Questions of Existence

Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms by Smith and Mark deal with questions of ontology within geography: ontology being the philosophical study of the nature of being and existence. By asking the seemingly simple question: “Do mountains exist?” this article threw me headfirst down a spiraling rabbit-hole. I was first clouded by the notion that a mountain is not a detached object with explicit boundaries, it is this very ambiguity that mountains share with other landscape features that demonstrates that a mountain only really exists as a ‘result of human belief’. We have attributed meaning to extrusions of land that dot the landscapes of this geoid one which we live. Where a mountain begins and ends is largely unclear.One might argue that an object does not need to be explicitly demarked to earn the right to existence, however the world is far easier to understand or at least information systems function far smoother when we do.

The importance of ontology is that the modeling of environments scientifically demands the explicit definition of objects and further categorization of objects within categories. Without the understanding of objects and how they are categorized, how does one begin to place information within the database structures employed in GIScience research and information systems. It is this framework for analysis that raise ontology as such a salient conversation, one that I did not appropriately appreciate until I read Rundstrom’s article on the intersection of GIScience and the traditional knowledge held by indigenous people in the northern reaches of Canada.

Both articles expand the horizons of GIScience research beyond the technicality of tools, by examining how our ways of thinking and tendencies of human thought speak to the technologies we employ.

– Othello

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