Ontolog Forum

Session Upper Ontologies for Specifying Context
Duration 1.5 hours
Date/Time Feb 07 2018 17:00 GMT
9:00am PST/12:00pm EST
5:00pm GMT/6:00pm CET
Convener MikeBennett and DavidWhitten

Ontology Summit 2018 Upper Ontologies for Specifying Context Session 1


This session aims to explore the relationships between upper ontologies and context. Specifically, what are the kinds of context as various upper ontologies see them, and what are the top level partitions, if any, corresponding to what might be considered a kind of context.

We hope to hear a range of views and perspectives on this and gain insights into how to select and use the appropriate top level or upper ontology for a given context in which ontologies are used.

This session will be in the form of a panel, with brief presentations from the panelists followed by questions and answers and group discussion of the issues raised.

  • Introduction
    • Mike Bennett will introduce the topic and provide a number of talking points
    • Slides
  • How BFO Deals with Data from Multiple Contexts -- Barry Smith
    • Slides
    • BFO Is a top-level -- which means 'domain neutral' -- ontology designed to promote interoperability across information systems dealing with data from different domains. BFO is used for this purpose in over 300 ontology initiatives and it serves as top-level ontology for multiple ontology suites . Barry will present the background of BFO in ontology work in biomedicine and geospatial science. His talk will focus on examples from the Environment Ontology (ENVO) and from current work on systems and their capabilities.
  • Context in Abstract Role Models and In the GFO Upper Ontology -- Frank Loebe
    • Slides PPTX
    • Slides PDF
    • Frank will give a brief overview of his views on 'context', including how that term may be thought of in abstract role models, along with how this relates to the General Formal Ontology (GFO) upper ontology.

Conference Call Information

  • Date: Wednesday, 07-February-2018
  • Start Time: 9:00am PST / 12:00pm EST / 6:00pm CET / 5:00pm GMT / 1700 UTC
  • Expected Call Duration: ~1.5 hours
  • Video Conference URL:
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  • Chatroom:
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    • You can indicate that you want to ask a question verbally by clicking on the "hand" button, and wait for the moderator to call on you; or, type and send your question into the chat window at the bottom of the screen.
  • This session, like all other Ontolog events, is open to the public. Information relating to this session is shared on this wiki page.
  • Please note that this session may be recorded, and if so, the audio archive is expected to be made available as open content, along with the proceedings of the call to our community membership and the public at-large under our prevailing open IPR policy.



David Whitten: I just received a link to RV Guha's thesis on microtheories and combining them to perform inference. This is the theoretical work behind Cyc's microtheories:

Ravi Sharma: @David thanks for sharing.

Ravi Sharma: As far as I recall, you have yet to make a presentation which we had originally thought you would have given last Wednesday Jan 31?

David Whitten: I remember getting RV Guha's thesis on paper almost 25 years ago, I think. It was a difficult but interesting read for me.

David Whitten: I was preparing that presentation in case Patrick Redington wasn't able to fit into the schedule. Did you have a chance to review? I was worried that it depended too much on my commentary and wasn't very stand-alone. What do you think?

David Whitten: I'm looking forward to hearing from Barry Smith and Frank Loebe.

Ravi Sharma: @David where is your presentation?

David Whitten: I'm only on computer audio.

David Whitten: I have no microphone. Do you need me to call the phone?

Ravi Sharma: you mean you are not finished with it to share? How can I or Ken comment on it then, till we see it!

David Whitten: @ravi I will re-send it to you.

David Whitten: @ravi I re-sent the slides from last week just now.

Ravi Sharma: thanks

Ravi Sharma: i will look for them

FrankOlken: Reminder: wright state hosts semantic technology meeting on March 1 and 2

David Whitten: @Frank how do you coordinate with Wright State University?

Ravi Sharma: @David - I do not know why they went to trash, just recovered them. thanks

David Whitten: @ravi maybe we could get our e-mail clients to interact with an ontologies.

Gary Berg-Cross: @Dave Mar 1 2, 2018

WSU Nutter Center

1st U.S. Semantic Technologies Symposium, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy #430, Fairborn, OH 45324, USA


David Whitten: There will be two talks today, one by Frank Loebe and one by Barry Smith. We want to talk about how to partition an ontology into information about the concepts in the ontology as well as the context for the concepts in the ontology.

David Whitten: Words have context. With no context, "Unionized" might be "un"+"ionized" or may be "union"+"ized"

David Whitten: The simple words don't carry enough context to allow one to disambiguate. An ontology requires a dis-ambiguated meaning to be able to reliably derive inference.

Cory Casanave: @David, perhaps the binding between a word and a concept is contextual.

