Ontological Complexity and Human Culture

In R. Hagengruber (ed.), Proceedings of Philosophy's Relevance in Information Science (forthcoming)
Ontologies are being used by information scientists in order to facilitate the sharing of meaningful information. However, computational ontologies are problematic in that they often decontextualize information. The semantic content of information is dependent upon the context in which it exists and the experience through which it emerges. For true semantic interoperability to occur among diverse information systems, within or across domains, information must remain contextualized. In order to bring more context to computational ontologies, we introduce culture as an essential concept for information science. Culture helps to focus our attention on and make meaning of relevant extrapersonal structures and their qualities and dimensions that comprise the context and background of the world. In our approach, culture is integral to the study of semantics and, consequently, the study of ontologies and information technologies. The meaning we make of entities and phenomena in the world is always shaped by our cultural experience. If we understand culture as the emergent interplay of intrapersonal cognitive structures and extrapersonal structures of the world, then the notion of cognitive and cultural schemas becomes essential to understanding ontology and the ways in which we might achieve authentic semantic interoperability among diverse information systems. We explore the nature of ontologies and reconceptualize them as cultural schemas. Our proposal is an alternative to the historical path from philosophical ontology to computational ontologies as one that adheres primarily to the notion of ontology as a categorization and classification system. The obvious implication for ontology as categorization is that there is a single objective world that exists and that it can be described as entirely separate from the person observing it. We draw upon Heidegger’s examination of ontology to ground ontology in a phenomenological perspective, enabling it to remain flexible and adaptable and to accommodate context.
Keywords ontology  category  phenomenology  hermeneutic  culture  schemas
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