Geospatial Ontologies Retrospective

My initial reaction to the subject of geospatial ontologies was incredulity. Both of the readings I was assigned (Smith and Sinha) were well written, but in many ways seemed to be a stretch to me. Geospatial ontologies strike me as an entertaining philosophical game, similar to something like “the trolly problem.” – interesting to think about and discuss but more often than not irrelevant except in especially extreme circumstances. The subject of ontologies isĀ applicable at a highly abstract scale, and often doesn’t have much to do with practical, day to day geography. I was unconvinced.

This view was challenged during the class on geospatial ontologies. As the breadth of the subject was explored, I began to consider its implications on my own thesis. Many of the models and systems I’m considering studying are built on abstract assumptions of universal ontologies, and require a certain academic geographical fluency to piece together. Ontologies underly all science, including geography, and its important to take them into consideration as further research is done.

After listening to the lecture on geospatial ontologies, readings the literature, and discussing the subject with my classmates, I have developed a slightly broader perspective. However, I have to admit that I do find the subject irritating nonetheless. Geospatial ontologies deal with fundamental discrepancies in the world, and are not easily resolved – meaning that even when they are not the subject of something they underlie the theory supporting it. The fact that its seemingly impossible to define mountain in a clean, universal way throws much of (what has traditionally been) the field of geography into doubt. This in turn makes it hard to feel confident in the outputs of any research in this field, and leaves one dissatisfied and frustrated if you expect a nice logical solution to this problem.

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