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Re: How does RDF/OWL formalism relate to meanings?

From: Graham Klyne <GK@ninebynine.org>
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004 12:04:21 +0100
Message-Id: <>
To: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: public-sw-meaning@w3c.org


Being a "a Bear of Very Little Brain", I often find myself trying to reduce 
complex ideas to simple terms.  Reading with interest your recent comments 
on naming and reference, it seems to me that:

(1) "meaning" is something (arbitrary thing?) that is not understood by 
automata, but some representation of meaning may be transferred by automata 
if subjected to only meaning-preserving transformations.

(2) formal semantics provides us with tools to describe some representation 
transformations under which the meaning is preserved (according to the 
representation used).

(3) "naming" is a social process, whereby labels are associated with (or 
"identify") things [a].  All known systems of naming are imprecise.

(4) "denotation" (and "interpretation") are formal semantic concepts that 
are used in the description of meaning-preserving transformations for a 
representation, which have no formal link with any system of naming.  That 
is, naming is completely opaque as far as formal semantics are 
concerned.  This is why formal semantics work:  by showing some 
transformation preserves meaning for any possible system of naming, then it 
must preserve meaning for any given system of naming.

(5) On the web, when the labels used are (a subset of URIs known as) URLs 
[b] there is a convention for naming based partly on the technical 
properties of retrieval of representations of web resources.  (While some 
attempt is being made to improve the situation, the exact operation of this 
convention does not have a complete rigorous definition, and maybe never will.)

(6) Currently, there are no widely accepted technical naming mechanisms 
associated with labels that are not URLs.  The only mechanisms are social, 
in that they rely on out-of-band agreements between people.


[a] I use the term "thing" very broadly, in the sense of anything that can 
be contemplated by a consensual agent (person, etc.).  (The term 
"consensual agent" comes from a private discussion with an ethical 
philospher about the nature of trust;  I think its meaning is self-evident, 
but I can't find any references to back up the sense in which I understand it.)

[b] in my view, whether or not a given URI is also a URL is not fixed for 
all time.   Todays's non-URL may become tomorrow's URL through introduction 
and consensus concerning new retrieval mechanisms;  e.g. URNs and DDDS.

Graham Klyne
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Received on Tuesday, 13 April 2004 07:04:23 UTC

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