Robert Arp

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Robert Arp
Robert Arp in a Tie.jpg
Robert Arp in June of 2009

Robert Arp (born March 20, 1970 in Chicago, Illinois) is a philosopher, ontologist, and technical writer who is known for his work in ontology (information science), philosophy of biology, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy and popular culture. He completed his undergraduate degree in philosophy at The Catholic University of America (1992), his master's degree in philosophy at The Catholic University of America (1993), and Ph.D. in philosophy at Saint Louis University (2005). Arp taught at Southwest Minnesota State University and then at Florida State University for a year with Michael Ruse, as well as at many schools in the St. Louis, Missouri area as an adjunct professor of philosophy, before doing postdoctoral research in ontology through the National Center for Biomedical Ontology[1] with Mark Musen[2] and Barry Smith (ontologist)[3] at the University at Buffalo.

Work in ontology[edit]

As a practical, working ontologist, besides producing numerous technical documents, Arp has utilized RDF, RDFS, OWL, and SPARQL to assist in building ontologies for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, utilizing ontology-building tools such as TopBraid and Protégé (software). He was part of the initial steps in developing the world’s first weather ontology with other ontologists at Lincoln Laboratory.[4] He was also part of the genesis of the Infectious Disease Ontology[5] through meetings and discussions in 2007[6][7] and 2008.[8] The Infectious Disease Ontology is one of the ontologies in the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies Foundry, also known as the OBO Foundry.

As a theoretical ontologist, having worked closely with Barry Smith (also a philosopher/ontologist), Arp has contributed to Smith's Basic Formal Ontology in the areas of function, role, and disposition.[9] Concerning biological function (biology), in the past Arp has put forward a middle position between the two viable accounts of function today—namely, the organizational account of function (usually attributed to Robert Cummins) and the modern history account of function (usually attributed to Paul Griffiths and Peter Godfrey-Smith)[10]—and his position has been called “reconciliatory” and “pluralist.”[11] Within the context of Basic Formal Ontology, biology, and bioinformatics, although Arp’s definition of function has been criticized as inapplicable to “entities above or below a certain size,”[12] the definition not only offers an attempt at a “coherence between the concepts of biological function and technical function,”[13] but it also has been utilized by researchers doing work in biochemical processes,[14] hypersensitivity conditions,[15] service systems,[16] and domain conceptual modeling in general.[17][18][19]

Like Barry Smith, Arp also has sought to defend a common sense realist position concerning the construction of domain ontologies (essentially, scientific realism) whereby a domain ontology should, if possible and appropriate, represent the actual entities out there in the world that fall under the purview of science.[20] One argument Arp puts forward is a restatement of the “no-miracles argument” for scientific realism which states that it would be miraculous if scientific theories were not at least approximately true descriptions of the world, since they are so (seemingly) successful at prediction and control. He has argued for this position in the past.[21]

However, cognizant of the difficulties surrounding a realist position (especially for practical, working ontologists),[22] Arp has argued for a form of as-if philosophical realism, along the lines of Immanuel Kant and Hans Vaihinger whereby the “commitment to the pursuit of abstract objects could become instrumental in guiding the life of philosophy and science in a limited as if manner.”[21][23]

Just as Kant spoke of the value of the regulative ideas as aiding in, not only the rounding off of our systematic picture of reality, but also prompting us to do further research and investigation, so too, according to Arp thinkers are to act as if there is a reality “out there” (the ding-an-sich or noumenon, as it were) when they construct domain ontologies or engage in any other kind of scientific endeavor. Given the as-if nature of this position, there is always the possibility that there may be practical or pragmatic concerns in building domain ontologies which actually trump the realist pursuit, and Arp is mindful of this possibility.[20]

Also, following other ontologists he has drawn a distinction between philosophical ontology (physical ontology), domain ontology, and upper ontology (information science) (also known as top-level or formal) ontology,[24] [25] and has attempted to articulate principles for best practices in the building of domain ontologies in radiology,[26] cell signaling,[27] bioethics,[28] and finance.[29]

