Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On event processing and philosophy

In case you don't know I have a BA in Philosophy, at later phases in life I also studied for MBA, and for Ph.D. in computer science, but I still have a soft spot for philosophy, it was the most fun to study, and I also think that it has been very useful for me to learn clear and exact thinking, this is an important asset I got from these studies. As I moved away, I did not keep much contact with philosophy, although during my Ph.D. studies I took an advanced logic course in the philosophy department with the late Professor Hugues Leblanc, one of the giant scholars I have ever met, one of the leading logicians of our times, and a great person.

Recently I had an Email exchange with an interesting person, Ken Archer from Telogical systems, whom I met in Nashville earlier this month. Ken has participated recently in a tutorial on ontology of events, given by philosophers, I have copied the description he sent me:

These were philosophical ontologists in dialogue with ontology engineers (primary in biomedical domains, where ontologies have found relatively high acceptance). The philosophers’ starting premise was that the top level distinction in ontology is between continuants (entities that endure through time while maintaining their identity) and occurrents (entities that happen, unfold or develop in time). Continuants and occurrents are orthogonal to each other, as continuants participate in occurrents (e.g. surgeons and patients participate in surgery). Following from this premise was the claim that, while continuants have received much attention historically in philosophy, occurrents have not. As a result, we are much more comfortable talking and generalizing about continuants (objects) than we are about occurrents (processes, events), and we often tend to reify occurrents into continuants as a result.

From this starting point, the philosophers embarked on a philosophical ontology of occurrents that they said reflected the best results of current philosophical research. The bulk of what they had to say can be found in the Basic Formal Ontology, beginning on page 59 (the diagram for their occurrent ontology is copied below). I’ve found the Basic Formal Ontology to be very helpful in all of my modeling. As a result, these philosophers would definitely say that we can talk of types of events or processes, as we do in event processing, and argue that the reason we tend not to speak of types of events/processes is this bias for continuants over occurrents. The research project of these ontologists, then, is to provide an upper ontology of occurrents.

I think that while we are constructing our terminology and conceptual models, we can go back to the roots and look at the formal ontology work. I need some free time to digest it, but it looks interesting.

More on this - later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very glad that you studied philosophy, it is the greatest thing that happened to me in life - even though i possess it at undergraduate level - but planning to push on with it at Master's level and then PhD. Very Great! Wish we could chat philosophy at times...
Otieno-Adipo, Nairobi, Kenya.