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Re: homonym URIs (Re: What if an URI also is a URL)

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2007 15:07:33 -0500
Message-Id: <p06230909c294ab982968@[]>
To: Richard Cyganiak <richard@cyganiak.de>
Cc: "Sandro Hawke" <sandro@w3.org>, semantic-web@w3.org

>On 12 Jun 2007, at 18:21, Pat Hayes wrote:
>>I'd like to see some evidence that punning me and my email address 
>>is ever going to cause an actual problem, for that matter. Now, 
>>punning, say, me and my wife, or me and my eldest son, *is* likely 
>>to cause a problem.
>To pick up just one point: Where do you draw the line between 
>harmful punning and efficiency-increasing punning? Any rules of 
>thumb for when it is OK? Why is it OK to pun with email addresses, 
>but not with wives?

Because people and email addresses are so different that almost 
nothing you ever want to say about or do to one is ever said about or 
done to the other. If you email to PatHayes, you must have meant to 
PatHayes' email address. If you assert that my email address has two 
children, you must have meant me. With two people (or two mailboxes) 
however, things are different. There really is no way to tell then 
which is meant: you can't locally disambiguate the punning.

Similar rules govern multiple word meanings in English. Its fine to 
have 'rose' meaning both a flower and the past tense of the verb 
meaning to go upwards, because these cannot be confused with one 
another. Its not fine to have a word which is a pun between, say, 
'left' and 'right'.

So the rule of thumb, which can be made operationally quite precise, 
is that punning is OK if (there is a very high probability that) 
there is enough contextual information available at the point of use 
to figure out which of the various meanings is intended. In some 
cases this can be made 100%. For example in Common Logic, a name can 
mean an individual or a class or a relation or a function, 4-way 
punning: but this is OK since the syntax of the language completely 
determines which of the meanings is intended for each occurrence of 
the name. And in fact allowing punning in this case makes the 
language much easier to use and overcomes a host of awkward 
work-arounds that had to be used before we realized that it was OK.


