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Re: [ontac-forum] What should be in an upper-level ontology

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 22 May 2006 02:05:58 -0400
Message-id: <447154C6.8020100@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Azamat,    (01)

You missed the central point:  The option of being
vague is a strength, not a defect of natural language.
Without the ability to be vague, it would be impossible
to begin any kind of planning or negotiation in which
the final result is not known in advance.    (02)

Since it cannot be vague, logic is good for stating the
final result.  But it cannot be used in the planning stage
that leads up to that result.  That is the point I was
trying to get a across in the following talk:    (03)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/cmapping.pdf    (04)

Furthermore, a vague natural language can often summarize
succinctly points that would require pages and pages to
state in logic.    (05)

For example, if I had to use logic to state the previous
note, it would have been impossible to say everything in
one page.  For the record, I repeat that summary below.
As an exercise, I suggest that you try to express the same
information as clearly and succinctly in any version of logic.    (06)

Natural languages can cover the full range of communication
from the vaguest beginnings to the most precisely resolved
conclusion.  The greatest challenge is to implement computer
systems with similar ability.    (07)

___________________________________________________________    (08)

These criteria imply that the upper levels should have very
few axioms.  Following are some kinds of axioms that should
*not* be in the upper levels:    (09)

  1. Any axioms that make empirical claims that might be
     falsified by future experiments or any claims that are
     known to be false in detail, but which may be useful
     approximations for many purposes.  For example, the upper
     levels should be neutral with respect to a Newtonian view
     vs. any more modern theory of physics because for many
     practical purposes a Newtonian description is accurate
     within the granularity of the usual measuring instruments.    (010)

  2. Any axioms that require, prefer, or rule out one kind of
     representation over another, such as a four dimensional
     vs. a (3+1) dimensional description of space and time.    (011)

  3. Any axioms that rule out exceptional cases that may be rare,
     but possible.  For example, it should not say that a tiger
     has four legs, because some tigers might be born with more
     than four and some might lose a leg.  In fact, there might
     be quadriplegic tigers that get around in some prosthetic
     device.    (012)

  4. Any axioms that imply a vase and the clay it consists of
     are or are not identical, because many respectable theories
     make different claims in that regard.  They should also
     avoid all claims about whether a child is identical or not
     identical to the adult at some later stage of life -- because
     some theories say yes, others say no, and other treat the
     question as context-dependent (i.e., identical for inheritance
     issues, but not identical for employment).  In fact, the
     entire issue of identity claims is so full of conflicting
     philosophical positions that the upper levels should *not*
     make any identity claims of any kind.    (013)

  5. Any axioms that imply physical objects and processes are
     disjoint.  Some theories say they must be disjoint, others
     say they may overlap, and others say that object and process
     descriptions are complementary ways of describing the same
     phenomena.    (014)

  6. Any axioms about artifacts that may be falsified by developments
     in technology.  For example, the attached phone.gif example is
     taken from a dictionary published in 1969, but very few of the
     features depicted are common in the telephones manufactured
     today.  However, the definition in that dictionary is still
     true:  "an instrument for reproducing sounds at a distance."    (015)

  7. Any axioms that distinguish essential properties from accidental
     properties.  This issue has been debated since the time of Plato
     and Aristotle.  The traditional definition of Human is Rational
     Animal, and the ability to laugh was considered an accidental
     property.  However, many philosophers have claimed that the
     ability to laugh is just as characteristic of humans and more
     easily defined than the ability to reason.  Today, genes are
     considered more fundamental to what is "essential", but that
     makes it harder to distinguish humans from chimps and bonobos.
     A truly neutral upper level should avoid any commitment to what
     is considered essential vs. what is considered accidental.    (016)

When you start to analyze the issue, the number of possible conflicts
becomes so large, that the safest position with regard to any axiom
in the upper levels is very short:  When in doubt, leave it out.    (017)

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