Preconceptual Modeling in Software Engineering: Metaphysics of Diagrammatic Representations


Conceptual modeling of a portion of the world is a necessary prerequisite to set the stage and define software system boundaries. In this context, one of the challenges is to provide a unified framework to create a comprehensive representation of the targeted domain. According to many researchers, conceptual model (CM) development is a hard task, and system requirements are difficult to collect, causing many miscommunication problems. Accordingly, CMs require more than modeling ability alone: they first require an understanding of the targeted domain that the model attempts to represent. Accordingly, a preconceptual modeling (pre-CM) stage is intended to address ontological issues before typical CM development is initiated. It involves defining a portion of reality when entities and processes are differentiated and integrated as unified wholes. This pre-CM phase forms the focus of research in this paper. The purpose is not show how to model; rather, it is to demonstrate how to establish a metaphysical basis of the involved portion of reality. To demonstrate such a venture, we employ the so-called thinging machine (TM) modeling that has been proposed as a high-level CM. A TM model integrates staticity and dynamism grounded in a fundamental construct called a thimac (things/machine). It involves two modes of reality, existence (events) and subsistence (regions: roughly, specifications of things and processes). Currently, the dominant approach in CM has evolved to limit its scope of application to develop ontological categorization (types of things). In contrast, advocates of TM modeling have pursued a broader metaphysical study of the nature of the domain’s things and processes beyond categorization. In the TM approach, pre-CM metaphysics is viewed as a part and parcel of CM itself. The general research problem is how to map TM constructs to what is out there in the targeted domain. Discussions involve the nature of thimacs (things and processes) and subsistence and existence as they are superimposed over each other in reality. Specifically, we make two claims, (i) the perceptibility of regions as a phenomenon and (ii) the distinctiveness of existence as a construct for events. The results contribute to further the understanding of TM modeling in addition to introducing some metaphysical insights.

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