Work in philosophy of biology[edit]

Besides his work in functions and teleology mentioned above, Arp has attempted a definition of life, arguing that the “components and attending processes of an organism must be considered as living, emergent phenomena because of the way in which the components are organized to maintain homeostasis of the organism at the various levels in the organismic hierarchy.” He calls this position the homeostatic organization view of biological phenomena.[30] With Alexander Rosenberg, Arp has edited Philosophy of Biology: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009),[31] with Francisco J. Ayala, he has edited Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009),[32] and with George Terzis, he has edited Information and Living Systems: Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives (MIT Press, 2011).[33]

Arp has also offered helpful suggestions for the interactions of philosophers and scientists[34] as they go about their work in philosophy of science.

Work in evolutionary psychology[edit]

In his book, Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving, Arp adds to Steven Mithen's cognitive fluidity view by arguing that such fluidity would be random and chaotic without mechanisms of selection and integration. Thus, what he calls “scenario visualization”[35] is a necessary ingredient in creative problem solving, and likely was one of the first things that emerged in human consciousness. Scenario visualization is defined by Arp as a “conscious ability to segregate and integrate visual images in future scenarios.”[35][36][37]

While this view has been applauded as “innovative and interesting,”[38] a “valuable resource and a stimulating contribution,”[39] and even “ambitious,”[40][41] there are those who critique Arp’s position as “saying nothing new”[42] and suffering from “a form of selectivity deficit – an inability to judge what is and isn’t relevant to his claims.”[43]

Arp’s view continues to be referred to as plausible by cognitive scientists[44][45][46] and others doing work in artificial intelligence,[47][48][49][50]philosophical psychology,[51]and other areas of study.[52][53][54][55]

Work in philosophy and popular culture[edit]

Arp has chapters in more than 30 books in the genre known colloquially as Philosophy and Popular Culture, including Metallica and Philosophy, Family Guy and Philosophy, Lost and Philosophy, 24 and Philosophy, The Office and Philosophy, Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy, Watchmen and Philosophy, Final Fantasy and Philosophy, Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, True Blood and Philosophy, 30 Rock and Philosophy, and others. He has worked numerous times with William Irwin, General Editor of The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series[56] through Wiley-Blackwell (publisher). In 2006 Arp edited the flagship book in that series, South Park and Philosophy: You Know, I Learned Something Today, which has been translated into the Italian language,[57] the Turkish language, and the Portuguese language.[58]

He also co-edited Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul with Mark White, soon to be translated into the German language. Arp and White were interviewed in 2008 by The Boston Globe[59] and, when asked by The Globe, "Do some scholars see this kind of thing (i.e., Philosophy and Popular Culture books) as silly?" part of Arp's response was: "At root we are trying to bring philosophy to people and bring people to philosophy." Arp and White also contributed an article to The Globe called “Should Batman Kill the Joker?” in 2008.[60] This article is reprinted in the eighth edition of The Norton Sampler: Short Essays for Composition (in Chapter 12: Argument),[61] published by W. W. Norton & Company.

Arp has also worked with Mark Conard and The Philosophy of Popular Culture series[62] through The University Press of Kentucky, as well as with David Ramsay Steele and the Popular Culture and Philosophy series[63] through Open Court Publishing Company, which has produced titles such as The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer, Star Wars and Philosophy, Star Trek and Philosophy, The Beatles and Philosophy, James Bond and Philosophy, and many others. One of Arp's latest projects is as editor of Tattoos - Philosophy for Everyone: I Ink, Therefore I Am with Fritz Allhoff (General Editor of the Philosophy for Everyone series)[64] and Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.