David Whitten: An ontology needs to be more than a dictionary.

David Whitten: @cory the binding between a word and a concept may be a many-to-many relationship, and not functional in either the word or the concept.

Ravi Sharma: @All - I am still preparing session summaries and will post them soon.

David Whitten: Mike has been working on FIBO which uses a partition of the Ontology based on John Sowa's uppermost ontology.

David Whitten: Barry Smith's work on BFO has it's own take on an upper ontology.

David Whitten: Each organization has some very common words which may be attached to very complex concepts, such as "Customer"

Ravi Sharma: @Mike - if ontologies contain context in them, will it be able to define all contexts that are logical and possible or is there a way to prioritize the top or most likely contexts, how do you know where to cut off inclusion of certain less likely contexts?

David Whitten: There several Upper Ontologies. This talk will be primarily on BFO and GFO.

David Whitten: Several Ontologies cover differing concepts which may need to be combined in a working ontology.

David Whitten: The first speaker is Barry Smith about BFO and multiple contexts, then Frank Loebe on GFO and how it works with contexts.

Cory Casanave: @David, within a context defining a term, the binding from that term should define exactly one concept.

David Whitten: Barry shares a view on Context that is similar to the "Cyc" worldview. Context is revealed in a choice of microtheories. Cyc doesn't require that all microtheories be consistent with each other, but Barry feels this is important.

David Whitten: This is the thesis work of RV Guha behind Cyc's microtheories:

David Whitten: Barry is focusing on the Biologic ontologies. Ties between systems and what is called by some as context.

David Whitten: The Region Connection Calculus talks about two regions are connected (in eight different ways in two-dimensional space)

David Whitten: A three-dimensional space model was created to describe objects and their surroundings by Van ????

David Whitten: The core of BFO has a region level and an object level.

David Whitten: The Geo-spatial work has interacted strongly with granularity and scale.

David Whitten: Different partitioning of the the same object allows multiple perspectives ontological work.

David Whitten: each partition must be veridical partition.

David Whitten: Partitioning brings cartography ideas into ontologies.

David Whitten: When using maps, the GIS (Geophysical Information Systems) views multiple layers each of which is an independent partition.

David Whitten: STELLA has some overlap with BFO. Some items are sites, and spatial regions.

David Whitten: Material Science Ontologies require multiple perspectives for their work.

David Whitten: Each perspective has its own base: discontinuous, continuous, atoms, molecules, whole bodies.

David Whitten: BFO provides a strong has_part hierarchy from an entity all the way down to bosons.

David Whitten: As a multi-perspectival ontology, BFO can treat each perspective as a context.

David Whitten: Bicategorial view includes both continuant view and occurrent view.

Ravi Sharma: @Barry - when the internal structure of molecule and its internal atoms are changing then mereology is not enough and need processes and new atoms and molecules as possibilities especially for reactions in Chemistry for example?

David Whitten: BFO has worked mostly on biological environments and some work on social environment.

Ravi Sharma: @David thanks for notes and comments.

David Whitten: Places are approximated as a hole. (DJW: I wonder if Barry's holes are the same as Lakoff's containers ?)

David Whitten: Four basic niche types: enclosed like an egg + half-closed like a shell + a two dimensional shape/boundary + fiat boundary in 3-space.

David Whitten: Interactions between organisms can be described as interacting in sites described by the four niche types.

David Whitten: mountains and valleys both occupy three dimensional regions.

David Whitten: environments are coincident with sites.

David Whitten: a bacterial infection occurs in various sites.

David Whitten: BFO coordinates with a LOT of ontologies.

David Whitten: A hub-spoke approach is a good way to describe interactions between ontologies.

Ravi Sharma: @Barry - what about bacterial ecosystems? how will these be treated, such as those for whooping or persistent cough etc,often difficult to separate and treat?

David Whitten: hubs provide a terminological source for terms used in spoke ontologies. (DJW: similar to the spindle idea of Cyc without the bottom ontology)

David Whitten: A Foundry suite is a way of joining ontologies.

Ravi Sharma: Barry mentioned wide areas including GO that use BFO.

David Whitten: I assume that GO = Gene Ontology.

David Whitten: BFO has been describing systems as an ontology

David Whitten: Systems are currently defined as a material entity consisting of multiple components that are causally integrated.

David Whitten: "Material Entity" is a crucial definition

David Whitten: Many physical entities are part of more than one material entity which is a system.

David Whitten: There is a relation "environs" that includes site and causally influenced area.

Jack Ring: This 'usage' of system, while popular, is the root of the misunderstandings in the system-gestation community

David Whitten: Eco-system is an environment that is dependent on all biological entities.

