Thursday, 3 April 2014

Breaking down reality

Greek philosopher Parmenides
image from wikipedia
Dividing the Iseum in its main components and work out a naming convention that made sense in the 3D modelling context as well as in the RDF one, seemed a sensible starting point to me. 
However, reality is a continuum and every attempt to break it down according to our logic(s), and partly to our needs, is bound to result in long hours of discussion, over-consumption of coffee, and a severe headache. The meaning of words and concepts gets challenged over and over again in endless loops, going inevitably back to pre-socratic questions about «being» and «existing». 
The point is that every division and classification is artificial, no matter how much we are fascinated by The Myth of Perfect Consistency or how much we try to be objective.

Objectivity is, probably, a common self-delusion among ontologists. In my opinion, personal and cultural biases can be partly counter-balanced through collaboration and the expression of multiple hypotheses and interpretations. However, at this stage, I have to work on my own in order to produce a proof of concept. So, the best I can do is to record my methodology, so that I can revise it after having received feedbacks.

About naming convention: I was tempted, at the beginning, to use human readable names. I thought it would have made my 3D model much more accessible and easy to look at for other modellers. I had even thought of using Latin to label well identified areas, and more generic names, always in Latin, for the one that have not been identified yet. After discussing it, I have decided to abandon the idea for two main reasons:
Colour map of the elements of the Iseum
1) it is not always so straightforward to label a space. The fact that I am mainly working on the Iseum can be deceptive under this respect. Roman sacred architecture tends to be quite formalised. So there is little to argue if I want to call the pronaos «pronaos». However, it’s not the case for every building in Pompeii. 
A look at my comparative example, the House of Orpheus, proved to be very useful. There are many spaces that do not have an agreed identification, and different scholars refer to them with different names. Not to mention that the upper story(ies) are entirely hypothetical. 

2) Giving a meaningful label means already to make assumptions about the use of a space. And I am trying very hard not to express interpretations at this level. 

In the end, I have opted for a more abstract convention and I will simply use letters (in the English alphabet) to label the components of my model. 
Through RDF triples, I will then express that, for example, room A is type kitchen according to scholar 1 and that the same room A is type storeroom according to scholar 2.

About identification of elements: In the case of the Iseum, the identification of the main components didn’t seem very difficult to me. The different blocks stands out fairly clearly. Even before making (or agreeing on) assumptions on the use of the spaces, they look pretty much neatly separated from a geometric and structural point of view.
I’m using the first published plan of the Iseum ever published (Saint-non’s one) to illustrate the first division into the main elements. In order to avoid confusion, I have erased from the original map the letter-based naming convention that Saint-Non himself used. Next to the letters, I am listing in the legenda also word labels for the sake of clarity, following a widely accepted convention about the Iseum.

Some of the elements can be divided in sub-elements or grouped in super-elements (the relationship being very easily expressed through properties such as :isPart Of or :hasPart). Some of this relationships are very quickly recognisable looking at the plan. The element C (Temple), for example, can be divided into element H (pronaos) and I (cella). The latter, also contains a sub-element J (cellar). Likewise, space G can be divided in several sub-elements.

Close up of the Temple of Isis
However, buildings are not flat, and spaces are not divided only along an horizontal axis. If we look at a cross-section of the Iseum, then we will notice that the Temple is not only made by pronaos and cella, but also by a podium and a roof. And the Purgatorium has a ground level room as well as an underground one.
Last, we can hypothesise the existence of a second story for at least one of the rooms of the private area, although it isn’t in any plan or blueprint of the Iseum.

So, the whole list of the elements in which I have divided the Iseum is a bit longer than the one showed above, but it is probably not interesting to publish it here.
If reading this post you have started mumbling things like: “do a roof and a room belong to the same category”? “what about stairs?” “what about the altars and the statues?”, I know exactly that feeling and this is why I have spent a few nightly hours searching for some convincing answers (that I will publish soon).

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