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Re: The Map/Territory Conundrum in Topic Maps vs. RDF

[Simon St. Laurent:]
> Multiple maps (which are themselves territories) for shifting
> territories seems far more useful to me than the notion of single and
> final maps for fixed territories.

No one should mistake a topic map (for example) for the truth.  All
topic maps represent the opinions of their authors, and, inevitably,
their world-views, as well.  Opinions differ, and world-views
conflict, even among reasonable people.  Reasonable people, even in
their everyday thinking, must make a distinction between (a) reality
and (b) what people (including themselves) say about reality.  

Imprecision is endemic in the way people speak about "location",
especially in computer-land.  Even in technical conversations, it's
rarely clear whether we're talking about a location in some sort of
representation (such as something that is called a "map"), or in some
other kind of universe, such as (for one example), the "real"
universe.  Therefore, despite Walter Perry's annoyance with the
"platitude" that "The map is not the territory", we should emphasize
this platitude.  Part of the reason for this necessity is that people
usually think fuzzily before they can begin to think clearly.  Another
part of the reason is that an enormous amount of marketing effort has
been spent erasing the "map vs. territory" distinction from the minds
of consumers.  Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today" slogan is
just one (actually comparatively open and guileless) example of what
I'm talking about.

The merging capabilities of topic maps were designed in anticipation
of multiple conflicting maps for the same territories.  The scoping
facilities of topic maps can be used to prevent us from losing track
of which topic maps contributed which assertions to topic maps that
result from merging other topic maps.  In this way, we can know who
agrees (or agreed) with whom, because we can know whose opinions, as
of what date, are reflected in each assertion.


Steven R. Newcomb, Consultant

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