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Compatibilism: What's that About?

Copernicus

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Technically, everything is an illusion, since our models of reality are all interpretations of sense data.

The term "model" is correct. The brain organizes sensory data into a model of reality consisting of objects and events. When the model is accurate enough to be useful, as when we navigate our bodies through a doorway, then we call that "reality", because the model is our only access to reality. It is only when the model is inaccurate enough to cause a problem, as when we walk into a glass door thinking it is open, that the word "illusion" is appropriate.

The notions of "reality" and "illusion" are used to make that important distinction.

That depends on how we use the words. Normally, we use "illusion" to refer to a perceptual experience that causes us to misconstrue reality, such as when we walk into a glass door because of the visual illusion caused by the transparency of glass. Glass is solid. However, it is also liquid, because it flows like a liquid over time. And water is not so solid, because we can move our bodies through it. Unless, of course, your body is moving very fast when it comes into contact with the water. That's why water landings can be very dangerous for airplanes. If the airplane speed isn't slowed down enough, the airplane will break apart. So my point is that the solidity of an object can be taken as an accurate reflection of reality or illusion, depending on how we perceive an interaction with it.

... Anything that can be made to disappear from an imagined perspective becomes nonexistent from that perspective.

That which is ignored is not nonexistent. This is also an important distinction.

True, but that's not what I said. You have to perceive something in order to ignore it, but perception always depends on the perspective of the observer. Background perceptions that the mind filters out are still bona fide perceptions of reality.

There is no "free choice" from that perspective.

That would be an illusion. But I do not think the illusion is that time disappears. The illusion is that causal necessity has some sort of agency, which it does not.

Well, we can quibble over what we mean by "disappear". Perhaps "becomes irrelevant to the observer" would be a better characterization of shifting perspective to an observer that is not part of the timeline. That's why I like to bring up the example of reading a novel. Intellectually, we know that the characters in it are not real, but we don't enjoy the illusion of the story unless we can "suspend reality". That is, we shift perspectives in order to enjoy the experience of reading the novel.

If one takes the position of a soft determinist or compatibilist, then one can also shift perspective to one where consequences are unknown. From that perspective the future does not exist, only alternative versions of what it is likely to become.

And we have all experienced that uncertainty and humans have evolved specific language and logic to deal with it. When we do not know what "will" happen, we imagine what "can" happen, to prepare for what "does" happen.

Exactly right. In fact, all animals experience uncertainty and build predictive models of the future. We program robots to do that, as well. Humans have just evolved a means of communicating thoughts through a complex auditory signal. So all languages have tense and aspect expressions to communicate thoughts about when events happen and how long the events last.

Hard determinists simply refuse to acknowledge that reality can be perceived differently--experienced from different angles. They cling to the delusion that there can be only one possible way to experience of reality. So you have to choose between the reality where all future outcomes are known and the one where they are not known. You can't have both.

But the ordinary "man on the street" has no problem using the correct logic in the correct situation. He speaks and acts with certainty in matters of certainty, like when he is hammering a nail. He speaks and acts with uncertainty, referring to things that he "can" do (like hammering a nail) even when he is not hammering a nail. He imagines building a dog house for his pet, and knows instinctively that his dog cannot sleep in the "possibility" of a dog house but only in an "actual" dog house.

So, ordinary language provides the hard determinist with all the tools he needs to keep things straight in his head. And it is only when he confuses himself with abstractions and draws false inferences from his concepts that he ends up creating paradoxes that are too complex for him to climb out of.

This has been the position of so-called  Ordinary Language Philosophy. A word of caution on the Wikipedia article, however. It associates OLP with  Logical Positivism, which partly came out of Wittgenstein's early work with Bertrand Russell. OLP was actually inspired by Wittgenstein's later work, which rejected the verificationism that Logical Positivism is associated with.
 

