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Re: [ontac-forum] Problems of ontology

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ken Ewell <mitioke@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 20 May 2006 16:36:19 -0400
Message-id: <446F7DC3.3080104@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
John F. Sowa wrote:    (01)

> Eric, Azamat, Matthew, Leo, Chuck, Cathy, and Pat,
> I believe that the issues we have been debating can be
> clarified by drawing a fundamental distinction:    (02)

John, I know you did not address me in the note and I hope you and the 
others do not mind if I add a short comment.  It seems to me that the 
distinctions that matter are always fundamental in nature.    (03)

>  - Vagueness:  Lexicons and terminologies expressed in
>    natural languages, such as WordNet and the various
>    dictionaries designed for human consumption are vague.
>    It is possible for humans to reach agreement on such
>    matters *because* they are sufficiently vague that
>    different people can adapt the interpretations of the
>    same words in different ways in different situations.
>  - Precision:  Formal logics and computer programs must
>    be precise in order to support long chains of inference.
>    But for that reason, they are fragile and easily falsified.
>    Falsifiability, as Popper pointed out, is important in
>    science, because it enables clear predictions that can
>    be tested.  But when you're crossing a bridge, you don't
>    want the theory on which it is based to be falsified.
>    That is why most bridges are "overdesigned" to accommodate
>    details that were not anticipated in the requirements.    (04)

I surely agree with what is being said about vagueness and precision in 
respect to "definition" -- logical or otherwise.  I have all too 
reluctantly gathered that the general direction of the working group is 
to attempt to define everything under the rubric of knowledge, science 
and the sun.    (05)

I learned from my own lengthy experience with automatic indexing 
systems, concept databases and the lexical accounts of several thousand 
root concepts found in most languages, that it is usually sufficient to 
look up definitions as needed. We determined to keep them short and 
distinctive in the architecture of our methods and measures.    (06)

My position is that we can readily map the objects and relations between 
any  obviously coexisting representational states-- that of a vague and 
a precise means of representing a thing that each purports to represent 
such a thing can be unified if they do indeed represent the same thing. 
If found they do not, its either a failure of perception or recognition, 
a mistake or deceit. That's where semantics matters most.    (07)

> On this matter, I'll repeat Peirce's comment (CP 4.237):
>    It is easy to speak with precision upon a general theme.
>    Only, one must commonly surrender all ambition to be certain.
>    It is equally easy to be certain.  One has only to be
>    sufficiently vague.
>    It is not so difficult to be pretty precise and fairly
>    certain at once about a very narrow subject.
I want to comment though, that I always thought developing a capacity 
(personal or computational) to *distinguish* significance (or meaning) 
from a glut of vagueness and mostly useless noise was the real goal or 
objective of an ontology (a meta-kind of scientific study, imo). I 
wonder for what more significant reason would one be motivated to 
undertake the arduous task to separate out all the objects and entities 
in their world-- other than to distinguish one from another with 
precision and refer to them with certainty --to clarify, explain, 
predict and yes... ultimately ... to define.    (08)

Consequently, if we are talking about making *distinctions* I think it's 
possible, even quite common, to have all the detail one needs to 
distinguish one thing from another in a precise and generally reliable 
way, irrespective of whether the subject is narrow or general.   I have 
specific examples and computational performance data to substantiate 
this claim if needed.    (09)

This does not contradict the fact that many people are unable to 
recognize true value and decide for a good rather than a bad deal, for 
example.  The more comprehensive and precise this model of distinction, 
the more certainty we gain, and the more power we have to clarify, 
explain, define, reason and predict and conclude.     (010)

-Ken Ewell    (011)

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