Mike Bergman writes, “Every couple of months I return to the idea of the open world assumption (OWA)  and its fundamental importance to knowledge applications. What it is that makes us human — in health and in sickness — is but a further line of evidence for the importance of an open world viewpoint. I’ll use three personal anecdotes to make this case.”

Bergman‘s first example begins, “Believe it or not, Alfred Wegener‘s theory of continental drift was only becoming accepted by mainstream scientists in my high school years. I experienced déjà vu regarding a science revolution while a botany major at Pomona College in the early 1970s. A young American biologist at that time, Lynn Margulis, was postulating the theory of endosymbiosis; that is, that certain cell organelles originated from initially free-living bacteria.”

He goes on, “This idea of longstanding symbionts in the cell — indeed, even forming what was our overall conception of cells and their parts — was truly revolutionary. It was revolutionary because of the implications for the nature and potential degree of symbiosis. And it was revolutionary in adding a different arrow in the quiver of biotic change over time than classical Darwinian evolution. Today, Margulis’ theory is now widely accepted and is understood to embrace cell organelles from mitochondria to chloroplasts and ribosomes.”

After sharing two more life science examples, Bergman notes, “These anecdotes are exemplary about the fundamental nature of knowledge: it is constantly expanding with new connections and heretofore unforeseen relationships constantly emerging… It makes sense that how we choose to organize and analyze the information that constitutes our knowledge should have a structure and underlying logic premise consistent with expansion and new relationships. This premise is the central feature of the open world assumption and semantic Web technologies… It is perhaps not surprising that one of the fields most aggressive in embracing ontologies and semantic technologies is the life sciences. Practitioners in this field experience daily the explosion in new knowledge and understandings. Knowledge workers in other fields would be well-advised to follow the lead of the life sciences in re-thinking their own foundations for knowledge representation and management. It is good to remember that if your world is not open, then your understanding of it is closed.”

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Image: Courtesy Flickr/ kaibara87