“Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms” by Smith and Mark explores the ontology of mountains. Before reading this article, I had never given much thought to the question: “what is a mountain?” I know what a mountain is when I see one, at least, I thought I did. But differences in language, culture and context, highlight the importance of properly defining the world around us. The link to GIScience is made obvious in the article: How do you store and define a mountain in a computer system, in a GIS, or in an environmental model? A good ontology provides a common framework to understand ‘things’ and to create such ‘things’ in a computer system. This allows for standardization which in turn facilitates communication and interoperability. Ontologies are at the foundation of shared information (spatial or other). However, it is important to consider who created the ontology when assessing its relevance and supremacy in different contexts or situations. While ontologies are useful, they are not necessarily inclusive of differing perspectives. Consider the (overused) example of how the Cree define a river (which includes the bank and the river) vs how Western scientific thought describes a river. How do you reconcile competing ontologies within a GIS? Is there no room for competition?


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