[Crm-sig] New Issue: Non-human Actors

Robert Sanderson azaroth42 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 11 21:13:45 EEST 2021

Could we clarify what sort of expert we're looking for to move the
discussion forward? In particular, natural history museums seem to be at
the critical intersection between CIDOC and the activities of animals. I
can represent the sorts of documentary evidence from that side, and happy
to reach out to colleagues at other NHMs. So I think the first aspect is
covered, but I question whether we (as modelers of museum knowledge and
documentation) /need/ to understand animal individuality or behavior in
order to take the first step of describing an animal performing some
action. Conversely, my experience has always been that when there is
something to react to, it is much easier to engage with outside
specialists.  It is easier to ask for opinions on something than it is to
ask them to help come up with the interdisciplinary model.

I also don't think it makes sense to model animal actors in great detail,
down to the same level as the differences between classes in CRMTex for
example. The baseline that we need to start with is much simpler.  If there
isn't a fine grained concept of animal individuality, I don't think that
means we can't model an individual animal at a coarser granularity, just
that we shouldn't allow the ontology to describe anything that we don't
understand. Even as a non-biologist, I know without any hesitation that the
bird laid the egg in the nest in the Peabody Museum of Natural History, and
that the herd of dinosaurs created the footprints preserved in Dinosaur
State Park up the road from us. I know that a sheepdog can herd sheep and
makes decisions about which way to run to accomplish the aim of getting
the sheep into the next field (and when I was a little lad played the part
of such a sheepdog for my uncle in New Zealand). How does the sheepdog
know? Does it know that it knows? If we study 100 sheepdogs individually
and in groups, what do we learn about sheepdog behavior? I don't care, and
I don't think any other museum oriented documentation system would either :)


On Mon, Oct 11, 2021 at 11:50 AM Martin Doerr <martin at ics.forth.gr> wrote:

> Dear George, Robert,
> This makes generally sense to me as a discussion starting point. However,
> I‘d like to remind you that our methodology requires first a community
> practice of doing documentation about such things, and second domain
> experts for concepts that are not our primary knowledge.
> To my best knowledge, there does not exist any reliable concept of what
> individuality means across the animal kingdom, nor what a collective of
> such individuals is. There is an unbelievable complexity to these
> questions. We know from experience that any global widening of scope can
> blur all distinctions ontology enginerring relies on. Therefore I'd regard
> it as most important to find the experts first and let them speak.
> The reasons why we did not model animal actors is precisely the lack of an
> experts group to communicate with.
> Best,
> Martin
> On 10/11/2021 4:28 PM, George Bruseker wrote:
> Dear all,
> In preparation for the discussion of non-human actors as related to use
> cases arising in Linked.Art (inter alia), Rob and I have sketched some
> ideas back and forth to try to find a monotonic was to add the agency of
> animals in the first instance into CRM (proceeding in an empirical bottom
> up fashion) and then see where else we might also get added in (searching
> for the sibling class that Martin suggests and the generalization that it
> would need).
> The linked sketch provides a proposal for discussion. The background is
> given already in this issue.
> https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RtKBvAH1N0G8yaE_io6hU2Z8MTBmH_8-/view?usp=sharing
> (draw.io)
> https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aCEBtXjW8M0W7qCGe9ozSMeYAH7tJ3Wr/view?usp=sharing
> (png)
> Here is some argumentation.
> Up to now, CRM takes its scope as related to documenting intentional acts
> of human beings. Its top level class then has been E39 Actor which gives
> properties which allow the assigning of responsibility for an intentional
> activity. It has two subclasses, E21 Person and E74 Group. These two kinds
> of being have different behaviour, therefore properties, therefore classes.
> If we expand the scope (in base or in sci or wherever) to include animal
> agency in the first instance, then we must have a way to monotonically
> generate this extension (we don't want to just expand the scope of E39
> Actor because then we will end up with rabbits being responsible for
> financial crises and murders and all sorts of nonsense).
> So we want to introduce a sibling class for E39 Actor. Call this
> biological agent. Instances can be anything biological. This would
> obviously be some sort of a superclass of E21 Person, since all persons are
> biological actors as well. It would be a subclass of biological object
> since all biological agents must be biological. (but not all things
> biological are biological agents)
> Then we would want a general class that subsumes the agency of purely
> human actors and biological agents. This would be our top class. Here we
> come up with a more general notion of agency. Whereas E39 Actor was
> declared in order to account for a 'legal persons notion' of agency common
> to Western legal systems etc. (and is perfectly adequate for the scope of
> CRM Base), this would be a broader notion of agency.
> In order to avoid impossible philosophical arguments around self
> consciousness, we can give a more externalist scope note / intension to
> this class. Agency has to do with those entities which display self
> organization and action towards an end from an external perspective. This
> way we avoid having to know if the other really has a self. If it looks
> like it is acting intentionally and people document it as such, then so it
> is.
> This now gives us a super class (and eventually super properties) for all
> agents.
> But wait... we need more.
> CRMBase distinguishes between persons and groups. Whereas persons must
> have both agency and be individuated corporeal beings, groups do not.
> Persons are atomic and irreducible (can't be made up of more persons, can't
> be spread over multiple bodies / time zones). Groups are composed of
> persons and groups. Groups are inherently collective.
> If we wish then to have this same distinction reflected into the
> biological domain we would need a class for individual biological agents
> parallel / sibling to person and a class for collective biological agents,
> parallel / sibling to group.
> Doing this one would then need the superclasses to subsume these
> divisions. Hence:
> Individual Agent: subclass of Agent, superclass of individual biological
> agent
> Collective Agent: subclass of Agent, superclass of collective biological
> agent and human group
> This finally allows us to have:
> Individual Biological Agent: subclass of Biological Agent and Individual
> Agent: used for individual birds, trees, and other biological actors
> Collective Biological Agent: subclass of Biological Agent and Collective
> Agent: used for flocks, forests and other group biological actors (unlike
> human groups, such groups are inherently corporeal)
> And at that point we might consider renaming our existing classes to
> 'human' xxx
> So
> E39 Human Agent: subclass of agent, no real change in intension, the kind
> of entity that can take action for which legal responsibility can be
> attributed within human cultures societies
> E21 Human Person: no real change in intension but its superclass becomes
> individual biological agent and human agent (ie an animal that can be held
> legallly responsible for its actions)
> E74 Group no real change in intension, but it gains a super class
> Collective Agent so it can be queried together with other agent groups.
> This analysis does not get into the properties which are, of course,
> fundamental but sketches a possible path for creating the structure
> necessary to create this extension of scope in such a way that it would
> respect the principle of monotonicity in revising the model while allowing
> the growth of the model to handle the many use cases of documented animal
> agency that fall within CH institution's documentary scope.
> Hope this is a good starting point for a constructive discussion!
> Best,
> George
> --
> ------------------------------------
>  Dr. Martin Doerr
>  Honorary Head of the
>  Center for Cultural Informatics
>  Information Systems Laboratory
>  Institute of Computer Science
>  Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH)
>  N.Plastira 100, Vassilika Vouton,
>  GR70013 Heraklion,Crete,Greece
>  Vox:+30(2810)391625
>  Email: martin at ics.forth.gr
>  Web-site: http://www.ics.forth.gr/isl

Rob Sanderson
Director for Cultural Heritage Metadata
Yale University
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