Jarhyn

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So, this is where we part ways, then. One of my axioms, in fact one of THE axioms that we all tacitly assume despite claiming otherwise is that there is a universe, objectively, out there somewhere and that we observe it.
We do not part ways on this, since that is exactly my position. The difference I see between us is that you don't want to think of an illusion as an observation, even though illusions are perceptual phenomena by definition. The real problem that most people have with my use of "illusion" is that I don't always use it to mean a kind of deceptive or misleading observation. Illusions are grounded in sensory experiences, and so are our models of what is real. So illusions are real in that sense, even though they may sometimes lead to flawed assumptions about what you refer to as "objective reality". Illusion is a design feature of human perception, not a bug.
I think if there is a shared idea here it is between your "illusion" and my "image".

There are things which image other things, and perhaps inaccurately. But the image is still a property of the object perhaps in relation to a mechanism in that selfsame object. They are both objects with an objective relationship between them.
 

Marvin Edwards

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Technically, everything is an illusion, since our models of reality are all interpretations of sense data.

The term "model" is correct. The brain organizes sensory data into a model of reality consisting of objects and events. When the model is accurate enough to be useful, as when we navigate our bodies through a doorway, then we call that "reality", because the model is our only access to reality. It is only when the model is inaccurate enough to cause a problem, as when we walk into a glass door thinking it is open, that the word "illusion" is appropriate.

The notions of "reality" and "illusion" are used to make that important distinction.

That depends on how we use the words. Normally, we use "illusion" to refer to a perceptual experience that causes us to misconstrue reality, such as when we walk into a glass door because of the visual illusion caused by the transparency of glass. Glass is solid. However, it is also liquid, because it flows like a liquid over time. And water is not so solid, because we can move our bodies through it. Unless, of course, your body is moving very fast when it comes into contact with the water. That's why water landings can be very dangerous for airplanes. If the airplane speed isn't slowed down enough, the airplane will break apart. So my point is that the solidity of an object can be taken as an accurate reflection of reality or illusion, depending on how we perceive an interaction with it.

... Anything that can be made to disappear from an imagined perspective becomes nonexistent from that perspective.

That which is ignored is not nonexistent. This is also an important distinction.

True, but that's not what I said. You have to perceive something in order to ignore it, but perception always depends on the perspective of the observer. Background perceptions that the mind filters out are still bona fide perceptions of reality.

There is no "free choice" from that perspective.

That would be an illusion. But I do not think the illusion is that time disappears. The illusion is that causal necessity has some sort of agency, which it does not.

Well, we can quibble over what we mean by "disappear". Perhaps "becomes irrelevant to the observer" would be a better characterization of shifting perspective to an observer that is not part of the timeline. That's why I like to bring up the example of reading a novel. Intellectually, we know that the characters in it are not real, but we don't enjoy the illusion of the story unless we can "suspend reality". That is, we shift perspectives in order to enjoy the experience of reading the novel.

If one takes the position of a soft determinist or compatibilist, then one can also shift perspective to one where consequences are unknown. From that perspective the future does not exist, only alternative versions of what it is likely to become.

And we have all experienced that uncertainty and humans have evolved specific language and logic to deal with it. When we do not know what "will" happen, we imagine what "can" happen, to prepare for what "does" happen.

Exactly right. In fact, all animals experience uncertainty and build predictive models of the future. We program robots to do that, as well. Humans have just evolved a means of communicating thoughts through a complex auditory signal. So all languages have tense and aspect expressions to communicate thoughts about when events happen and how long the events last.

Hard determinists simply refuse to acknowledge that reality can be perceived differently--experienced from different angles. They cling to the delusion that there can be only one possible way to experience of reality. So you have to choose between the reality where all future outcomes are known and the one where they are not known. You can't have both.

But the ordinary "man on the street" has no problem using the correct logic in the correct situation. He speaks and acts with certainty in matters of certainty, like when he is hammering a nail. He speaks and acts with uncertainty, referring to things that he "can" do (like hammering a nail) even when he is not hammering a nail. He imagines building a dog house for his pet, and knows instinctively that his dog cannot sleep in the "possibility" of a dog house but only in an "actual" dog house.

So, ordinary language provides the hard determinist with all the tools he needs to keep things straight in his head. And it is only when he confuses himself with abstractions and draws false inferences from his concepts that he ends up creating paradoxes that are too complex for him to climb out of.

This has been the position of so-called  Ordinary Language Philosophy. A word of caution on the Wikipedia article, however. It associates OLP with  Logical Positivism, which partly came out of Wittgenstein's early work with Bertrand Russell. OLP was actually inspired by Wittgenstein's later work, which rejected the verificationism that Logical Positivism is associated with.