David Whitten: A biome provides a context for other relationships, such as the gut biome.

Jack Ring: System is not defined by structure but also by behavior.

David Whitten: The "determined by" relation connects systems and aggregate objects.

Ravi Sharma: @Barry - example: IBM products or solutions could be knowledge bases and eventually depend or can be improved by any people with the required skill set, hence not necessarily limited to the original organization of people often mergers continue evolution of software?

David Whitten: This concludes Barry Smith's presentation. Frank Loebe will present and then the discussion will cover both of their talks.

Cory Casanave: Like the idea of "causally influences"

David Whitten: Frank works with the General Formal Ontologies.

David Whitten: The medical domain brought in a connection to context as did the notion of roles.

David Whitten: roles invoke views, especially legal or procedural views.

Ravi Sharma: @ken - please collect slides (PDF) from Barry and Frank and upload them, just a reminder and request!

David Whitten: Physical places, such as hospitals, provide methods to regulate their ontological views.

John Sowa: The definition of context as role is very good.

David Whitten: each role covers certain examples as well as terms used in literature from modeling, programming, linguistics, philosophy and social sciences. Some roles are physically derived "view from a particular perspective"

David Whitten: The "role" is a concept which is tied by the relation "plays" to a player

David Whitten: The "role" is a concept which is tied to multiple contexts using the "role-of" relation.

John Sowa: The notion of social role is important: it represents the contexts determined by the intentions of some living thing or society of living things.

David Whitten: An extended role model includes (player OR Natural) AND (Universals OR Individual) with (Role OR Context) AND (Universals OR Individual)

David Whitten: three roles = relational + processual + social

KenBaclawski: @Ravi Sharma: The meeting page has a link to Frank's slides in PDF format. The other two slide decks are only in PPT right now.

David Whitten: processual focus on the manner of the participant behaves in a process. Thus a behavior definition for a slice of a process.

David Whitten: social roles use institutions as context.

David Whitten: This terminology is also used by the YAMATO system.

David Whitten: There is some ties between roles and analogies

David Whitten: The X counts as Y in context C : is this a triadic relation?

John Sowa: Whenever you mention perspectives, that implies some living thing that is looking or perceiving that context.

Jack Ring: Examples of Not Role, Not Context, Not Environment?

David Whitten: The two arguments to the "role" relation are each viewed from that relation as a role: Context & Player

David Whitten: Categories allow Platonic Universals and Immanent Universals

Ravi Sharma: @Frank - so the player morphs in to a role during process, and also context changes with the role? how can we keep track of changing context and changing roles together using math, logic, or computer techniques?

David Whitten: Concrete Individuals have Persentials and Continuants, and Processes.

Jack Ring: Do you accommodate ternary relationships?

David Whitten: sorry: Concrete Individuals have Presentials and Continuants and Processes.

David Whitten: Frank asks how would you describe Context ? a context is "of" something . -- (DJW: is this possessive of?)

David Whitten: Frank asks is something in a context (DJW: Context as Lakoffian Container ?)

David Whitten: Frank thinks contexts are a dependent connection. Nothing is a context independently. A context is relative to some other relations or entities.

John Sowa: GFO shows what a top-level context must contain. Compared to GFO, BFO is just a microtheory.

Gary Berg-Cross: frank's initial thoughts on context as a role seems to have correspondence to John Sowa's 4 points/types of context.

David Whitten: Player categories are entities such as situations, text pieces, theories, social rules, social conventions.

John Sowa: Correction: I meant that GFO is a top-level *ontology*. BFO is just a microtheory.

Ravi Sharma: @Frank and @ Barry - how do we reconcile the fact that context has to be contained in ontology? dynamic situations are ok but what techniques we use to keep track of correct or relevant ontology as a dynamic time dependent system?

David Whitten: Frank thinks context can be part of the meaning of a word.

David Whitten: Frank thinks can use a theory (logical axioms etc) as a context.

David Whitten: Frank thinks using commonalities across multiple contexts might allow for more specific relevant relations.

Gary Berg-Cross: So is there agreement for the use of a "in context of" relation to incorporate context into our ontologizing?

David Whitten: Frank thinks we should distinguish a context from a context specification or a context dimensions. i.e., geography, time+space, political, social aspects.

Ravi Sharma: @ speakers - as we enter in to a situation or process or initial condition, pre and during as well as post notions of contexts may be needed

Jack Ring: Is there an ontology or "context?"

Gary Berg-Cross: To help my understanding Frank might explain or give an example of "contextualized entities."

