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Computation in Physical Systems: A Normative Mapping Account

  • Paul SchweizerEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 134)

Abstract

The relationship between abstract formal procedures and the activities of actual physical systems has proved to be surprisingly subtle and controversial, and there are a number of competing accounts of when a physical system can be properly said to implement a mathematical formalism and hence perform a computation. I defend an account wherein computational descriptions of physical systems are high-level normative interpretations motivated by our pragmatic concerns. Furthermore, the criteria of utility and success vary according to our diverse purposes and pragmatic goals. Hence there is no independent or uniform fact to the matter, and I advance the ‘anti-realist’ conclusion that computational descriptions of physical systems are not founded upon deep ontological distinctions, but rather upon interest-relative human conventions. Hence physical computation is a ‘conventional’ rather than a ‘natural’ kind.

Keywords

Computational Theory of Mind Physical computation Simple mapping account Pancomputationalism Computational stance 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation, School of InformaticsUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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