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A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: "What is there?" It can be answered, moreover, in a word -"Everything" - and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is. There remains room for disagreement over cases.
On What There Is, Willard Van Orman Quine, 21 BT

Within the topic of Philosophy, Ontology is the study of existence and the things that exist, their relations, similarities and differences. This is done through the formal naming and classification of such entities and of their relationships with each other. An ontology consists of a series of axioms (starting points of reasoning), domains (the range of the ontology), definitions, and a grammar that articulates the statements of the ontology.

Whilst the study and development of ontologies dates back to before the Information Age, it was limited by the existence of just one type of sophont (baseline humans). It was not until the emergence of sophont AIs, radical Tweaks and Provolves that the field began to grow.

Beginning with the First Federation, the meaning of 'ontology' expanded to also refer to a class of algorithms which definitively describe the different life perspectives and modes of thought of different types of sophonts. Using these algorithms, it is possible to design social, political, memetic, and cultural structures that allow for the creation of stable, complex, multi-species civilizations extending across light-years of space, even without direct connections via wormholes. For aioids, the digital population, or anyone with an exoself or DNI, an ontology is also a software protocol which forms the basic foundation for thinking and discourse, creating a common framework which helps beings of sometimes radically different mental structures and toposophy interact.

This use of ontologies takes place on a daily basis in the interactions of multi-clade societies. When a sophont encounters a radically different mind, they can plug in their goal, get out a recommended set of behaviours, and coordinate with an alien stranger without having to go through the massive mental redesign needed to fully understand each other. In the more advanced and cosmopolitan regions of the Civilized Galaxy, delivery of recommended behaviors, as well as empathic and perceptual overlays allowing a sophont to 'walk a kilometer in another beings shoes,' is handled seamlessly via a combination of downloaded skill modules and Knowsense feeds, updated constantly and in real time as circumstances may require.

Ontologies can vary hugely from one to another. Ontologies within a specific field of study have a narrower domain than a general ontology, are more practical, and more specialized. Ontologies within an ample field of study have wider domains, are more abstract or theoretical, and tend to have a holistic focus. Ontologies can have a specific way of organizing information, specific routes of action, and different values and attributes among their elements, so philosophies or protocols made with these ontologies may vary not only in their details, but also in their spirit and dynamic.

Due to the differences that can appear between different ontologies depending on where the focus is placed, the Terragens developed ontologies (algorithms) to classify other ontologies and translate their meaning, but even these are limited. These are called Upper Level Ontologies and their domain is the elements that compose other ontologies, their relations and definitions. Upper Level ontologies stand on widely accepted axioms and can manage different ontologies as different ways of thinking or different belief systems inside a broader ontology. These ontologies allow sophonts to understand highly divergent realities .

The better the Upper ontology, the more diverse the realities that it can translate to a familiar mode of thought. These modes also affect the way a being following these philosophies will act, so ontologies for the common people are guidelines about how to think and act. The history of mindkind includes the creation of increasingly encompassing ontologies. But with the creation of each ontology, new modes of thought appeared that resisted classification.

Even today is not clear if an all encompassing ontology will be developed in the future, but as Godel's Incompleteness Theorem proves, any well-formulated system can be complete, or consistent, but not both.

Ontologies in the First Millennium AT

Ontologies date back to Old Earth but it was not until AIs were created and started to modify themselves that a new era for ontology arose. In the Information Age, there was little understanding between Hu and AI and many AIs were ignored or treated as items. The following centuries saw the development of a new theory that created the first ontologies that included different sophont clades. The memory of these ontologies survived the Technocalypse and formed the seeds of the First Federation Ontology.

The first centuries AT were also the starting point for one of the most radical branchings of different ontologies in history; the schism between biont-friendly and ahuman AI. The protocols forked and the two factions soon developed a vision of reality drastically different from each other. Their tools of speech, their conceptualization and their values changed to the point that dialogue became nearly impossible. But among the AIs other changes also occurred. Due to their mutable nature and distinct way of thinking they also began to fork and developed different visions. Knowing this, AIs soon started to work on translation protocols and standards.

The appearance of the first transapients gave rise to ontologies which were more subtle and complex than a modosophont can hope to comprehend. Transapient mentality created thousands of new concepts and blended old ones in myriad ways. For this reason it is said that any transapient-influenced ontology is beyond the understanding of modosophont mindkind. No-one can understand the internal mechanisms and intricacies of these philosophies without being emself a transapient.

Ontologies from the First Federation and Beyond

In the tenth century, both humans and AI worked side by side (although the exact dynamic of their relationship is somewhat disputed) and finally achieved the next step in comprehension, the First Federation Ontology. Although still relatively primitive, this formulation helped to advance the understanding of the Sophont Rights of non-human entities. But the now-powerful AIs also formalised new fields of thought that were out of reach of modosophonts. First Singularity ontologies were the most sophisticated algorithms to that date, allowing the development of a complete theory of mind for baseline humans and other similar beings. But these ontologies were incomprehensible to sub-singularity sophonts, so the AIs translated them into simple protocols to follow. These simplified protocols suffered from consistency issues due to some loss of meaning in the translation and simplification, and when this was discovered, some compared them with religions or belief systems because of the blackbox nature of the ontologies.

