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Physical ComputationA Mechanistic Account$
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Gualtiero Piccinini

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199658855

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199658855.001.0001

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Digital Computers

Digital Computers

(p.181) 11 Digital Computers
Physical Computation

Gualtiero Piccinini

Oxford University Press

This chapter explicates digital computers in mechanistic terms. It offers a systematic taxonomy of kinds of digital computer, including hard-wired vs. programmable and general-purpose vs. special-purpose, giving explicit mechanistic criteria for each kind. The account is mechanistic: which class a system belongs in, and which functions are computable by which system, depends on the system’s mechanistic properties. Finally, the chapter briefly illustrates how the mechanistic account sheds light on some issues in the history and philosophy of computing as well as the philosophy of cognitive science. Formulations of computationalism are discussed. In particular, a robust notion of digital computers gives substance to theories according to which the brain is a digital computer.

Keywords:   digital computer, hard-wired, programmable, general-purpose, special-purpose, computationalism

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