Geographic Categories: An Ontological Investigation
David Mark Principal Investigator
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The results of this study will contribute to our understanding of geographic objects and associated cognitive categories. This will be achieved through the development of a formal ontology, which in turn will be based on rigorous, cross-linguistic empirical research using human subjects. Preliminary studies have indicated that geographic objects have important ontological features distinct from those of objects encountered at table-top scales, and that these features are salient for purposes of categorization. Evidence regarding the nature of cognitive categories has up to now been based primarily on studies of categorization of entities at scales similar to the human body and its parts--small animals and plants, artifacts and tools, etc.. The present project is the first to extend inquiries of this sort in systematic fashion to the domain of geographic objects. It thus has the potential to contribute to our understanding of human cognitive categorization in general, as well as to specific features of cognition in the geographic realm. Parallel studies will be conducted in several languages and regions, so that the resulting ontology will be multilingual.<br/><br/>The project will contribute to the development of geographic information systems (GIS), especially to spatial data transfer and semantic interoperability of geographic software and data. Most current GISs, and spatial data infrastructures, are based on geographic objects (entities), and an improved theory of the nature of geographic objects and their categories will improve the effectiveness of feature coding schemes that are a key part of geographic data. The multilingual aspects of the research will contribute to international geographic information exchange, and to the effectiveness of multinational projects in environmental, social, military, and commercial domains. The proposed research can be of practical importance in at least the following ways: (1) It can help us to understand how different groups of people exchange, or fail to exchange, geographic information. (2) It can support the development of knowledge-interchange standards by providing the basis for spatial databases with stable category systems and formally rigorous underlying structure. (3) It can provide default characteristics for geographic information systems (GIS) in ways that may contribute to their broader usability by non-experts.