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Re: <nettime> Critique of the "Semantic Web"
Marianne van den Boomen on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 02:34:24 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Critique of the "Semantic Web"


Alan Liu wrote:

> I have followed this debate between Florian Cramer and Reto Bachmann-Gm=FCr
> with much interest.  Both viewpoints seem understandable at different
> levels. Florian assesses formal ontology at a fairly high cultural-critical
> level (informed by the imperializing history of "universal" knowledge/language
> projects).  Reto assesses the same ontology from a lower level closer to the 
> actual standards and source-code "(where, true to the general zeitgeist of 
> today's metadata, "universal" fuzzes out into "extensible" in the way that 
> XML is not a universal markup language but an extensible markup language with 
> different vocabularies/schemas).

That is very clarifying, I think you are right, Florian and Reto are 
talking different 'levels'. But still, what is at stake is: can coded 
syntactics be extended (or leveled up) to semantics by means of an 
interconnecting web system? Florian says no, Reto says yes, but 
modestly, on the level of formal code.
I seems to me, either the claim is modest but then it is not semantic 
but syntactic, or the claim is bigger, aiming at semantics  and beyond, 
i.e. importing ontological claims on top of the epistemological claims.

> discourse and culture.  By analogy: a language may have a particular
> vocabulary and grammar.  But the language may be used to say both _The
> Elizabethan World Picture_ (E.M. Tillyard's classic book about the faith
> of the Renaissance in a universe ordered according to a single "chain of
> being" from God at the top to the lowest creature or rock at the bottom)
> and _A Thousand Plateaus_.

Interesting analogy, but doesn't the semantic web pretend more than just 
such a 'syntactic web' of grammar and vocabulary? It aims at providing 
rules and entities as a framework for (the search for) meaning. That's 
another level, I suppose. It aims at universally identifiable and 
extensible semantics. In fact, it aims to overcome the babylonian 
confusion of tongues between for example the two books mentioned above. 
These books can be seen as emblematic instantiations of two kinds of 
ontology: an ontology of being and an ontology of becoming. The semantic 
web aims in that sense at a meta-ontology in which these books not just 
get a classified location in a taxonomic system (indicating their 
relative location on the shelves in a physical library) but in which 
they also become virtually locatable, i.e. addressable, understandable 
and harnessable on the web, even when they function in completely 
different semantic or knowledge domains or are culturally incompatible. 
In fact, hyperbolically reformulated, the aim is to let these books 
'talk to one another', and understand/interprete each other. Seamlessly.
Berners-Lee (see http://www.w3.org/2006/Talks/0718-aaai-tbl/#(17) ) 
denies that "the Semantic Web is about making one big ontology" Instead 
he claims: "The semantic web is about a fractal mess of  interconnected 
ontologies...." This may be true, but then we have this already - it's 
called culture. Even Web 1.0 and 2.0 are part of it. Only it is not 
formalized in a meta-ontology interconnecting and extending all these 
micro-ontologies. That will remain a megalomanic dream.


Marianne


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