Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps
1. Introduction: Glossaries and Ontologies in the Context of Systemology
- providing arguments for the need for such an ontology;
- disambiguating different concepts relating to termbases, vocabularies, and ontologies;
- providing background on how such ontologies are constructed;
- making suggestions for how systems thinking can aid the building of ontologies; and
- proposing a systemic and systematic framework for selecting and organising the terminology of Systemology.
2. General Background on Ontologies and Concept Maps
2.1. Scientific and Philosophical Uses of the Term Ontology
2.2. Definition of a Category in Ontology
- intensional definitions, which specify the meaning of a term by giving the necessary and sufficient conditions for when the term applies;
- extensional definitions, which define applicability by listing everything that falls under that definition;
- operational definitions, which define applicable ranges of measurable parameters within which the term applies;
- ostensive definitions, which suggests where the term applies by giving indicative examples (without being exhaustive); and
- negative definitions, which articulates applicability by specifying what is excluded from the meaning of the term.
2.3. Definitions of a Vocabulary and a Termbase
2.4. Definition of a Concept Map
2.5. Definition of an Ontology
2.6. Types of Ontologies
2.7. State of the Art in Ontology Development
- ISO 704:2000 Terminology work—Principles and methods
- ISO 860:1996 Terminology work—Harmonisation of concepts and terms
- ISO 1087-1:2000 Terminology work—Vocabulary-Part 1: Theory and application
- ISO 1087-2:2000 Terminology work—Vocabulary-Part 2: Computer applications
- ISO 10241:1992 Preparation and layout of international terminology standards
- NISO Z39.19-200x Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies
3. Systems Thinking as an Aid to Ontology Development
3.1. General Challenges in Ontology Development
- Keep the definitions clear while expressing them as compactly as possible;
- Limit the conceptual scope of a term to the minimum without trivialising it;
- Minimise the number of terms employed without leaving out important distinctions;
- Maintain coherence of the network of terms and definitions;
- Maximise the use of categories and relationships already established in a relevant upper ontology, to avoid duplication of effort and to maximise interoperability with other domain ontologies; and
- Maximise compatibility between proposed terms, definitions and meanings already present in the scholarly literature.
3.2. The Nature of Systems, and the Systemicity of Ontologies
3.3. Systems Thinking for Ontology Development
- Distinction making: differentiating between a concept’s identity (what it is) and the other (what it is not), between what is internal and what is external to the boundaries of the concept or system of concepts;
- Interrelating: inter linking one concept to another by identifying reciprocal (i.e., 2 × 2) causes and effects;
- Organising Systems: lumping or splitting concepts into larger wholes or smaller parts; and
- Perspective taking: reorienting a system of concepts by determining the focal point from which observation occurs by attributing to a point in the system a view of the other objects in the system (e.g., a point of view)”.
3.4. Systems Principles in Ontology Development
3.4.1. Dialectical Feedback
- ‘thing’ seems inappropriate for a category that might have ‘values’ or ‘ideas’ or ‘processes’ as subcategories;
- ‘object’ seems inappropriate for a category that might have ‘force fields’ or ‘consciousness’ as subcategories;
- ‘entity’ sounds like a term more appropriate to referring to some kind of living being;
- ‘individual’ sounds like a term more appropriate to referring to persons;
- ‘particular’ could suggest an interpretation in the sense of ‘not general’, whereas generality is exactly what is being aimed for;
- ‘existent’ is naturally an adjective and seems clunky when used as a noun; and
- ‘T’ is not a term but a symbol.
