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This glossary is to help communication within the NCBO by standardizing the terms we use internally

Many of the terms here are sourced from: Media:SmithCeusters.pdf

Meanings of terms used in NCBO

Levels of Reality:

1 - Physical Reality

2 - Psychological Reality = our knowledge and beliefs about 1.

3 - Propositions, Theories, Texts = formalizations of those ideas and beliefs



anything which exists, including things and processes, functions and qualities, beliefs and actions, documents and software (Levels 1, 2 and 3)

Note that sometimes in software engineering the term "entity" refers solely to a the digital representation itself rather than the thing being represented. Within NCBO we use "entity" to mean anything that exists, but typically for level 1 entities.


portion of reality that forms the subject-matter of a single science or technology or mode of study.


an image, idea, map, picture, name or description ... of some entity or entities.

Representational Units

terms, icons, alphanumeric identifiers ... which refer, or are intended to refer, to entities.


a representational artifact whose representational units (which may be drawn from a natural or from some formalized language) are intended to represent types in reality and those relations between these types which obtain universally (universally = for all instances)

Application vs Reference Ontology

There is a good summary here:

 Reference Ontologies - Application Ontologies: Either/Or or Both/And?
 Christopher Menzel
 Texas AM University


Mapping vs. Alignment

Mapping = Refers to the process of creation of a relationship b/w terms in separate ontologies

Alignment = Refers to the process of creation of a near-synonymy relation b/w terms in separate ontologies

Universal (type)

Particular (instance)

Aristotelian Definition

Also known as genus-differentia definition (but not limited to species taxonomies).