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2.4 Irrelevances to the debate

2.4.7 Simultaneity

In most existing computation devices, computation proceeds sequentially. Even parallel devices are usually arranged so that their computations are equivalent to such a sequential approach. Likewise in almost all formal systems, facts are derived via an essentially sequential proof. Even when the proof is not sequential in nature, its verification is.

Natural systems, however, seem to work in parallel. Von Foerster gives an example of a box with many block magnets in it*1, the box is shaken and when opened they are arranged in a very non-random way, resulting in an attractive sculpture to an exterior observer. The two views of the box, internal and external are simultaneous and different. It is claimed that such simultaneous and (in some cases) irreconcilable viewpoints, mean that a single consistent formalism of a meta-model incorporating both viewpoints is impossible.

If you have a parallel system there will be either some conflict avoidance or a conflict resolution mechanism (where by "conflicting" I mean exclusive). Of course, it is quite possible to have cases where (as in the above box of magnets example) there are views that appear to be conflicting, but you won't have conflicts within the same context, this is impossible if a consistent language is used. Here it is not the simultaneity that is the problem but the reconciliation (or lack of it) of the same thing from within different frameworks (see Section 3.4 below).

On the other hand, the difficulties of reconciling different simulataneous streams means that often the only practical option is to accept such different views as complementary.

Pragmatic Holism - Bruce Edmonds - 22 FEB 96
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