Most people are familiar with a few Zen kōans – the ‘nonsense’ sayings of the great Zen masters that are designed to make us think or rather not think. Their aim is to point more directly to what can’t be said in words. Examples include: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”. Sitting silently and bearing a kōan in mind can be a powerful means of expanding our understanding. A kōan that would be useful for those of us involved in the discussions on Globally Unique Identifiers (GUIDs) at the moment is: What is it that persists when a GUID is persistent? I have been dwelling on this for a while now and I’d like to share some of my thoughts.
Month: April 2009
I recently took part in a very long discussion on LSIDs on the TDWG-TAG mailing list. This seems to have been a perpetual discussion over the past four years. On reflection I realised that over two posts I had produced a kind of personal position paper on LSIDs and that it would be worth capturing the text in a blog post so it didn’t disappear into the mailing list archives. People often ask about LSIDs and it would be useful to have somewhere to point them to. Note that this text is off a technical discussion list and not newbie friendly. It assumes you know about LSIDs as a technology.
One issue that repeatedly comes up with LSIDs is that they may be more permanent than URIs. They offer a sociological advantage in that they are separate from ephemeral HTTP URLs that are used for everything on the web. The act of minting an LSID indicates that you intend to try to make it permanent or at least never re-use it for another resource.
The barrier to everyone hosting LSIDs is that they don’t all have access to DNS servers and can’t host the relevant SRV records. There are other barriers to do with binding LSIDs to particular institutional domains that may change. A solution to this may be to have a central service that hosts DNS records and it is implied that this would help with persistence but just hosting SRV records or supplying a redirect service does not actually provide any persistence at all to the data/metadata. Persistence of a GUID to 500 error rather than a not found is not helpful.
The nice thing about blogging is that you get to mix-n-match your thoughts together in a way that you couldn’t do in the constituant parts of your life. This post brings together the notion of Globally Unique Identifiers (GUIDs) from my world of work and Buddhist notions of identity. It isn’t really acceptable to talk Buddhist spirituality in biodiversity informatics meetings and bringing up techie stuff when talking to Buddhist friends doesn’t help communication much either but here I can bravely attempt to mash the two together and I hope shed light on both.
Buddhism is widely and erroneously believed to propose the notion of anatman meaning ‘no soul’. Atman figures big in Hinduism and in Abrahamic faiths as ‘soul’. Buddhism has a different spin on the soul and this is where the error often comes in. Generally different-from-having-something is considered to be not having it. Therefore it is concluded that there are no souls in Buddhism – but this is confused thinking.
“Do you have a soul?” is a loaded question. It assumes firstly that the world can be split into things, secondly that these things can have possessive type relationships and thirdly there are two things ‘you’ and ‘soul’ that may have this relationship. If you have a problem with any of these assumptions it is difficult to say anything in response to the question. Any notion of a self or even a thing is totally contingent on everything else in space time. Buddhism finds it difficult to locate ‘you’ and ‘soul’ and so impossible to express an opinion on their relationship.
This is exactly where we arrive at biodiversity informatics and the problems we have with GUIDs.