[sc34wg3] For or Against N323! [Was:Topic Maps land and SAM land]

Patrick Durusau sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Fri, 14 Feb 2003 08:12:31 -0500


Catching up on topic map email! ;-)

Mary Nishikawa wrote:

> Hi Sam,

> Whenever someone says that such and such a description/method/model is 
> the
> "essence of the meaning of that that thing, and can be used to define 
> all instances
> of that thing,"we are in metaphysical territory.
> This is in your  general statement that inherent TM data in any 
> software could be
> specified using the RM, and that defines the tool as an RM tool.
> This is also related to Patrick's statement, "The RM is designed to 
> define the
> essence of what it means to be a topic map and provides a heuristic 
> device for
> evaluating topic map models and topic maps separate and apart from any 
> particular
> data model or implementation or instance of a topic map."
> The RM is either a particular type of graph model for topic maps or it is
> in some other realm. I hope that it is the former.

I don't think you have to get into metaphysics to reach the distinction 
I was trying, probably poorly, to make.

The levels I was trying to describe are:

1. "Essence of topic maps" : not metaphysics but on what grounds do we 
distinguish a topic map from some other method of handling information? 
Well, it is certainly not a simple array since it contains more than a 
list of single items. It is probably more than a relational database, 
although a topic map could (and has been) implemented on top of such. In 
other words, what are the distinguishing rules/requirements, etc., that 
enable us to determine if something is or is not a topic map.

2. Graph model for topic maps: A way of expressing the rules I mention 
in #1 to make it easier to have conversations about the 
design/implementation of both topic map models, processing software and 
even topic maps.

Noting that you probably can't do #1 without #2 (or something similar) 
since you need a vocabulary for talking about both topic maps as well as 
other information structures. Conceptually I think they are distinct, 
even if in practice they are used so closely as to make the conflation 
of the two almost unavoidable.

I really don't think metaphysics, in the traditional sense, such as in 
Plato, is really an issue. Newcomb and I can converse on the reference 
model even though we do not share a common view of metaphysics in the 
traditional sense of the word. The graph language of the RM works to 
enable communication without regard to our respective positions on 
metaphysical issues.

Some people, who I greatly respect, see topic maps as enabling all sorts 
of social progress and good. I personally hope they are correct. For my 
part, however, I have real users with practical information management 
problems that topic maps can address better than any other information 
technology. It is a question of cold pragmatics for the SBL, with topic 
maps we can have effective access to information resources that dwarf in 
complexity any modern information system, or, we can continue a 
catch-as-catch-can  approach to biblical research. I prefer the former.


Patrick Durusau
Director of Research and Development
Society of Biblical Literature
Co-Editor, ISO Reference Model for Topic Maps