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Society of Mind

3.2 Noncompromise

To settle arguments, nations develop legal systems, corporations establish policies, and individuals may argue, fight, or compromise — or turn for help to mediators that lie outside themselves. What happens when there are conflicts inside minds?

Whenever several agents have to compete for the same resources, they are likely to get into conflicts. If those agents were left to themselves, the conflicts might persist indefinitely, and this would leave those agents paralyzed, unable to accomplish any goal. What happens then? We'll assume that those agents' supervisors, too, are under competitive pressure and likely to grow weak themselves whenever their subordinates are slow in achieving their goals, no matter whether because of conflicts between them or because of individual incompetence.

The Principle of Noncompromise: The longer an internal conflict persists among an agent's subordinates, the weaker becomes that agent's status among its own competitors. If such internal problems aren't settled soon, other agents will take control and the agents formerly involved will be dismissed.

So long as playing with blocks goes well, Play can maintain its strength and keep control. In the meantime, though, the child may also be growing hungry and sleepy, because other processes are arousing the agents Eat and Sleep. So long as Eat and Sleep are not yet strongly activated, Play can hold them both at bay. However, any conflict inside Play will weaken it and make it easier for Eat or Sleep to take over. Of course, Eat or Sleep must conquer in the end, since the longer they wait, the stronger they get.

We see this in our own experience. We all know how easy it is to fight off small distractions when things are going well. But once some trouble starts inside our work, we become increasingly impatient and irritable. Eventually we find it so hard to concentrate that the least disturbance can allow another, different, interest to take control.

Now, when any of our agencies loses the power to control what other systems do, that doesn't mean it has to cease its own internal activity. An agency that has lost control can continue to work inside itself — and thus become prepared to seize a later opportunity. However, we're normally unaware of all those other activities proceeding deep inside our minds.

Where does it stop, this process of yielding control to other agencies? Must every mind contain some topmost center of control? Not necessarily. We sometimes settle conflicts by appealing to superiors, but other conflicts never end and never cease to trouble us.

At first, our principle of noncompromise may seem too extreme. After all, good human supervisors plan ahead to avoid conflicts in the first place, and — when they can't — they try to settle quarrels locally before appealing to superiors. But we should not try to find a close analogy between the low-level agents of a single mind and the members of a human community. Those tiny mental agents simply cannot know enough to be able to negotiate with one another or to find effective ways to adjust to each other's interference. Only larger agencies could be resourceful enough to do such things. Inside an actual child, the agencies responsible for Building and Wrecking might indeed become versatile enough to negotiate by offering support for one another's goals. Please, Wrecker, wait a moment more till Builder adds just one more block: it's worth it for a louder crash!