BobbinTeegarden: Contexts morph, and one context may turn into another -- how do you handle that?

David Whitten: Mike Bennett feels that there is overlap between FIBO ideas and GFO ideas

Ravi Sharma: @Barry - beside anything else, it is admirable to have some common upper ontology driving detailed domain ontologies using BFO.

David Whitten: Mike Bennett feels how we use the word "role" is very complex.

Cory Casanave: Frank: Roles as contextualized things makes a lot of sense. Do you see contextualized things other than roles? E.g. can an assertion be contextualized?

David Whitten: Mike asks re "perspectives" and "roles" and "contexts"

David Whitten: @cory. I think a microtheory is a way to contextualize an assertion.

David Whitten: Barry feels that playing a role such as "acting director of a company". BFO says that Playing a role is different from Having a role.

David Whitten: Frank feels that an "acting role" is a different role than "having a role"

Gary Berg-Cross: Acting director is a different role than Director.

David Whitten: Frank feels "acting director" is a social role.

David Whitten: The social context (or a company) defines the tasks and duties of a director versus an active director.

Gary Berg-Cross: The role is defined in a social context, and might includes task descriptions, rules and regulations.

David Whitten: Barry brought up an example of a teenager "playing" a role is different than "having" a role. He says this distinction is cross language.

Gary Berg-Cross: Why is playing a role vs. having a role an important distinction? It seems to be an important distinction in linguistic expressions.

John Sowa: There are people with their hands up. Can we get on with the questions.

John Sowa: There are only 15 minutes left.

David Whitten: Barry says the BFO theory of realizables which interacts with the "function of" an item. A stone can play the role of hammer but a stone doesn't have function of hammer.

Gary Berg-Cross: A brick may play the functional role of a hammer in some context. It is afforded???

John Sowa: QUESTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

David Whitten: Frank sees Barry's challenge.

Ralph Schaefermeier: @Barry isn't a hammer also just a piece of metal stuck to a piece of wood and only becomes a hammer by because of socially agreed up criteria (shape, materials)?

Jack Ring: No one can 'have' a role. Function is not role.

David Whitten: Mike says there are ontological means to fulfill the challenge, especially when contracts are involved (as in FIBO)

David Whitten: Ravi asks both speakers: Context should be carried in relationships played by individuals. Dynamic situations involve changing roles as time passes.

David Whitten: Ravi what minimal support should an ontology provide to support this?

David Whitten: Ravi: How does an observer understand a context of how it interacts in the situation.

John Sowa: I agree with Barry that context does not belong at the top level.

David Whitten: Barry feels the word "context" has so many meanings that are already incorporated in a ontology. some of these are in BFO's descriptions of environment. "causality" is a also multi-headed notion.

David Whitten: MikeB agrees with Barry that there isn't a single meaning for the word "context".

John Sowa: But the top level must be sufficient to define the many meanings of context.

Gary Berg-Cross: Shall we plan on going a bit beyond 1:30 Eastern to let the queue have a chance at this topic???

David Whitten: Agreement in the use of certain words occurs when multiple people use the same ontology.

David Whitten: John Sowa agrees that the word "context" has multiple meanings. BFO does a good job of handling some of them. Adding Signs and semiotics will cover many of those BFO is not currently covering.

Gary Berg-Cross: @John on what the top level must conceptualize to allow context to be defined farther down in the ontology. GFO has a nice start on this. And we should have something from semiotics at the top like signs etc.

Ravi Sharma: Barry stated that The fact that several people are using the same ontology implies some amount of contextual commonality.

David Whitten: Sowa feels that intentionality is essential to a perspective.

David Whitten: Sowa feels each living thing interprets signs and reacts to them.

Gary Berg-Cross: @John For a perspective we nee to add ideas like intentions and interpretation.

Gary Berg-Cross: @John argues that BFO is more a microtheory than a top level ontology.

Jack Ring: Context is that which interacts with system. An onto of context identifies the relevant entities and their attitudes.

Ravi Sharma: John Sowa said (interpretation and notes by Ravi) intentionality is an important part, cognizer (some person) needed as living thing. Fundamental distinction and mereology is not adequate and rocks and stones are not a relevant ontology.

Gary Berg-Cross: @Barry responded with agreement on John's points and mentions work on the Social, Political realm etc.

David Whitten: John Sowa feels that BFO treats intentionality and information. Barry says active work on BFO is on issues of intentionality.

MikeBennett: We will continue for another 10 - 15 minutes if that's OK with everyone

Gary Berg-Cross: @John then we may have agreement IF we have a 2 level split at top with Physical things on one side and signs (etc.) on the other.

