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Re: [ontolog-forum] Relating and Reconciling Ontologies

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2011 10:02:11 -0400
Message-id: <4DB42D63.8010004@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Mike, Cory, David, Azamat, and Patrick,    (01)

To get some perspective on the way formal ontologies are likely
to evolve, I suggest that we look at the way the terminology
and theories of physics and chemistry have evolved.    (02)

Some of the basic terms have been around for centuries: atom, force,
energy, momentum, mass, molecule.  In that list, the word 'molecule'
is the newest one -- it was first cited in English in 1678.  Many
important, but less basic terms were introduced by the alchemists
over the centuries.    (03)

The 17th century was the time when physics was put on a sound
footing by Galileo and Newton.  The 18th century was the time
of transition from alchemy to chemistry.    (04)

By the end of the 19th century,  both subjects settled down into
what we today call "common sense".  But that sense is only common
to those who studied chemistry and physics in high school or college.
Most people haven't yet reached the stage of Galileo.    (05)

Then the 20th century kept the same words but revolutionized
their formal definitions with relativity, quantum mechanics,
quantum electrodynamics, and new controversies about strings,
membranes, multiverses, etc.  But even today, the introductory
courses in high school and university begin with 19th century
theories of physics and chemistry.    (06)

Of all the major ontologies that have been proposed so far, only
two go beyond late 19th century science:  those are Whitehead's
process ontology, which takes relativity and quantum mechanics
seriously, and Peirce's semiotics, which is a metalevel system
that treats all object-level theories as fallible.    (07)

Points to consider:  Terminology is much more stable than any formal
definitions or theories.  Factual observations made in different
centuries remain valid, and they may be stated in the same terms.
But scientists who make observations and other scientists who use
them may have radically different definitions of the terms and
the theories that explain the observations.    (08)

> There's an important question in there I think: do ontologies
> show a truth or a view?
> If we take the view that ontologies show a view of the truth,
> with the truth itself being "out there" in some Platonic way,
> then reconciling different ontologies becomes a matter of
> reconciling different views of the (same) truth.    (09)

That is a good way to state the point:  a fact that was discovered
and stated in the terms of one theory can remain true when the terms
are redefined in a theory that the person who discovered the fact
had never dreamed of.  Reality is an invariant across different
theories or ontologies.  (By the way, I use the term 'theory' as
a generic that includes 'ontology' as a special case.)    (010)

> ... consider a "multi hub" approach where we attempt to minimize
> the number of reference models but accept that there may be more than
> one, even for a single domain...
> I'm not suggesting anything new - this is also along the same lines as
> John's "lattice of theories".  So then, let's just start communicating
> such an approach and doing things that way instead of arguing for the
> extremes (total anarchy or draconian control).    (011)

Yes, a multi-hub approach would create a tree.  Such a tree could be
a finite subset of the potentially infinite lattice.    (012)

> I've been using tags/keywords in a CRM for a long time.  They're
> wonderful.  But so far I've never seen or heard of any mechanism to
> actually manage them.  The assumption that they're managed by the
> crowd is nonsense.    (013)

Yes.  A crowd can be a good source of ideas, but a crowd has no
management or board of directors.    (014)

> The notion of a federal union proved its viability in politics as a federal
> form of government, where power is divided between a central authority and
> regional authorities...    (015)

I prefer to use the analogy with science.  Governments and businesses
are sources of funding for science, but nobody can predict where the
next breakthrough will come from.  It could come from a clerk in
a patent office like Einstein or laboratory assistant like Faraday,
who had no university training.    (016)

The results of science, as published in a textbook, look very well
structured and orderly.  But the process of discovery is messy and
unstructured.  It isn't a crowd, but it isn't a disciplined business.
It's like a community where different people find a niche where they
can follow their own insights without any central authority.    (017)

> Ontologies, save you the time of creating your own map of some domain,
> but at the expense of using its view of a domain. Which may or may not
> be a close enough fit of your view to be useful. But there is no denying
> they have been useful in a number of contexts. My only reservation is
> the notion that any of them represent some sort of "truth" rather than a
> "view" of a domain. If the latter, then we should be able to have
> different "views" of the same domain, mapped to each other.    (018)

I agree.  I would consider topic maps to be a useful tool for relating
the terms of a terminology.  And as I said above, the terms tend to be
more stable than the theories (or ontologies) that use those terms.    (019)

In summary, we need tools for both terminology management and
ontology management.  We also need a framework that can organize,
manage, and relate both terminologies and ontologies.  But we don't
need a central authority that dictates or prohibits what can be done.    (020)

John    (021)

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