Arp's edited book, 1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think, was published through Simon & Schuster in 2013 and has sold thousands of copies worldwide in English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.[65] Concerning reviews of the book, The Boston Globe stated, "Editor Robert Arp has produced a reference guide that's fun to browse," while Library Journal claims the book is "highly attractive... recommended" and Booklist notes that it is "entertaining and informative."[66] Of the nearly 50 ratings and 10 reviews of the book on Goodreads, 1001 Ideas has received a rating of 4.35 out of 5.0.[67]


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  9. ^ Arp, R.; B. Smith (2008). "Function, role, and disposition in Basic Formal Ontology". Nature Precedings. 1941.1: 1–4. 
  10. ^ Arp, R. (2010). "Evolution and two popular proposals for the definition of function". Journal for General Philosophy of Science. 38 (1): 19–30. doi:10.1007/s10838-006-9008-3. 
  11. ^ Perlman, M. (2010). Traits have evolved to function the way they do because of a past advantage, in Contemporary debates in philosophy of biology (F. Ayala & R. Arp, eds.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 53–71. ISBN 978-1-4051-5998-2. 
  12. ^ Lord, P. (2009). "An evolutionary approach to function". Nature Precedings. 3228.1: 1–4. 
  13. ^ Borgo, S.; M. Carrara; P. Garbacz; P. Vermaas (2010). Formalizations of functions within the DOLCE ontology, in Proceedings of the TMCE 2010 symposium (I. Horvath, F. Mandorli & Z. Rusak, eds.). Ancona, IT: Symposium Publications. pp. 113–126. ISBN 978-90-5155-060-3. 
  14. ^ Dumontier, M. (2009). "Situational modeling: Defining molecular roles in biochemical pathways and reactions" (PDF). Scientific Commons. 432: 1–12. 
  15. ^ Hogan, W. (2010). "Towards an ontological theory of substance intolerance and hypersensitivity". Journal of Biomedical Informatics. 1: In press. doi:10.1016/j.jbi.2010.02.003. 
  16. ^ Sicilia, M.-A.; M. Mora (2010). "On using the REA enterprise ontology as a foundation for service system representations". Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing. 62 (4): 135–147. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-16496-5_10. 
  17. ^ Da Costa, A.; E. Leclercq, M. Savonnet, M.-N. Terrasse, (2008). A methodology for low-cost image annotation based on conceptual modeling: A biological example, in Third international conference on signal-image technologies and Internet-based systems. IEEE Computer Society. pp. 18–25. ISBN 978-0-7695-3122-9.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
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  20. ^ a b Arp, R. (2009). "Realism and antirealism in informatics ontologies". American Philosophical Association: Philosophy and Computers. 9 (1): 19–23. 
  21. ^ a b Arp, R. (2005). "The pragmatic value of Frege's Platonism for the pragmatist". The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. 19 (1): 22–41. doi:10.1353/jsp.2005.0002. 
  22. ^ Merrill, G. (2010). "Ontological realism: Methodology or misdirection?". Applied Ontology. 5 (2): 79–108. 
  23. ^ Arp, R. (2005). "Frege, as-if platonism, and pragmatism". Journal of Critical Realism. 4 (1): 22–41. doi:10.1163/1572513053889382. 
  24. ^ Arp, R. (2010). Philosophical ontology, domain ontology, and formal ontology, in Key terms in logic (J. Williamson & F. Russo, eds.). London: Continuum Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-1-84706-114-0. 
  25. ^ Arp, R. (2010). "Ontology: Not just for philosophers anymore". Practical Philosophy. 10 (1): 81–103. 
  26. ^ Arp, R.; R. Chhem; C. Romagnoli; J. Overton (2008). Radiological and biomedical knowledge integration: The ontological way, in Radiology education: The scholarship of teaching and learning (R. Chhem, K. Hibbert & T. Van Deven, eds.). London: Springer. pp. 87–104. ISBN 3-540-68987-7. 