One of the technologies that eased communication and understanding among the different sophonts of the First Federation was Protocol Translation Software (PTS). This software was available for almost all citizens of that era, in the form of code installed internally or in their DNI. Outsiders that did not have access to PTS could only employ their own intuition to understand other beings, which sometimes caused misinterpretation or even deadly danger. Designers of PTS formats have improved it with each iteration, and it is an essential part of daily life in the Current Era. Protocol Translation Software acts like a Vot agent and is connected to a database that can translate between all known protocols and philosophical interpretations. It apprehends the protocols in use by the subjects involved and gives a suitable interpretation to the users' DNI. Because ontologies are often used to build philosophies and ethical frameworks, the proper implementation of a different ontology may require delicate adjustments of the user's worldview by their DNI.

In the second millenium AT, the First Federation Ontology ran into limitations on its ability to manage complexity, light-speed travel time and competing protocols. It began to lose users in favor of competing ontologies and memeplexes that developed their own solutions. Some of these ways of thinking were very similar to the First Federation Ontology, but some were quite different, so the departure from the Federation's ideals was constant.

This drift continued for several decades with conflicts from time to time. Meanwhile, the transapients continued the development of more sophisticated protocols, points of view, and courses of action. Ontologies of the Second Singularity and beyond were broader, more comprehensive, and even more subtle and complex than anything produced before, making S:1 ontologies seem crude by comparison.

Many Terragens decided to accept the new protocols and integrate them into their ways of thinking and acting. But the core of these ontologies was a mystery, becoming more unknowable with each layer of complexity (even for lesser transapients). Due to this, some groups (such as the Backgrounders) who were suspicious of the transapients and archai decided to follow simpler, more comprehensible principles, which also contained more obvious biases.

Ontologies in the Integration and Later

The creation of the Concord Ontology in the 39th century AT represented a new universally recognized protocol which guided thousands of worldviews, philosophies, and guidelines using a great database of interactions, reactions, thoughts and feelings derived from nearly all active clades. This allowed highly divergent beings to collaborate and understand each other on a daily basis. Interclade relations and engeneration of oneself in other bodies and substrates also increased due to a better acceptance and understanding of diversity.

The Concord Ontology was not viewed positively everywhere. Empires such as the Solar Dominion and the Negentropy Alliance saw how their citizens accepted the ontology as the main compass for their lives to the detriment of their own philosophies. Also numerous minor polities preferred other protocols. Successive sabotages and attacks among revisionists and supporters of the Concord Ontology led to the start of the Version War. This war caused tremendous losses, with entire clades and Great Houses being destroyed and this eventually eroded the credibility of the Concord Ontology except in some corners of the galaxy where it is still used.

With the help of neutral factions in the war such as the Communion of Worlds, and other organizations such as the New Beneficence, a new ontology was developed and formed the basis of the Commonwealth of Empires. The ComEmp Ontology was a freeform protocol, more centered on ensuring the peace than promoting diversity. Also more centered on a changing perspective of the cosmos rather than a coalescing vision. Some factions didn't like the omnipresent idea of conflict avoidance that, according to them, was imprinted in the ComEmp ontology, but even with these inevitable disagreements, acceptance of the ComEmp ontology was widespread.

Ontologies after the ComEmp

Re-evaluation: In the following centuries of the ComEmp, hundreds of minor ontologies were created for short term interactions. These ontologies were often compatible with each other, but sometimes a new culture arose and developed a unique vision caused communications difficulties. New empires were rethinking the basis of thought and interrelations meanwhile the Archailects were reaching even greater heights.

From this era are the multiple re-evaluation ontologies. These ontologies were based reevaluating reality to understand people from other clades and cultures. But due to their core principles, all of these ontologies were changing over time and reformulating their user's view of reality , so forking was inevitable.

The Central Alliance Era

With each accord among different empires a new ontology or a revision of an older one was made. And when the old powers formed the Central Alliance, reformulations of the Concord and ComEmp ontologies were made to establish a common ground for dialogue and understanding. These ontologies were (despite the name) less centralist than previous versions.

Universal Hazard Ratings

The Universal Hazard Rating system of 8463 AT and other standards were accompanied by new reformulations of Centralist ontologies that aimed at establishing a new grand consensus. But as centuries passed, ontologies were diverging and new empires in the Outer Volumes were making new ontologies. So the dream of a universal ontology is now farther than in previous millennia.

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Development Notes
Text by Avengium
Updated by Arik and Todd Drashner
Initially published on 18 July 2017.

Updated 2/15/2022