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[ontolog-forum] Ontology Chemistry - foundation and method

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Christopher Spottiswoode" <cms@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2011 18:13:41 +0200
Message-id: <7AD481ABD241461795C6A6B6CDA3C87D@klaptop>
All,    (01)

This is the third post of my opening survey of some aspects of the
suggested Ontology Chemistry Grand Challenge as outlined at [0].  The
first two posts are archived at [1] and [2].  This is a continuation of
the Q&A of [2], which ended with my accepting the fact that Grand
Challenges will always appear as impossible leaps, apparently only for
foolhardy mental cases.  I had promised more reassuring perspectives.    (02)

Q6:  But how can you - and we! - possibly have well-based confidence
that the leap is in the right direction, its take-off is sure, and that
its spring can be remotely strong enough?    (03)

A:  A challenge indeed!  But your question leads to the meta-matter of
foundation and method, and there can be no simple answer when the
fundamental problem is infinite complexity.    (04)

Q7:  Hmmm, one has to agree that "foundation and method" in a
"complexity" context does seem rather important.  It is rather obviously
a challenge both wide and deep.  But it invites endless discussion
merely inhibiting take-off.  If a Grand Challenge is to sell, first to
organizers and funders then to potential entrants, can you escape your
own past habits and be brief?    (05)

A:  Well, let me try a new tack, somewhat short-cutting my past
wafflings.    (06)

The foundation is an awareness of the infinite complexity of the real
world as the given for the process of conceptualization and
ontology-formation.    (07)

The method is simply to take fuller cognizance of the usual patterns and
anti-patterns in that process.  So it's all very mainstream.  But we
_can_ enhance and project the lessons!  (Hence also the "Ride The
Mainstream!" slogan I've been brandishing since March 1990.)    (08)

Q8:  What?  All that is completely opaque Greek to any potential funder!    (09)

A:  Ho, it's even more Greek than you may think!  But let me start
closer to home, with the core anti-pattern that ontologists and other
wise folks know well enough already.    (010)

Here is some convenient touching on that core anti-pattern from
impeccable quarters and in a most appropriate context.[3]  Peter Yim is
responding to a comment by Nicola Guarino during the Ontology Summit
2010 Communique discussions:    (011)

>> [NG]  2. Ontology as a way of clarifying meaning -
>> "The secret to making a good movie is getting everyone to make the >>
>> same movie." So it is with enterprises and that's what ontologies
>> do.' - Jack Ring [[quoting Francis Ford Coppola]].
>> Again, this risks to be interpreted in a dangerous way, ...
> [ppy]  [[.]] ... I tend to agree with you, Nicola.    (012)

Both Nicola and Peter have clearly encountered the tendency to
figurative reincarnation amongst practicing ontologists of the Greek
mythic figure Procrustes (Look him up on Wikipedia).  Many proposed
enterprise ontologies, or community standards, for example, bear the
marks of Procrustean imposition (though it is true that
committee-deliberation constraints and deadlines are usually to blame
too).    (013)

So that core anti-pattern in its Classical Greek fancy-dress is an easy
reminder of the perennity and ubiquity of the syndrome.  True, it could
be glibly brushed-off as cliche and mainstream stuff once more, but it
is handy as easily-buttressing argument when emphasizing the wide and
ongoing relevance of any technique or device or approach that might help
us be better aware of the tortures of cognitive dissonance so that we
might forestall or at least reduce it..    (014)

Q9:  That's fine and dandy but it's not very earth-shattering material
for Grand Challenge promotion, is it?    (015)

A:  Funny you should put it that way.  As it happens, Procrustes was the
son of Poseidon, the god of the sea and of earthquakes, styled "the
Earthshaker".  And Poseidon was in his turn the inveterate avenger of
Polyphemus the cyclops, also Poseidon's son, whom Odysseus the wandering
hero in Homer's Odyssey blinds and foolishly gloats over.  And that
brings us to how The Odyssey is a marvellous and accessible narrative
depiction of the method I held forth above, involving those "patterns
and anti-patterns" in "the process of conceptualization and
ontology-formation".  We shall see how the whole classical connection
might after all be somewhat earth-shaking, and even provide some handy
assistance as we traverse the stormy seas of life.    (016)

Horrible complexity, here symbolized as Charybdis the whirlpool, is the
looming background threat in the very climax of Odysseus' own
first-person recounting of his life-threatening adventures.  Opposite
Charybdis, as echoed in the familiar saying, is Scylla the many-headed
monster, in this demythologization representing oversimplification in
the face of complexity, with implications much in common with those of
the Procrustes figure.    (017)

Q10:  Yes, we have noticed from your earlier "wafflings" (your word,
above) on this forum and elsewhere that the pattern of "steering between
Scylla and Charybdis" has long been a guiding theme for you.  But such a
cliche is not going to help anyone leap the Grand Canyon, is it?    (018)

A:  No, even though it does sound a useful note of caution before any
important leap.  So let me announce the most excitingly relevant further
interpretations of Homer, and of the immediately-following development
of Classical Greek philosophy, that have only occurred to me during the
past year.   (And as far as I have yet been able to see, Google can
produce no comparable "prior art" here.  There are many tantalizing
intimations of parts of the picture but none get very close to the whole
perspective.  Perhaps in any spare time you could find other prior or
new ways of connecting the same dots in the analysis of the earliest
Greek legacies?)    (019)

Interestingly, it was while I was trying to check my interpretation of
the Scylla and Charybdis episode, by more widely examining its context,
that I was bowled over by how a fuller interpretation was not only
confirmation of the aptness of my earlier and more limited reading, it
even brought a much greater elaboration of the connections between the
Homeric past and our supposedly post-modern present.  That has become an
important factor in the "immeasurably more positive" position I feel is
justified here (as I put it at the end of my previous post).    (020)

So I'm planning to introduce the extension of my interpretation in my
next post.  You will see how the further aspects are so illuminating,
and so solidly supportive of the theme of those "patterns and
anti-patterns" as encapsulating appropriate method, that you might even
want to consider naming the suggested competition "The Homeric Grand
Challenge".  ("The Homeric Grand Challenge of Ontology Chemistry", nice
multi-kerneled capsule that it is if you have such tastes, is I guess
too long and doubly confusing.)    (021)

It's almost incredible and certainly startling how the ancients had
managed to evolve such packaged wisdom still so applicable to our day
and age.  (So some usefully-universal ontology has to be abtractable
from that theme.  And indeed it is.)    (022)

We shall even draw consequences from our new vantage-point that much
modern philosophy would do well to consider.    (023)

But for now let me highlight just one of all those lodes we shall
exploit:    (024)

Though sadly only fragments of it have come down to us, we can fill in a
direct line from The Odyssey to the later and more classical issue of
Being and Becoming.  While Being is the subject-matter of Ontology,
Becoming is the realm of change, of process, of evolution ... and of
real-life Systems Engineering.  We shall see how Homer points almost
explicitly to the integration of those two sides of the same coin of our
handling of our given complexity.    (025)

Christopher.    (026)

[0] http://ontolog.cim3.net/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?OntologySummit/Suggestions
[1] http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/2011-10/msg00088.html
[2] http://ontolog.cim3.net/forum/ontolog-forum/2011-10/msg00122.html
[3] The extract is from here in Peter's post as now archived:
      [[ ]] pairs in my extract indicate my slight rearrangement of the
      original texts.    (027)

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