>>But the appropriate thing to say is not to denigrate punning, but 
>>to explain what is wrong with doing it badly.
>>>>  And what about a URI
>>>  > that I own and wish it to denote, say, the planet
>>>>  Venus, or my pet cat? What do I do, to attach the
>>>>  URI to my intended referent for it?
>>>You publish a document (an ontology) so it's available through that URI.
>>>If it's a hash URI, you publish the ontology at the non-hash version.
>>>If it's a slash URI, you publish the ontology at the far end of a 303
>>>redirect.  And you content-negotiate HTML and RDF.
>>>So when users paste that URI into their browser, they get the official
>>>documentation about it.
>>None of that attaches a URI to my cat (though see below)
>>>And when RDF software dereferences that URI, it gets some logical
>>>formulas which should be understood (like the HTML) to be asserted by the
>>>URI's owner/host/publisher.  Those formulas constrain the possible
>>>meanings of that URI, relative to other URIs.
>>Neither does any of that (and in this case, I can *prove* it, using 
>>Herbrand's theorem.)
>>>  They can't nail a URI to
>>Quite. In fact, none of this can nail a URI to ANYTHING other than 
>>something accessible using a transfer protocol.
>>>, but they can use other ontologies to provide useful (and possibly
>>>very constraining) information, like that it's an astronomical body with
>>>a mass of about 5e+24kg.
>>You are begging the question. Suppose an ontology asserts
>>ex:Venus rdf:type ex:AstronomicalBody .
>>Now, what ties that object URI to the actual concept of being an 
>>astronomical body? And so on for all the other URIs in all the 
>>other OWL/RDF ontologies. The best you can do is to appeal to the 
>>power of model theory to sufficiently constrain the interpretations 
>>of the entire global Web of formalized information. But that 
>>argument from Herbrand's theorem (basically, if it has a model at 
>>all then it has one made entirely of symbols) applies just as well 
>>no matter how large the ontology is.
>>The only way out of this is to somewhere appeal to a use of the 
>>symbolic names - in this case, the IRIs or URIrefs - outside the 
>>formalism itself, a use that somehow 'anchors' or 'grounds'  them 
>>to the real world they are supposed to refer to. If we all assume 
>>that English words are so grounded (not a bad assumption) then this 
>>can be done in principle by using the URI in English sentences or 
>>to other kinds of representation which are widely accepted as 
>>real-world identifiers, like SS numbers or facial images. I did all 
>>three in
>>If the TAG said this somewhere, and recommended how to do it, that 
>>would be great.
>>>My advice here is, I confess, not widely followed.  But I hear more and
>>>more people converging on the idea that this is both practical and
>>>likely to be sufficiently effective.
>>I agree. Still, its important to describe it properly. It doesn't 
>>mean that URIs have a unique denotation.
>>>>  The point surely is that URIs used to refer (not
>>>>  as in HTTP, but as in OWL) do *not* have a
>>>>  standardized meaning. Standards are certainly a
>>>>  chore to create, but they only go so far. OWL
>>>>  defines the meanings of the OWL namespace, but it
>>>>  does not define the meanings of the FOAF
>>>>  vocabulary,
>>>No, that's up to the owner(s) of the FOAF terms.
>>>>  or the URIrefs used in, say,
>>>>  ontologies published by the NIH or by JPL.
>>>And that's up to the NIH and JPL, respectively.
>>I understand that. I was reacting to Tim's comments, which seemed 
>>to suggest that all this should be determined by standards-setting 
>>>>  The
>>>>  only way those meanings can be specified is by
>>>>  writing ontologies: and finite ontologies do not
>>>>  - cannot possibly - nail down referents
>>>>  *uniquely*.
>>>Ah -- there we go.  There must be a long history of this subject in
>>>philosophy.  Can things ever be nailed down uniquely?  I haven't a clue.
>>>But that's the wrong question.
>>Surely this is exactly the question. I didn't raise the issue, Tim 
>>did. There is a claim, often repeated and sometimes cited as 
>>doctrine, that a URI *must* identify a *single* referent. To do 
>>this requires that things are nailed down uniquely (isn't that 
>>EXACTLY what it says?) but they can't be.
>>>  In this thread, I don't think we're
>>>talking about whether we can really be sure what we mean when we say
>>>such a URI denotes Venus.
>>Well then don't SAY that is what you are concerned with, for 
>>goodness's sake. That is what is implied by "the URI for Venus has 
>>a unique denotation".
>>>  Instead, we're talking about whether it's a
>>>good practice to use a single URI to denote clearly distinct things
>>Aaaaargh. What do you think is 'clearly' distinct?
>>The second rock from the sun might be a continuant or an occurrent. 
>>Those are as clearly distinct as a rock and a Roman goddess. I know 
>>people are a lot more familiar with the second kind of clearly 
>>distinct, but ontologies aren't people. And the first kind of 
>>difference is more important, if anything, than the second, for an 
>>ontology. The second kind of muddle is easily resolved. The first 
>>kind can be fatal.
>>>such as:
>>>    (1) the second rock from the sun
>>>    (2) the Roman goddess of love
>>>    (3) a star tennis player
>>>    (4) ... etc
>>>The term "ambiguity" covers both these issues, but we don't need to
>>>combine them.
>>Well, you tell me how to distinguish them, then.
>>>  The first is a kind of imprecision, a fuzziness
>>No, its worse than that. Its like the distinction between an object 
>>and a process. Fuzziness/imprecision is what gives you the 
>>'Everest' kind of examples.
>>>, while
>>>the second is the re-use of a word for a second meaning, a homonym.
>>>(Homonyms seem to be called "overloading" in computer programming.)
>>>I think we know how to work with homonyms, but since we're engineering a
>>>new system, it seems like a good design decision to forbid them, doesn't
>>Well, actually, no. Overloading is widely used for good engineering 
>>reasons. And on an open system like the Web, we arent going to be 
>>able to prevent it happening, so we will need to have methods of 
>>dealing with it. Once those are deployed, one might as well take 
>>advantage of them. Making grand statements about what should be 
>>done seems to me like trying to tell evolution what it ought to be 
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IHMC		(850)434 8903 or (650)494 3973   home
40 South Alcaniz St.	(850)202 4416   office
Pensacola			(850)202 4440   fax
FL 32502			(850)291 0667    cell
phayesAT-SIGNihmc.us       http://www.ihmc.us/users/phayes
Received on Tuesday, 12 June 2007 20:07:52 UTC

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