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Re: Tech Plenary: agenda Best Practices

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 2004 12:37:50 -0600
Message-Id: <p06001f10bc6d13f063b3@[10.0.100.76]>
To: schreiber@cs.vu.nl, public-swbp-wg@w3.org
Sorry if this is too late for the Cannes discussion.

My 'top 3' would be:

1. Tell people how to put RDF/RDFS/OWL onto (or attach it to) a web 
page so that it has some relevance to what is on their web page 
already (which is almost certainly largely HTML). Or at least give 
them an inkling of an idea how to do that and why it might be worth 
doing. In other words, take on the task of the public-rdf-in-xhtml-tf 
effort and get it done.

2. Get across the idea that the SW will work best when people use one 
another's concepts rather than invent their own, and tell people how 
to do that. The point of having a topic in a Web ontology is to make 
communication easier for agents. We should be thinking of ways to 
make this easier to do: right now there is very little support. 
Obviously there should be ways to find existing concepts and check 
them out (to find out if they are close you the intended meaning one 
has in mind, or can be tweaked so as to be) but we need also to deal 
with trust issues: like, to what extent am I making my ontology 
hostage to J's ontology if I use J's person-concept? Maybe (??) we 
need to think about a notion of 'meaning stability' analogous to the 
best-practices rules for keeping URIs stable.

3. (Hendler's #2 - explain the mess)

-----------

4. Finally, this is a negative suggestion, but I would oppose any 
attempt to tell the world how best to write ontologies; or if we 
cannot avoid doing that, then let the advice be severely pragmatic 
and free from philosophical punditry. There is a lingering 
(festering?) tendency among some folk to want to give instruction 
from on high to the great unwashed on how they should best think and 
express themselves. Unfortunately this advice is similar to most 
religious doctrine: most of the energy is spent in endless debates 
between rival doctrines, you can find some of it somewhere to justify 
almost any action you want to take anyway, and when the rubber meets 
the road most of it isn't really directly applicable in any case 
without an expert there to interpret it for you.

The idea that mereology is fundamental, as opposed to simply being a 
useful theory of parthood, is one example of a truly bad piece of 
ontological doctrine. (c.f , from http://esw.w3.org/topic/PartWhole 
:" The partOf relation is one of the basic structuring primitives of 
the universe"  Er...nonsense. The relation of PartOf cannot be used 
to "organize the universe", which is why mereology never made it as a 
serious rival to set theory, in spite of Nelson Goodman's strenuous 
efforts; and probably why it plays no role in any of the sciences (Is 
the magnetism part of the magnet?). It also is, arguably, not even a 
very good model of human common-sense intuition, eg people are still 
arguing about some of Plato's examples). Another is the pernicious 
idea that Clear Thinkers *must* make some kind of basic ontological 
division of the universe into two disjoint categories of enduring 
things and dynamic processes (cf 
ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/SNAP_SPAN.pdf ), and another is 
the slightly barmy idea that modal reasoning is somehow connected 
with keeping your databases up-to-date.

(By the way, it may be of interest to note that the first two of 
these both have their intellectual roots in the same strand of Polish 
philosophy from the late 1800s in Warsaw, for some reason. It is 
salutary to try reading what the founder, Brentano, actually said. 
But just because Brentano (
http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/brentano/
http://www3.baylor.edu/~Scott_Moore/Contemp_Philosophy/Brentano.html
http://grimpeur.tamu.edu/~colin/Phil251/lect2-brentano.html)
was confused, there is no reason why the rest of us need to be, a 
century later)

Most of our philosophical ontological ideas have never been seriously 
tested in the real world, and there are almost certainly real, 
hard-to-solve problems out there that we have never thought of 
before. If anything, now that we are asking the planet to do 
ontology, it might behoove us to listen and learn, rather than have 
the hubris to think we can instruct.

Pat
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Received on Thursday, 4 March 2004 13:37:56 EST

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