest
environments are the ones with the greatest diversity.    (09)

> Seriously, pick any field of interest. Find and count the core
> research streams. Are they limitless?    (010)

Basic design principle:  There are only three numbers that require
little or no justification -- zero, one, and infinity.  Any number
greater than 1 and less than infinity must be justified.    (011)

Example:  Remember when Bill Gates said that nobody would ever
need more than 640K bytes for the PC?  Every limit that anybody
imposed became painfully small within just a few years.    (012)

> So, I would suggest that a more accurate choice is between a single,
> mandated ontology ...  vs a limited handful that captures (at least,
> immediately) irreconcilable disagreements within "unsettled" fields.    (013)

Major objections have been raised against every upper level that
anybody has proposed from Aristotle to the present.  There is no
prospect of ever getting universal agreement on the first option.    (014)

The second option is more promising, but the only fields that
are truly "settled" are the ones that are obsolete.  IBM used
the euphemism "functionally stabilized" for any product that
they had discontinued.  My recommendation is:    (015)

  1. Adopt some version of the second option with a "practical"
     limit that has an escape bit (i.e., like the Unicode option
     that allows extensions from 1 byte to 2 bytes to 4 bytes...).    (016)

  2. Embed that practical limit within a framework for which the
     only theoretical limit is infinity, but the reasonable
     practical limit grows with the technology.    (017)

> the introduction of a novel conflicting core ontology should have
> a high cost.    (018)

That is like saying that any scientist who comes up with a new
theory must pay a large fee to get published.  A much better option
is freedom of speech, but nobody is required to listen.  That's
what we have today:  anybody can design a new operating system,
programming language, or whatever.  But in practice, the majority
of people prefer to stick with their old familiar systems --
unless the new one is spectacularly better.    (019)

> ... we should be aware of the problems in the db's and sware systems
> of the past. However, we are embarking with the explicit aim of
> making our ontologies interoperable and reusable.    (020)

*Every* major computer system since the 1960s was designed with
the goal of being interoperable and reusable with all other
systems, especially legacy systems.  Those that weren't died.    (021)

The original WWW worked very well with legacy systems.  But the
Semantic Web was designed as a total break with the past.  That is
why the growth of the SW has been glacially slow compared to the
growth of the WWW.  The theme of my iss.pdf talk is the need for
a more flexible and extensible foundation for Semantic Systems:    (022)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/iss.pdf    (023)

John    (024)

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