Ah! Logical Positivism would be what A. J. Ayers was discussing in "Language, Truth, and Logic". He was saying something to the effect that a "meaningful statement" was one which could be theoretically verified by some observation, even if we could not practically do so. (A statement about something on the dark side of the moon is verifiable now, but it was only theoretically verifiable prior to the space age).

I think I'm a fan of both ordinary language and positivism. But then again, I don't read much philosophy these days.
 

fromderinside

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... our models of reality are all interpretations of sense data.
Really? My major contributions to the world are my measurement and determination of sensory experience of signal, it's interruptions, and threshold.

No. I don't think our models of reality rely on sense data.

It's more about signal information.

As far as I got was human auditory processing is fundamentally dependent on source/receiver motion - Bear growling/charging as it approached through woods ...., doppler effect.

That's a damn sight away from sense data. It has more to do with signal generator and receiver attributes.
 

Copernicus

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Ah! Logical Positivism would be what A. J. Ayers was discussing in "Language, Truth, and Logic". He was saying something to the effect that a "meaningful statement" was one which could be theoretically verified by some observation, even if we could not practically do so. (A statement about something on the dark side of the moon is verifiable now, but it was only theoretically verifiable prior to the space age).

I think I'm a fan of both ordinary language and positivism. But then again, I don't read much philosophy these days.
Logical positivism failed for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that meaning had nothing to do with verification. That much should have been obvious to Ayer, since speech acts other than statements are also meaningful. Ordinary Language Philosophy ultimately gave rise to some really interesting approaches to the meaning involving all sorts of different speech acts. The author of the Wikipedia page was not alone in being confused about Wittgenstein, whose ideas helped give rise to two very different approaches to the role of language and reasoning-- Ordinary Language Philosophy and  Ideal Language Philosophy.
 

Copernicus

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No. I don't think our models of reality rely on sense data.

It's more about signal information.

As long as you don't in any way use your senses to detect signals, you may be making sense, but I'm not quite sure how you manage that. :)
 

DBT

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DBT,

By “readiness potential,” I assume you are referring to the Libet experiments. They don’t show what you think they show. The fact that our brains do some evaluation and considering subconsciously is irrelevant. We are our brains! The experiments also showed that conscious awareness has a “veto power”over subconscious processing. This is clearly compatibilist free will. The Libet experiments only count against libertarian free will.


Timing experiments, Hynes, Haggard, Libet, etc, demonstrate exactly what must necessarily happen during the cognitive process.

I have quoted and cited numerous articles on the subject.

Information is first acquired by the senses, propagated, processed, integrated with memory prior to conscious representation of some but not all of that information.

It cannot be any other way.

Yes, it can be said that 'we are our brains' - but the fact is that we as conscious beings are not in control of brain function.

It is brain function, something that we cannot access, that forms our being, our experience.

It is the inner necessity that determines our actions.

The very necessity that negates freedom of will.

And of course, free will as defined by compatibilism has, for the given reasons, nothing to do with freedom of will. Unimpeded action does not equate to free will for reasons that have been explained numerous time by me and quotes that have been provided.

You speak of the brain doing “parallel processing.” I’ve already referred you to a detailed article arguing that the brain is not a computer, as you seem to think it is.

You once again speak of events being “fixed.” As I have explained, fixity is not fatalism. Your argument cannot just be that future events are fixed, because fixity is fully compatible with, well, compatibilism. Freely willed human acts help fix the future.

I await your discussion of how evolution selected for brains that remember, foresee, evaluate, process, and then choose. All of these functions are illusory according to you, except the processing part, and so I wonder why you think natural selection would favor illusions. On the contrary, illusions would not be conducive to fitness, and would be selected against.

The brain processes acquires and processes information. That is its evolutionary role. It is not a computer in the sense of a laptop, phone or desktop. Don't go down that equivocation road.

