531C Problems in Ontology: Formal Ontology #478200
6-8:50pm (141 Park)

Classes start on Thursday, October, 21.

Thomas Bittner

106 Park Hall

Tel: 645-2444 ext. 106


This course gives an overview of geospatial ontology and of the range of different spatial, temporal, and spatio-temporal representation and reasoning formalisms used in computer applications. We discuss qualitative approaches to ontology based on mereology and quantitative approaches based on set theory. In the first group we focus on the RCC-theory of Cohn and his associates, and on Allen's interval calculus. In the second group we focus on constraint languages. A special instance of the latter are the popular vector systems. We discuss the expressive power of those formalisms and their potential applications, for example in order to formalize commonsense reasoning about space and time or in order to serve as representation language in geographic information systems. We then analyze the appropriateness of those formalisms for the representation of vagueness, which is dominant feature of most natural geographic phenomena.




Grades will be determined as follows:

30%     30 minute presentation during class.

70%     One double-spaced 10 page paper, due November 15. 






Introduction and overview


Mereology and its application in Computer Science


  • Varzi, A., ‘Mereology’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford: CSLI (internet publication), 2003. ftp
  • Part-Whole Relations in Object-Centered Systems: an Overview, Artale, A., Franconi, E., Guarino, N., and Pazzi, L, Data and Knowledge Engineering, 20(3): 347-383 ftp


Granular mereology and its applications


  • A Theory of Granular Partitions, Thomas Bittner and Barry Smith in: Foundations of Geographic Information Science, Matthew Duckham, Michael F. Goodchild and Michael F. Worboys, eds., London: Taylor & Francis Books, 2003, 117-151. ftp
  • Directly Depicting Granular Ontologies, Thomas Bittner and Barry Smith presented at the 1st International Workshop on Adaptive Multimedia Retrieval, Hamburg, September 2003 ftp
  • Bittner, T., A mereological theory of frames of reference, technical report, IFOMIS, University of Leipzig ftp




  • Varzi, A. ‘Parts, Wholes, and Part-Whole Relations: The Prospects of Mereotopology’, 1996, Data and Knowledge Engineering, 20:3, 259-86. ftp
  • Varzi, A., ‘Basic Problems for Mereotopology’, in Nicola Guarino (ed.), Formal Ontology in Information Systems, Amsterdam and Oxford: IOS Press, 1998, pp. 29-38. ftp


Mereotopology and its application to spatio-temporal reasoning


  • Cohn, A.G., Bennett, B., Goodday, J. and Gotts, N., 1997, Qualitative
    Spatial Representation and Reasoning with the Region Connection Calculus,geoinformatica
    , 1/3, 1-44 ftp
  • Egenhofer, M. (1991). Reasoning about Binary Topological Relations. 2nd Symposium on Large Spatial Databases, SSD'91. Zurich, Switzerland. 525: 143-160.
  • Allen, J. F. (1983). “Maintaining Knowledge about Temporal Intervals.” Communications of the ACM 26(11): 832-843.
  • F. Wolter and M. Zakharyaschev: Qualitative spatio-temporal representation and reasoning: a computational perspective, In ``Exploring Artificial Intelligence in the New Millenium'', editors G. Lakemeyer and B. Nebel, Morgan Kaufmann, 2002. ftp


Vagueness and approximate qualitative spatial and temporal reasoning


  • Bittner, T. and Barry Smith, to appear. 'Vague Reference and Approximating Judgments'. In Spatial Cognition and Computation. ftp
  • Bittner, T. (2002). “Approximate Qualitative Temporal Reasoning.” Annals of Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence. Vol. 35, Nr. 1-2 ftp
  • Bittner, T. and J. Stell (2002). “Approximate qualitative spatial reasoning.” Spatial Cognition and Computation 2: 435-466. ftp


Environments and niches


  • Smith, B. and Varzi, A., The Niche, Nous, 33:2 (1999) 198–222 ftp
  • Smith, B and Varzi, A.., ‘Surrounding Space’, Theory in Biosciences, 120:2, 139-162, 2002 ftp
  • Smith, B. and Varzi, A., ‘Environmental Metaphysics’, in Uwe Meixner (ed.), Metaphysics in the Post-Metaphysical Age. Proceedings of the 22th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, pp. 231-239, 2001 ftp


Spatio-temporal ontologies


  • WonderWeb Deliverable D17. The WonderWeb Library of Foundational Ontologies and the DOLCE ontology, Masolo C., Borgo S., Gangemi A., Guarino N., Oltramari, A., Schneider L., Preliminary Report (ver. 2.0, 15-08-2002) ftp
  • Grenon, Pierre, Barry Smith: SNAP and SPAN: Prolegomenon to Geodynamic Ontology. in: Spatial Cognition and Computation. ftp


Constraint Databases – Introduction

Readings: Revesz, P., Introduction to Constraint Databases, Springer Verlag, New York, 2002. Chapters 1 and 13



Constraint Databases – Interoperability


  • Revesz, P., Introduction to Constraint Databases, Springer Verlag, New York, 2002. Chapter 13
  • Chomicki, J., Revesz, P., ``Constraint-Based Interoperability of Spatiotemporal Databases'', Geoinformatica, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 211-243, 1999. ftp


Constraint Databases – Approximation by Constraints

Readings: Revesz, P., Introduction to Constraint Databases, Springer Verlag, New York, 2002. Chapter 14


Student presentations


Student presentations



General readings:

  • Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi, Parts and Places. The Structures of Spatial Representation, Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, Bradford Books, x + 238 pp, 1999
  • Revesz, P., Introduction to Constraint Databases, Springer Verlag, New York, 2002.