Friday, July 04, 2008

Of Mats and Cats

No universal things Re: comparing XML and RDF data models was started by Bernard Vatant. This comes to the heart of whether people can know reality (well that's how I'd summarize the idea of universals see Beyond Concepts).

There were a few quotes that I found interesting:
It's been counter-productive in science for centuries. Physics had to go over the notion of universal thing to understand that light is neither a wave, nor a particle. Biology to go over the notion of taxa as rigid concepts based on phenotypes to understand genetics etc. Many examples can be found in all science domains. My day-to-day experience in ontology building, listening to domain experts, is indeed not that 'there are things that people are trying to describe', but that 'there are descriptions people take for granted they represent things before you ask, but really don't know exactly what those things are when you make them look closely'.

Bijan wrote:
I do think that the family of views in computational ontologies generally called "realist" is indeed naive and fundamentally wrong headed. Whether it's a "useful fiction" that helps people write better or more compatible ontologies is an open empirical question.

But I, for one, wouldn't bet on it.

I remember also a project where we were trying to get people to write simple triples. They got that they needed triples. But what they ended up putting into the tool was things like

"The cat is" "on the" "mat".
"Mary eats" "pudding" "on toast"

They just split up the sentences into somewhat equal parts!

I really feel like an interested amateur and my view is probably influenced by databases in computer science, where you are taking the non-realist approach. I say this because there are usually properties in databases that are not really based on reality but are a result of other requirements (like a column like "isDeleted" rather than actually deleting the statement).
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