On "who I am"

While roaming about in the space of massively multiplayer online games, from the learning perspective, I stumbled on the cognitive ethnography work of Constance Steinkuehler. Here, she says something about identity that, I think, is relevant to notions of identity and its articulation in computer records:
Because the activities I engage in are crucial to my identity. Who I am determines, and is reflexively determined by, my participation in various communities (Gee, 1999; Greeno, 1997). As Packer and Goicoechea (2000) put it, “A community of practice transforms nature into culture; it posits circumscribed practices for its members, possible ways of being human, possible ways to grasp the world—apprehended first with the body, then with tools and symbols—through participation in social practices in relationship with other people. Knowing is this grasping that is at the same time a way of participating and relating.” (p. 234) In other words, changes in knowing become changes in being: Through participation in a given Discourse (Gee, 1999), I do more than just acquire and reorganize mental representations of the world; who I am, who I see myself to be, is transformed by it. To quote Jodie Foster in her 90’s slasher film, “It changes me. And that changes everything.”

Vocabulary Management for the Semantic Web

Tom Baker, coordinator of the Vocabulary Management Task Force in the W3C SWBPD WG has released a first draft of the technical note which is the intended deliverable of the VM TF, shortly defined in the TF definition page as following:
A relatively concise technical note summarizing principles of good practice, with pointers to examples, about the identification of terms and term sets with URIs, related policies and etiquette, and expectations regarding documentation.
The current draft structure brings interestingly together practices from various communities and languages : FOAF, Dublin Core, SKOS, WordNet ... and Published Subjects. The release also includes an exhaustive list of links on the subject.The WG and the TF will have their F2F meeting next week in Bristol. I've been put under the interesting challenge to deliver something for the following section:

Section 3.3.
What does it mean to "use" Terms from one Vocabulary in another?
The problem of "semantic context". Terms may be embedded in clusters of relations from which they may be seen in part to derive their meaning. It may therefore not always be sensible to use those terms out of context. Examples include the terms of thesauri or ontologies, as well as XML elements, which may be defined with respect to parent elements and may therefore not always be reusable as properties in an RDF sense without violating their semantic intent.
In other words : does a term, clearly identified by its URI, but used in a context different from its original one, identify the same original concept?


Metadata for the masses

Free tagging. Interesting. Let folks tag (identify) objects according to their own whims. Well, it's different. I'm not analyzing it, just pointing at it.


Identity as process

In an earlier post, Bernard talked about the thought that there is no identity, only identification process. Music to my ears.

In an earlier post of mine, I pointed to the TMRM, the new reference model for topic maps. Now, I would like to point to a plethora of presentations at coolheads.com, the website of Steve Newcomb and Michel Biezunski. In particular, the slides titled "What is a Topic Map Application (TMA)?". Roam about those slides and it may become apparent to some readers that subject identity is, indeed, a process, one in which the topic map author discloses the means by which topic identity is established and is to be compared where merging of topics is a goal.

My own interpretation, not putting words in anyone else's mouth here, is that the TMRM aims to make subject identity a center stage process, where portions of a subject's identity are established through assertions. Follow me closely here. Assertions replace the familiar associations of XTM, performing the same function of establishing typed, scoped relationships between topics. They then, under direction of disclosures, perform a role in contributing information to a subject's identity through castings. I prefer to think of the casting topics in light of my seeing as discussion earlier.

My present interpretation, then, is that subject identity is a dance. A process. I won't argue against the use of the familiar PSI (URI) notation for some objects in some universe of discourse. Indeed, we can all agree on the concepts "mother", "father", "sister", and so forth, and I'd be very happy to disclose that PSIs for concepts like those would suffice, no matter what language the name string for such topics turns out to be. But, in routine conversations, thought processes, and some written stuff, I, like many others, tend to orbit around subject identity, talking about "passengers in cars" and the like, contextually sensitive identifiers which may link back anaphorically to some other statement. It's often a composition of many statements, assertions, that leads to identity. It's a process.


Typing : the main context in identification process?