Jack Ring: When shall we acknowledge that it isn't about 'top' and other notions of hierarchy. It is about gestating commonality of understanding among N humans? We need the seed holon, not an Upper Ontology.

David Whitten: Mike and I are glad everyone has been able to participate in this session, and hope all issues can be covered in the next few minutes.

BobbinTeegarden: @Jack a 'seed' holon only is a context unto itself

Ravi Sharma: Notes: Barry said no argument, John said top are two things, universals and two way split, What are those two things is not clear to Ravi, but second might be related to living entity /intention

Gary Berg-Cross: @Barry argues that not every ontology will involve the semiotic side of this view of ontologies. John noted that every ontology is made of signs.

Ravi Sharma: @John - Kindly clarify in these notes what are 2 things?

David Whitten: Fabian feels context must impact the truth value of a statement.

MikeBennett: Context: Things that affect the truth value of a statement (Fabian)

Gary Berg-Cross: @Fabian's take on context - that which affects the truth value of a statement.

David Whitten: Fabian suggests this subset of contexts be considered as pragmatic contexts

Cory Casanave: @Fabian - very similar to something we seemed to have agreement on, even if overly general: A context is anything that impacts the interpretation or truth value of something else

Gary Berg-Cross: @Fabian this means that context is largely a pragmatic rather than semantic issue.

Gary Berg-Cross: Example, It's raining. Is that true? We may have to specify where and when to be sure.

BobbinTeegarden: @Fabian Yes! Context in much of discourses is implied (and thought of as 'understood')

MikeBennett: Context in human language is entirely implied. Surely the goal of ontology is to take the implicit and make it explicit.

Ravi Sharma: @Gary - also the extent uniform, here and there, how hard etc and for how long? etc. many parameters.

Jack Ring: @Bobbin, "itself' does not exist. A seed holon may consist of multiple entities which are context for each other but that does not identify the context with which the seed holon will associate.

ToddSchneider: Is 'Reality' a context?

David Whitten: Barry thinks the goal of science is to have context complete descriptions of observations.

Gary Berg-Cross: @Barry A goal of ontology is to make "context-free" true statement. We need to include the dimensions that make it true. Science changes to reflect this.

Ravi Sharma: @Barry said science leaves out context, science and ontology changes and each time it aims at being free of context.

Jack Ring: @Todd: Reality is your context but perhaps not mine.

Gary Berg-Cross: @John added that a goal of Semiotics is to make true statements about all of what Science understands.

Ravi Sharma: Barry - thanks again for a great work on BFO.

Ralph Schaefermeier: Can upper ontologies ever be free of context?

Ram D. Sriram: @Barry: What about the applicability of Newton's laws vs Einstein's Laws for objects traveling at a certain speed?

ToddSchneider: I'm never certain how to interpret 'reality'. I avoid the term/notion.

Gary Berg-Cross: Next week- Contexts in the Open Knowledge Network Session 1

Vicki Tardif Holland (Google) and OKN

Ramanathan Guha: OKN Overview

Mayank Kejriwal (ISI)

BobbinTeegarden: @Jack Maybe the term/concept 'seed' holon is an impedance mismatch?

Jack Ring: Why do we always end up focusing on science and people instead of clarifying ontology?

TerryLongstreth: Interpreting (?): What are the universal qualities of all uses of the term context?

Gary Berg-Cross: Mayank Kejriwal (ISI) Context-rich Social Uses of Knowledge Graphs

Jack Ring: Context: That which interacts, else environment.

David Whitten: Mike and I thank all of you again.

FrankLoebe: Dear all, I see some questions in the chat above which I couldn't address yet. I must leave now, too, unfortunately, but I'll come back to this later, either bi-laterally or via mailing list.

MikeBennett: There were some good comments and questions in the chat that we didn't get to. Let's see if we can do something with the track wiki page and also take the conversations forward into the Ontolog Forum mailer.

Ravi Sharma: Mike - thanks for the financial and other use cases and examples of upper ontologies.

Ravi Sharma: ontologies

Ravi Sharma: @ram- Patil from Ford on semantic interoperability suggested by Ram Sriram.

Ravi Sharma: Ken traced Feb 18, 2016 when Lalit Patil spoke on Summit.

Ravi Sharma: Ram said - AAAI site technical program - let us look at that. many interesting speakers are there. TBD

Ravi Sharma: Ravi to talk to Cory and finalize speakers for 21st Feb.

Ravi Sharma: Suggested Summit dates 30th April May 1

Ravi Sharma: neural networks model text speakers for our sessions.

KenBaclawski: Confirmed: The Summit Symposium will be on April 30 and May 1.


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