Posts Tagged ‘mark’

The mountain doesn’t just get in the way

Friday, February 8th, 2013

In a largely philosophical discussion of ontology and perceptions of existence, Smith and Mark drive at some of the underlying and fundamental assumptions of cognition and geography. With the framing question “Do mountains exist?” (also the article’s title), the authors tear apart understandings of existence—boundedness, independence, universal acceptance—and conclude that how we approach that simple question lies at the base of how we perceive, and therefore visualize our environment.

This article is a fairly fascinating discussion that lends a psychology, as well as a philosophy, to GIS, a field that is largely empirical and filled with concepts we take for granted. For instance, the authors write, “Maps…rarely if ever show the boundaries of mountains at all…[capturing] an important feature of mountains…namely that they are objects whose boundaries are marked by gradedness of vagueness” (Smith et al. 2002). For something to exist, does it have to be independent, bounded, and universally accepted as such? We know that there is a mountain in a given place, but can we easily demarcate its boundaries? If not, can we truly say that the mountain exists or that it is a feature of the surrounding landscape?

The truth is that in an empirical analysis, i.e, for policy makers, these notions matter immensely, but from a geographic and informal perspective, we can understand the mountain as an object in a larger system. Thus, the mountain can exist, but its exact location does not matter and perhaps should not be of primary concern in a visualization of the landscape.

– JMonterey

Ontologies: abstraction, imagination, existence

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Being new to the field of ontology, I took a deep breath before starting to read what I automatically thought would be an obscure, existential article titled “Do mountains exist?” To my relief, it was much more than that. As a hiker, I first thought about my personal connection and idea behind mountains. Do mountains exist? Do I believe mountains exists? All of this is somewhat vague, leaving much room for interpretation; a question that will undoubtedly be answered with many, many other questions. Does this matter? Do all humans believe they exist? Or maybe just some? What is the construction of meaning behind determining their existence?

Arguably, this is a challenging field, and I believe Smith and Mark provided a helpful, in-depth explanation on the different dimensions and perspectives of ontology (focused on human thought and action). At the same time, the authors acknowledged their limitations as all concepts/issues pertaining to this topic could not possibly be addressed at length in the article. This was carried out by outlining the dichotomies of primary, and secondary theories; the former is grounded on an analytical approach, incomplete due to limitations in explanations, assuming common knowledge. The latter is comprised of folk beliefs, developed at different levels, with much diversity. This, in turn, is dependent on a specific culture or community, deeming secondary theory to be inconsistent.

I did find it interesting that a focus was made on primary theory, and the way it can be integrated with the “realm of science” (10) since it is the theory of the geographic domain (9). What happened to secondary theory? This makes me think of Ally_Nash’s comment of primary theory being objective and secondary theory being subjective. Is that what the authors thought as well and that is why the focus in the article is on primary theory? The authors attempt to merge philosophical and information systems approaches within a single framework (6), where “a complete ontology of the geospatial world would need to comprehend not only the common-sense world of primary theory but also the field-based ontologies that are used to model runoff and erosion” (18). Thus, I argue that due to the challenges behind this integration, primary theory is not objective. Furthermore, “maps do not represent mountains directly as objects with crisp boundaries” (12), where abstraction plays a critical role in our conceptualization of them. The similarities between Mount Everest and the Santa Barbara neighbourhood create a paradox that Smith and Mark only half solved, as both (mountain and neighbourhood) are “a product of socially established beliefs and habits” (14).

Although there is much work to be done, I admire the authors’ ambitious plan to find an ontological framework that can unify the perspectives of a vast number of fields to create a complete ontology of the geospatial world. Why not use abstraction and imagination to unite instead of divide these fields.

-henry miller