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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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The Mechanistic Account

The Mechanistic Account

(p.118) 7 The Mechanistic Account
Physical Computation

Gualtiero Piccinini

Oxford University Press

This chapter offers a mechanistic account of what it is for a physical system to be a concrete computing system—a system that performs concrete computations. A broad notion of computation under the banner of generic computation is set out. Concrete computing systems are a type of functional mechanism. More precisely, concrete computing systems are physical systems that are functionally organized to manipulate medium-independent vehicles in accordance with a rule that applies to all vehicles and depends on the medium-independent properties of the vehicles (and possibly the system’s internal states) for its application. This account is motivated by reasons endogenous to the philosophy of computing, such as doing justice to the practices of computer scientists and computability theorists. The account can be used to individuate computing mechanisms and the functions they compute and to taxonomize computing mechanisms based on their computing power.

Keywords:   mechanism, computation, functional mechanism, medium-independence, concrete computing systems, generic computation

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