  27. ^ Arp, R.; B. Smith (2008). "Ontologies of cellular networks". Science Signaling. 1: mr2. doi:10.1126/scisignal.150mr2. 
  28. ^ Koepsell, D.; R. Arp; J. Fostel; B. Smith (2009). "Creating a controlled vocabulary for the ethics of human research: Towards a biomedical ethics ontology". The Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 4: 43–58. doi:10.1525/jer.2009.4.1.43. 
  29. ^ Arp, R. (2010). Ontologies just may save your savings accounts, in Progress in Economics Research, Volume 16. (A. Tavidze, ed.). New York: Nova Publishers. pp. 115–129. ISBN 978-1-61122-437-5. 
  30. ^ Arp, R. (2008). "Life and the homeostatic organization view of biological phenomena". Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy. 4 (1-2): 260–285. 
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  34. ^ Arp, R.; J. Watson (2008). "Checks and balances: the welcomed tension between philosophy and science". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 83 (1): 17–28. doi:10.1086/529559. PMID 18481585. 
  35. ^ a b Arp, Robert (2008). Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-01244-8. 
  36. ^ Arp, R. (2005). "Scenario Visualization: One explanation of creative problem solving". Journal of Consciousness Studies. 12 (3): 31–60. 
  37. ^ Arp, R. (2006). "The environments of our hominin ancestors, tool usage, and Scenario Visualization.". Biology and Philosophy. 21 (1): 95–117. doi:10.1007/s10539-005-0443-z. 
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  41. ^ O’Connor, M.; D. Fauri; F. Netting (2010). "How data emerge as information: A review of Scenario Visualization". The American Journal of Psychology. 123 (3): 371–373. 
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  43. ^ Picciuto, E.; Carruthers, P. (2008). "Book Review: Creativity Explained?" (PDF). Evolutionary Psychology. 6 (3). doi:10.1177/147470490800600306. ISSN 1474-7049. 
  44. ^ Gomila, T.; P. Calvo (2008). Directions for an embodied cognitive science: Toward an integrated approach, in Handbook of cognitive science: An embodied approach (P. Calvo & T. Gomila, eds.). Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 1–26. ISBN 978-0-08-046616-3. 
  45. ^ Weichart, A. (2009). "Sub-symbols and icons.". International Journal on Humanistic Ideology. 1 (4): 342–347. 
  46. ^ Sugu, D.; A. Chatterjee (2010). "Flashback: Reshuffling emotions.". Cognitive Computation. 1 (1): 109–133. 
  47. ^ Thomas, Nigel (2014). "The Multidimensional Spectrum of Imagination: Images, Dreams, Hallucinations, and Active, Imaginative Perception". Humanities. 3 (2): 132–184. doi:10.3390/h3020132. 
  48. ^ Sloman, A.; J. Chappell (2005). "The altricial-precocial spectrum for robots.". Proceedings IJCAI’05: 1–8. CiteSeerX: 
  49. ^ Arrabales, R.; A. Ledezma; A. Sanchis (2008). "Criteria for consciousness in artificial intelligent agents." (PDF). ALAMAS+ALAg 2008 – Workshop at AAMAS 2008: 1187–1192. 
  50. ^ Arrabales, R.; A. Ledezma; A. Sanchis (2010). "ConsScale: A pragmatic scale for measuring the level of consciousness in artificial agents.". Journal of Consciousness Studies. 17 (3-4): 131–164. 
  51. ^ Bullot, N. (2011). Attention, information, and epistemic perception, in Information and living systems: Philosophical and scientific perspectives (G. Terzis & R. Arp, eds.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 208–248. ISBN 0-262-20174-7. 
  52. ^ Martelli, Antonio (2014). Models of scenario building and planning: Facing uncertainty and complexity. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1–320. ISBN 9781137293497. 
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  59. ^ Bebergal, Peter (July 13, 2008). "A talk with Robert Arp and Mark D. White". The Boston Globe. 
  60. ^ White, Mark D.; Arp, Robert (July 25, 2008). "Should Batman kill the Joker?". The Boston Globe. 
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