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The Map/Territory Conundrum in Topic Maps vs. RDF

At last week's Extreme Markup Languages 2001 conference in Montreal I
heard the "map is not the territory" platitude invoked with monitory
gravity at key moments in a number of arguments. As it happened, it was
Topic Map proponents in every case warning against what they saw as an
inherent danger in RDF, but I have heard RDF diehards use the same
argument to emphasize some fundamental distinction between the semantics
of their predicates and the underlying instance syntax. May I
respectfully suggest that in the inherent nature of markup the map is in
fact--in a real and inalienable sense--the territory, and vice versa, of
course. It is the application of markup to some lexical content which
produces the concrete instance which is itself the syntactic territory
to be mapped. This incorporation of the structure, the ontological
understanding, the navigational aid into the stuff to be structured,
understood, or navigated is what such terms as 'self-describing' applied
to markup mean. It is uniquely the nature of markup up text that the
content and the commentary are interwoven in a particular lexical
sequence that defines the instance, and that in processing that instance
both the markup and the content are at their first handling manipulated
by the same lexical tools. Ironically, it is only if we were to posit a
Platonic form of the territory, of which the particular concrete
instance was only a projection, that we might reasonably argue that the
instance territory was fundamentally distinct from its ontological map.
And that line of thinking would expect that the markup in the instance
text was itself a projection of some Platonic form of map, aligned only
in the ideal realm with the particular Platonic form of territory of
which the non-markup content of this instance is the concrete
projection. Those premises are the very converse of markup. In markup
the concrete instance, by incorporating both content and a particular
gloss upon that content, is precisely both territory and map.


Walter Perry