For example;

How Does the Brain Process Information?​

''Information processing starts with input from the sensory organs, which transform physical stimuli such as touch, heat, sound waves, or photons of light into electrochemical signals. The sensory information is repeatedly transformed by the algorithms of the brain in both bottom-up and top-down processing. For example, when looking at a picture of a black box on a white background, bottom-up processing puts together very simple information such as color, orientation, and where the borders of the object are - where the color changes significantly over a short space - to decide that you are seeing a box. Top-down processing uses the decisions made at some steps of the bottom-up process to speed up your recognition of the box. Top-down processing in this example might help you identify the object as a black box rather than a box-shaped hole in the white background.''

In order for the brain to process information, it must first be stored. There are multiple types of memory, including sensory, working, and long-term. First, information is encoded. There are types of encoding specific to each type of sensory stimuli. For example, verbal input can be encoded structurally, referring to what the printed word looks like, phonemically, referring to what the word sounds like, or semantically, referring to what the word means. Once information is stored, it must be maintained. Some animal studies suggest that working memory, which stores information for roughly 20 seconds, is maintained by an electrical signal looping through a particular series of neurons for a short period of time. Information in long-term memory is hypothesized to be maintained in the structure of certain types of proteins.

There are numerous models of how the knowledge is organized in the brain, some based on the way human subjects retrieve memories, others based on computer science, and others based on neurophysiology.''
 

DBT

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DBT,

By “readiness potential,” I assume you are referring to the Libet experiments. They don’t show what you think they show. The fact that our brains do some evaluation and considering subconsciously is irrelevant. We are our brains! The experiments also showed that conscious awareness has a “veto power”over subconscious processing. This is clearly compatibilist free will. The Libet experiments only count against libertarian free will.

You speak of the brain doing “parallel processing.” I’ve already referred you to a detailed article arguing that the brain is not a computer, as you seem to think it is.

You once again speak of events being “fixed.” As I have explained, fixity is not fatalism. Your argument cannot just be that future events are fixed, because fixity is fully compatible with, well, compatibilism. Freely willed human acts help fix the future.

I await your discussion of how evolution selected for brains that remember, foresee, evaluate, process, and then choose. All of these functions are illusory according to you, except the processing part, and so I wonder why you think natural selection would favor illusions. On the contrary, illusions would not be conducive to fitness, and would be selected against.
I think you are a little ready to dismiss the brain as a systemic information process, as this is all the likening to a computer does.

A computer can be a brain. A brain can be a computer.

What matters is that even in the event of parallel child processes, in physical parallel in neurons or physical parallel in sand, the parallel eventually conjuncts into a decision point and combinatory translation: the work all goes to a queue where it is serviced, in our case, by a single conscious agent process that manages the system.


Correct up till the point of a 'single conscious agent process that manages the system' - which is not the case.

The personal narrative​

''For example, in one study, researchers recorded the brain activity of participants when they raised their arm intentionally, when it was lifted by a pulley, and when it moved in response to a hypnotic suggestion that it was being lifted by a pulley.

Similar areas of the brain were active during the involuntary and the suggested “alien” movement, while brain activity for the intentional action was different. So, hypnotic suggestion can be seen as a means of communicating an idea or belief that, when accepted, has the power to alter a person’s perceptions or behaviour.''

''All this may leave one wondering where our thoughts, emotions and perceptions actually come from. We argue that the contents of consciousness are a subset of the experiences, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are generated by non-conscious processes within our brains.

This subset takes the form of a personal narrative, which is constantly being updated. The personal narrative exists in parallel with our personal awareness, but the latter has no influence over the former.''
 

DBT

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The compatibilist proposition is simply that free will is a meaningful concept within a deterministic world.

The proof is this:
P1: A freely chosen will is when someone chooses for themselves what they will do, while free of coercion and other forms of undue influence.
P2: A world is deterministic if every event is reliably caused by prior events.
P3: A freely chosen will is reliably caused by the person's own goals, reasons, or interests (with their prior causes).
P4: An unfree choice is reliably caused by coercion or undue influence (with their prior causes).
C: Therefore, the notion of a freely chosen will (and its opposite) is still meaningful within a fully deterministic world.

P1: A freely chosen will is when someone chooses for themselves what they will do, while free of coercion and other forms of undue influence.

What happens on a cellular level is not chosen. Cells process information and once readiness potential is achieved information, conscious experience is generated.