3.4.2. Emergence, Wholeness and Coherence
- We will use the term ‘substance’ to refer to ‘stuff something might be comprised of’, so if something is made of stuff we will refer to it as ‘substantial, and if not then as ‘insubstantial’. The difference between them is that substances are part of the real world and have inherent causal powers;
- We will regard time as a kind of metric and not as kind of thing or substance, enabling us to specify, in relation to the temporal metric, such notions as ‘before’, ‘during’, ‘interval’, and ‘after’;
- We will regard space as having metrical properties, enabling us to specify, in relation to the spatial metric, such notions as size, shape, ‘next to’, ‘to the left of’, and ‘above’; and also as being substantial. This is consistent with the idea in contemporary physics that ‘empty space’ is not really empty but is a substance comprised of virtual particles, thus constituting what is called the quantum vacuum;
- If all the aspects of an existent exist at the same time, we will call it an ‘occurant’ (e.g., this apple), and if the aspects of an existent are spread out over an interval we will call it a ‘continuant’ (e.g., this football match). We will disambiguate ‘continuant’ from the case where an occurant persists in time by describing such an occurant as being also an ‘endurant’. An occurant that does not endure is an instantaneous one;
- We will take it for granted that for a substance to exist it must be located in time and space; and
- We will take ‘state’ to stand for the instantaneous values of an existent’s properties at a moment.
- Thing: spatial & temporal properties, substantial, occurant (things could be either enduring or instantaneous);
- Process: spatial & temporal properties, substantial, continuant;
- Event: spatial & temporal properties, substantial, instantaneous;
- Relationship: spatial and/or temporal properties, insubstantial, occurant, or continuant; and
- Concept: no spatial properties, logical properties, insubstantial, occurant.
- Thing: a substantial occurant;
- Concept: an insubstantial occurant;
- Event: a change in the state of an existent;
- Process: a series of events; and
- Relationship: a conceptual association between things, processes, events, or concepts.
3.4.3. Boundaries, Contexts and Levels
3.4.4. Isomorphic Systems Patterns
4. A Concept Map towards an Ontology of Systemology
- Blue serif font indicates concepts relating to conceptual systems rather than physical ones;
- Red indicates concepts occurring on the isomorphy lists of Len Troncale, to show how this presented structure can assist in their organisation; and
- Pink indicates concepts inherited from upper ontologies.
Conflicts of Interest
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For present purposes we can ignore the questions and theories about how kinds of concepts arise and come to be associated with kinds of experiences.
We know that as a general rule we do not perceive things as they are, but ‘see’ them in a way that is conditioned (inter alia) by the concepts (mental models) we have of those things. This is what R.N. Hanson meant when he famously described observations as ‘theory laden’ .
Thomas Kuhn referred to this situation saying that for a scientific community to be in a period of normal science they must share notions, points of view, similar terminology (language use) and research scope .
The working group’s final report is available here: 
See pages 4-5 of the progress report available here: 
See, for example, page 6 of the report available here: 
This idea is explicitly captured in ‘Distinctions Rule’ of the DSRP framework, but the other DSRP rules also employ interrelated dichotomies in line with the notion of dialectical feedback.
This also corresponds to the ‘Distinction’ rule of Cabrera et. al.’s ‘DSRP’ Framework .
In medical practice, a sign is something objectively observable, as opposed to an indication via a subjective report. Vomiting is a sign, nausea is not. Signs reflect measurable physiological parameters, whereas subjective reports reflect psychological impressions that may or may not have a basis in physiology.
Numbers and shapes are abstract existents, and exist (somehow) independently of our knowledge of them—any sufficiently advanced civilization can independently discover them.
In Ontology (the branch of philosophy) a ‘property’ as defined as a way some existent is (e.g., green, or smiling, or charged) . No existent, no properties thereof…
As we developed this framework no additional concepts surfaced that had to be included in other to complete the framework. This is unusual in such work but it does suggest that the terms we picked out form a natural grouping, and might thus be stable when we start to expand the framework to consider further fundamental categories.
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Rousseau, D.; Billingham, J.; Calvo-Amodio, J. Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps. Systems 2018, 6, 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems6030032
Rousseau D, Billingham J, Calvo-Amodio J. Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps. Systems. 2018; 6(3):32. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems6030032Chicago/Turabian Style
Rousseau, David, Julie Billingham, and Javier Calvo-Amodio. 2018. "Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps" Systems 6, no. 3: 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems6030032