Computing Nature

Volume 7 of the series Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics pp 87-113

A Behavioural Foundation for Natural Computing and a Programmability Test

  • Hector ZenilAffiliated withInstitut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques, Paris 1 Sorbonne-Panthéon/ENS Ulm/CNRS Email author 

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What does it mean to claim that a physical or natural system computes? One answer, endorsed here, is that computing is about programming a system to behave in different ways. This paper offers an account of what it means for a physical system to compute based on this notion. It proposes a behavioural characterisation of computing in terms of a measure of programmability, which reflects a system’s ability to react to external stimuli. The proposed measure of programmability is useful for classifying computers in terms of the apparent algorithmic complexity of their evolution in time. I make some specific proposals in this connection and discuss this approach in the context of other behavioural approaches, notably Turing’s test of machine intelligence. I also anticipate possible objections and consider the applicability of these proposals to the task of relating abstract computation to nature-like computation.


Turing test computing nature-like computation dynamic behaviour algorithmic information theory computationalism