But what happens in the restaurant is chosen. We have a menu of dinners to choose from, and the chef is capable of preparing any one of them for us. So, each dinner on the menu is a real possibility. The only thing standing between us and dinner is that we must make a choice. No choosing, no dining.

Determinism by definition doesn't allow multiple possibilities. Your selection, by definition, is the only possible action you can take.

Given determinism, your freedom of choice is an illusion.

You see a list of foods on the menu, your brain calculates the pros and cons of each item, one is realized. There was never a possibility of an alternate choice.

Choice implies the possibility of an alternate action, which a deterministic system does not allow.

Changes of mind are not a matter of free will, but the result of fresh information acting upon the system.



Given determinism, the outcome is determined.

Of course. And one of the things that is determined is that we must make a choice before we can have our dinner.

Not only must you make a choice, but the choice you make is a necessitated choice. Which is not really a free choice. Not being aware of the underlying production of your experience, you feel that you have chosen freely.

The illusion of conscious will.
''Anyone who retains the Cartesian faith that we know what we are doing should read this book. Wegner assembles a huge amount of evidence to show our widespread ignorance of when and how we are acting. Our failures are of two kinds. First there are cases in which we are acting but do not realize that we are.

Examples include ouija board manipulation and other varieties of Victorian spiritualism; facilitated communication; water divination; and hypnotism, to which Wegner devotes a long chapter that would serve as an excellent introduction to the topic. Second come cases in which we are not acting, but think that we are.

Wegner describes an experiment of his own (the ‘I-Spy’ study) in which subjects are induced to believe that they have selected a figure on a computer screen (when they haven’t) by the expedient of getting them to think about that figure a few seconds before. Perhaps such cases are unusual; more common are cases in which we are indeed acting, but in which we think that our actions are achieving far more than they in fact are.

We habitually overestimate the effect that we have on objects and people around us. Indeed there is good evidence from many studies that it is a sign of mental health to overestimate one’s control over the world...''


There goes any real choice.

False. A real choice must be made or we'll have no dinner! It is causally necessary that we must make a choice in order to eat tonight.

It essentially comes down to the nature of cognition, the means by which decisions are made, and the nature of determinism. According to the evidence, free will plays no part.

Which is not to say that we cannot do as we will, just that we cannot, through an act of will, do otherwise (freedom of action is not freedom of will).

“It might be true that you would have done otherwise if you had wanted, though it is determined that you did not, in fact, want otherwise.” - Robert Kane

Would the punters be happy placing their bets on a fixed race? In fact the horse that wins is the only possible result in any race, just that nobody has deliberately fixed the race and punters do not know which horse must necessarily win.

Well, my first question was why only the kickers were betting on the horses. What about the quarterback or the tight ends? "America and England, two countries divided by a common language." Thank God for the OED.

The punters were uncertain which horse would win. But they bet on their own horse because they were certain that their horse could win.

The punters have absolutely no access to the conditions that determine which horse wins or the order of runner ups. They place their bets in blissful ignorance.


Nevertheless, no other outcome was possible.

Sounds believable, doesn't it? But, no, the statement is literally false.

Because of the uncertainty at the beginning of the race, there was a real possibility that each of the selected horses could win. It was never "impossible" that any of those horses could win. It simply did not turn out that way.

The fact that a horse would not win does not logically imply that the horse could not win. In fact, the statement "my horse could have won if he had the right jockey" may be quite accurate. All uses of "could have" logically imply that (a) it did not happen and (b) things would have had to be different in order for it to happen. With those two implications already built into the term "could have", we get potentially true statements, like "he could have won".

The fact that the horse did not win never implies that it was impossible for the horse to win.

If it was possible for the horse that did not win, to win, we are not talking about determinism. You may be thinking of quantum probability.

What happens within the brain determines outcome. You can call it a persons choice, but rather than the work of a 'person' it is specifically the brain that processes information and determines output, itself being determined by input, architecture, chemistry, etc. None of it open to choice.

Rather than the work of a 'person'? What do you think is the result of all that information processing, architecture, chemistry, etc., if not to function as a person?

