Proceedings, International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling (SDH'98),
Vancouver, Canada, 12-15 July, 1998, pp. 308-320.
Ontology and Geographic Kinds
Barry Smith <SDH98_fn.html#fn0> and David M. Mark <SDH98_fn.html#fn0>
National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis and
Center for Cognitive Science
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, New York, 14261 U.S.A.
An ontology of geographic kinds is designed to yield a better
understanding of the structure of the geographic world, and to support
the development of geographic information systems that are conceptually
sound. This paper first demonstrates that geographical objects and kinds
are not just larger versions of the everyday objects and kinds
previously studied in cognitive science. Geographic objects are not
merely located in space, as are the manipulable objects of table-top
space. Rather, they are tied intrinsically to space, and this means that
their spatial boundaries are in many cases the most salient features for
categorization. The ontology presented here will accordingly be based on
topology (the theory of boundary, contact and separation) and on
mereology (the theory of extended wholes and parts). Geographic reality
comprehends /mesoscopic/ entities, many of which are best viewed as
shadows cast onto the spatial plane by human reasoning and language.
Because of this, geographic categories are much more likely to show
cultural differences in category definitions than are the manipulable
objects of table-top space.
Keywords: ontology, mereology, geographic kinds, entity types, GIS
Ontology deals with the nature of being. Communication requires a
sharing of ontology between the communicating parties. The formal
description of ontology is thus essential to data exchange standards,
and to the design of human-computer interfaces. In this paper, we
describe some fundamentals of the ontology of geographic space and of
the objects and phenomena of geographic space.
1.1 Why Construct an Ontology?
An ontology of geographic kinds, of the categories or entity types in
the domain of geographic objects, is designed to yield a better
understanding of the structure of the geographic world. The results can
be of practical importance in at least the following ways: