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Friday, October 22, 2004

The problem of categories 

Murray Altheim
Early libraries tried to create a whole bunch of categories, then assign each book to a category. It was rather quickly discovered that these fixed categories didn't work very well for the real world, that almost nothing is *about* a single subject, that the whole idea of "about" is very context-based. So when in computing, say as in RDF, we see "rdf:about", or in Topic Maps we see "subjectIndicatorRef", we should be very suspicious, or at least very careful. Nothing has or is just one subject. The statement of subject-hood is contextual.

. . .

I'm still working on this one, so I'm not claiming any answer here. But my feeling is that we shouldn't be looking for a set of fixed categories but rather a particular *approach* to modeling.

I say this because it's patently obvious from a simple look at reality (rather than say, mathematics) that fixed categories simply don't exist except in the most simplistic of views, and definitions are exactly like categories, i.e., they too are contextual, many-layered, recursive.

So the only way I can see to deal with this is to simply stop categorizing, stop defining, and begin to look at processes of categorizing, processes of defining. It's the processes that we need to focus on. I think this is the same thing neuroscience is coming to in trying to understand the human brain: that the brain is not composed of a bunch of Topics, it is composed of a bunch of Associations. That Topics don't exist, except as the confluence of a whole lot of Associations. (I use Topic Map termino- logy here because I am also emphasizing that I think we can still use Topic Map technology to do information or "knowledge" modeling; we just need to alter our approach a bit when talking about subject identity.)

The problem is that almost the entirety of western culture is built upon thousands of years of thinking about things as subjects, as categories, as identifiable "types", when I believe reality is telling us otherwise.

See also:Bernard Vatant

Yes. If identification needs a context, then how do you *identify the context*? Jack Park pushed to me lately some authors who go as far as to say that, in general, the fact that two things are identical (read, the identity of a subject) is formally undecidable. more things change more they are same If we follow those tracks, yes, identity can only be established on a pragmatic basis. IOW there are effective ways to agree on process of identification in a given context, but no universal way to assert the identity of something (or someone). For example, there are many contexts in which I can be identified by various identifiers and protocols (email address, phone number, credit card number, welfare number, passport number ...) but I figure that none of those, or any other, can pretend to carry "my identity" (not even my fully decrypted DNA) in *any context*.

. . .

This has been the succesful approach of Quantum Mechanics in Physics: be agnostic about the existence of entities out there in the physical world, focus on measure protocols. That's why I've been much impressed by the approach developed lately here by Lutz on "Subject Identity Measure". See the identification protocols the same way as measure protocols in certainly the way forward.

See also:Jack Park

Issue is identity, and that's where I think that the Steve Newcomb approach to disclosure of identity rules starts to make sense. Yup. Identity really is context sensitive, and, again, my interpretation at work here, the TMRM permits the derivation of identity through scoped assertions, as addressed in the required disclosures. Maybe there's a better way to accomplish the implementation of context-sensitive identification of subjects, or at least, maybe there's a different way. But, the TMRM, in my view, seems to want to address this particular issue directly.

Topics: Meaning | RDF | TopicMaps


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