The reductionist fallacy is to presume that having explained how something works that we have somehow "explained it away". But that is not what is happening. We are simply explaining how a 'person' works. The person is still there, right in front of us, flipping a coin to decide whether he will have steak or lobster for dinner.

Sometimes it sounds like hard determinists are carefully wording their terms in order to support their propositions and conclusions. Fortunately, compatibilists are pragmatic empiricists, so they can keep the facts straight.

Nope, I just work with the given definition of determinism. Nothing more, nothing less.

Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.



Unless you want to challenge my definition of free will, P1 still holds true.

I have explained why P1 is flawed, but I understand why it's not being accepted.
 

Jarhyn

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DBT,

By “readiness potential,” I assume you are referring to the Libet experiments. They don’t show what you think they show. The fact that our brains do some evaluation and considering subconsciously is irrelevant. We are our brains! The experiments also showed that conscious awareness has a “veto power”over subconscious processing. This is clearly compatibilist free will. The Libet experiments only count against libertarian free will.

You speak of the brain doing “parallel processing.” I’ve already referred you to a detailed article arguing that the brain is not a computer, as you seem to think it is.

You once again speak of events being “fixed.” As I have explained, fixity is not fatalism. Your argument cannot just be that future events are fixed, because fixity is fully compatible with, well, compatibilism. Freely willed human acts help fix the future.

I await your discussion of how evolution selected for brains that remember, foresee, evaluate, process, and then choose. All of these functions are illusory according to you, except the processing part, and so I wonder why you think natural selection would favor illusions. On the contrary, illusions would not be conducive to fitness, and would be selected against.
I think you are a little ready to dismiss the brain as a systemic information process, as this is all the likening to a computer does.

A computer can be a brain. A brain can be a computer.

What matters is that even in the event of parallel child processes, in physical parallel in neurons or physical parallel in sand, the parallel eventually conjuncts into a decision point and combinatory translation: the work all goes to a queue where it is serviced, in our case, by a single conscious agent process that manages the system.


Correct up till the point of a 'single conscious agent process that manages the system' - which is not the case.

The personal narrative​

''For example, in one study, researchers recorded the brain activity of participants when they raised their arm intentionally, when it was lifted by a pulley, and when it moved in response to a hypnotic suggestion that it was being lifted by a pulley.

Similar areas of the brain were active during the involuntary and the suggested “alien” movement, while brain activity for the intentional action was different. So, hypnotic suggestion can be seen as a means of communicating an idea or belief that, when accepted, has the power to alter a person’s perceptions or behaviour.''

''All this may leave one wondering where our thoughts, emotions and perceptions actually come from. We argue that the contents of consciousness are a subset of the experiences, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are generated by non-conscious processes within our brains.

This subset takes the form of a personal narrative, which is constantly being updated. The personal narrative exists in parallel with our personal awareness, but the latter has no influence over the former.''
So, I've worked on whole airplane avionics systems before. There are lots of redundancies, various systems repeated multiple times...

There are three processes each for the various flight surface controls, and every sensor has three processes too.

It actually took a fair bit of doing to make the thing capable of running a single instance of the avionics package, which itself ran on a wholely different operating system, on wholely different metal.

Some systems were capable of taking control input from the pilot, some systems just didn't care. In most situations the pilot was just kind of extraneous, and I could with some difficulty place a pilot process after the model of the rest of it so the whole airplane would be "autonomous".

Yet there are still executive processes and a single agency controlling the thing, even if it's a democratic intersection of the "three generals" or whatever other model of authority exists within it.

If there isn't the system breaks.

That we don't understand how our priority weighting on control systems actually comes together doesn't change that fact that it in fact does.

Some people have problems where their "generals" diverge and specialize instead of converging on answers, in which case we recognize that these people in fact have distinct agencies that fight rather than agree about things. Even then, there's a process (race condition, in this case) that determines which "sits on the seat".

It still all ultimately happens under a single executive capable of making decisions in the moment.

And further...

It's all still just objects objectively being what they are, and that object has an objective geometry that objectively implies behavior.

When a transistor "feels" 'open circuity' this is objective. Something is objectively happening.

Sometimes that thing is an interestingly shaped nonsense but it absolutely objectively real, and the result of a particular geometry. It can't not feel that way when it is in that state.
 
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