Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Do mountains exist?

I came across this provocatively-titled paper while web-surfing looking for information on ontology. It's a fun read, if you're into that kind of stuff. I don't think the paper really tackles its proposed thesis in a head-on way, but it does raise some interesting points about the philosophy of geospatial data, such as:
  • What is the real definition of a mountain? Sure, we all know one when we see one - or do we? Go ahead - try and define this concept in a rigourous way...
  • There is a long-standing schism between between feature-based and field-based views of natural phenomena. Both are useful, in different contexts. (This seems to me to echo the particle-wave duality of quantum mechanics - is there possibly some sort of fundamental dichotomy going on here?)
  • Every so often this kind of debate surfaces in the geospatial world (a recent example is this thread on the GeoWeb blog). But we are as babes in the wood compared to philosophers, who have been debating this topic for at least 2000 years. Fortunately, it looks like the kindergarten of computer science is beginning to engage in a useful dialogue with the fusty temples of philosophy.


mentaer said...

on the first point:
currently are a couple of people working/researching on that "what's a mountain" issue.
e.g. J. Wood and PF Fisher (Where is Helvellyn?), C. Derungs and RS Purves (Empirical experiments on the nature of Swiss mountains)

ontolgy(s) are really an intersting and more or less fuzzy thing, when trying to define terms ;)

Dr JTS said...

Interesting... I guess this is yet another perspective on the question of defining mountain-ness, perhaps more from a metric or fuzzy logic viewpoint?

Agreed that ontologies are both interesting and fuzzy! Their formal logic and clarity really appeal to me, but I'm still not sure if they will prove to be useful in the real world. Sort of like predicate logic - it's a beautiful thing, but it's not something I actually use to do thinking or document ideas.

mentaer said...

mhm.. i think we will know more in 3 years when first phds are done on estabblishing and use of ontologies for spatial pattern recognition and so on..

actually, an interesting project that more or less will deal with ontologies to describe images:

(look for the demonstration)