Looking back at some recent posts, seems that most of the time, identification processes take place in contexts where the type (class, category ...) of the thing to identify has been explicitly or implicitly defined. It's explicitly said in the paper quoted in my yesterday post, and it appears in an ongoing thread on topicmapmail, where Lars Marius Garshol, speaking about Subject Identity Measure, writes:
"Another consideration is that I think types are extremely important. If the names are the same but the types are disjoint (person and place, say) then you can safely ignore the names. You might even want to make the algorithm consider typing topics first, and only afterwards go after the instances."
This is also maybe behind Jack's post "Seeing As..." . You can identify a "real" person only if you see it as a person, and on the other hand you can consider, given the appropriate identification context, any kind of data : a photograph, a phone number, an email address, a handwriting, the sound of a voice, a perfume ... as identifying a person if you see those data as persons, meaning that you have set an identification context where the type of object to identify is "Person".

Those considerations make me wonder about the credibility of URIs, PSIs and other kinds of "universal identifiers", if set outside any processing context, and maybe the minimal processing context should be the type of the thing identified. If http://psi.oasis-open.org/iso/639/#fra is set as a PSI for an instance of the class "Language", would it make any sense to use this identifier to identify a topic, without assuming implicitly that this topic is itself an instance of this same class?


The More Things Change, The More They Are the Same

Jack forwarded me last week an intriguing message from Chris Landauer, from some non-public forum, dealing with identity and undecidability.
"Another question came up about recognizing when two objects are the same. Since that question is formally undecidable even in polynomial expressions over the integers (Hilbert's 10th problem), I don't see it as being possible in the more complicated spaces of computing systems (...) without some kind of "cheating", to use the usual mathematical parlance.

In this case, one useful kind of cheating is to provide some very carefully engineered introspective processes that let the computing objects help to analyze and combine themselves with others. This notion of "Computational Reflection'' is one of the main principles that underlie Kirstie Bellman's and my theoretical computing research, which has shown that we can build such computing systems"
A quick search about Launder and Bellman led me to a very rich list of publications .

But further searching for "identity + undecidable", I stumbled on this amazing paper written in early Web days (Oct '93) by Henry G. Baker. Although written for the context of distributed computing, quite technical, dealing in-depth with various flavours of identity/equality of objects in object-oriented languages such as LISP, many excerpts of the paper make sense even for the non-programmer:
"Our model for object identity is similar to the concept of "operational identity", in which objects which behave the same should be the same."
Of course, to behave supposes a context of behaviour ... this conforts me in the line of thought that there is no identity, only identification process.


SKOS, some first impressions

Thanks to Bernard, I started looking at SKOS. Here are just a few first comments, mostly comparisons to topic maps, but also concerning an interpretation of the structures discussed in the SKOS document. I don't talk about subject identity in this post, but may return to that issue later.

From the SKOS metamodel

SKOS-Core allows you to define concepts and concept schemes.

A concept is any unit of thought that can be defined or described. 

A Subject is anything you can talk about.

A Topic is a proxy for a subject: one subject, one topic.

A concept scheme is a collection of concepts.

Sounds like a Category, to me. In fact, later in the SKOS document, they mention the terms fundamental category and fundamental facet.

A concept may have any number of attached labels.
A label is any word, phrase or symbol that can be used to refer to the concept by people.

A concept may have only one preferred label, and any number of alternative labels. 

A Topic can have any number of names, each with, or without a Scope.

A Topic can have one baseNameString, stated differently (with Scope, typically in different languages -- multilingual topic names).
SKOS facilitates scoping.

Relationships may be defined between concepts within the same concept scheme. Any such relationship is referred to here as a semantic relation.

Associations may be defined between Topics.

Relationships, as stated in SKOS, sound like the morphisms of category theory. From the perspective of representing, say, a thesarus, I can see the logic in having categories, as one might expect in word senses, where there is a root word which forms a category, capturing all of that word's derivatives within the same category. One can do that directly with the associations of topic maps. There still may be some merit in the category notion.

Mappings may be defined between concepts from different concept schemes. Any such mapping is referred to here as a semantic mapping. 

Nothing similar in topic maps. Mappings, as found here sound like the functors of category theory. The SKOS document doesn't appear to go much further with mappings.

I am beginning to suspect, without further research and based solely on a first impression of the opening paragraphs of the SKOS document, that there is a strong category-theoretic underpinning to SKOS. That would be a useful underpinning. I have a strong sense that there is a similar underpinning that can be interpreted in the TMRM.