18.450 alien barbarians

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 06:40:42 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 450.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 06:33:32 +0000
         From: Patrick Durusau <Patrick.Durusau_at_sbl-site.org>
         Subject: Re: 18.447 alien barbarians


Willard's post arrived in the middle too many other activities for a close
reading but your post has prompted me to access the archive to look at the
post again.

Francois Lachance wrote:

>Well nigh a month I have resisted being baited by barbarian theme you set
>out in Humanist 18.381 where you asked Is there reason to look hopefully
>to the barbarian hordes of digital babble surging toward us over yon
>digital hills?" and you concluded that you found "it difficult to be
>sanguine about the invading hordes."

Willard said in part:

***From Humanist 18.381***

>Yesterday Pat Galloway refreshingly noted that, "Dewey's program... locked
>down a western conceptual structure in such a way that people are now
>threatened by an engine like Google that can conceivably be at least partly
>agnostic as to conceptual structure". Should we not be a tad concerned that
>so many are now rushing to re-lock down our conceptual structures by means
>of canonical ontologies expressed in metadata? Is there reason to look
>hopefully to the barbarian hordes of digital babble surging toward us over
>yon digital hills?

***/Humanist 18.381***

Actually I read the conclusion,

>Alas, I find it difficult to be sanguine about the invading hordes.

to be a reference to those "rushing to re-lock down our conceptual
structures by means of canonical ontologies expressed in metadata?"

The point becomes somewhat muddled by the aside on weeding a book list
(with abstracts?) and his disappointment with the titles that were being
offered. There has been very poor work as well as very competent work on
canonical ontologies but whatever Willard found on the book list, I don't
think it advances his point about attempts to "re-lock down our conceptual

Even assuming the highest quality work possible, the question of locking
down conceptual structures is a very important one.

Humanist readers may be interested in a new journal, International Journal
on Semantic Web & Information Systems, the initial issue is available for
free, see: http://www.idea-group.com/journals/details.asp?id=4625.

In that issue appears "Semantics for the Semantic Web:
The Implicit, the Formal and the Powerful" by Amit Sheth, Cartic
Ramakrishnan, and Christopher Thomas. The article is a very powerful
critique of the use of description logic by the OWL family of Semantic Web

The flavor of the line of argument from the article can be seen from
the authors' quoting W. A. Wood in their introduction as follows:

"Over time, many people have responded to the need for increased rigor in
knowledge representation by turning to first-order logic as a semantic
criterion. This is distressing, since it is already clear that first-order
logic is insufficient to deal with many semantic problems inherent in
understanding natural language as well as the semantic requirements of a
reasoning system for an intelligent agent using knowledge to interact with
the world." (Woods, 2004)
*** at page 3***

I think there is not only reason for concern but alarm at the barbarian
hordes "rushing to re-lock down our conceptual structures by means of
canonical ontologies...."

The locks and chains they bear are forged with an eye towards ease of
implementation in modern computer languages and the normal untidyness of
most humanist discussions has no place in the ontologies they would impose.

The complexity of texts studied by humanists suffered a similar assault
when markup standards and software were written that insisted on avoiding
what is called overlapping markup in the name of computational simplicity.

Progress towards one solution for that particular need recently appeared
from the University of Kentucky, Concurrent Markup Hierarchies (CMH)
Resources, http://dblab.csr.uky.edu/~eiaco0/research/cmh. The software
implements the GODDAG structure described some years ago by
Sperberg-McQueen and Huitfeldt.

Canonical ontologies, particularly those guided by computational
simplicity, are a direct assault on the richness that is the human experience.

I would answer Willard's question saying that the barbarian hordes are a
cause for alarm. And I would add that we should not only meet them on our
own grounds but that we should carry the fight into the standards bodies
where much canonical ontology devilry is afoot.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season!


Patrick Durusau
Director of Research and Development
Society of Biblical Literature
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!
Received on Fri Dec 31 2004 - 01:47:48 EST

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