On the physical possibility of ordinal computation (draft)


α-recursion lifts classical recursion theory from the first transfinite ordinal ω to an arbitrary admissible ordinal α [10]. Idealized computational models for α-recursion analogous to Turing machine models for classical recursion have been proposed and studied [4] and [5] and are applicable in computational approaches to the foundations of logic and mathematics [8]. They also provide a natural setting for modeling extensions of the algorithmic logic described in [1] and [2]. On such models, an α-Turing machine can complete a θ-step computation for any ordinal θ < α. Here we consider constraints on the physical realization of α-Turing machines that arise from the structure of physical spacetime. In particular, we show that an α-Turing machine is realizable in a spacetime constructed from R only if α is countable. While there are spacetimes where uncountable computations are possible and while they may even be empirically distinguishable from a standard spacetime, there is good reason to suppose that such nonstandard spacetimes are nonphysical. We conclude with a suggestion for a revision of Church’s thesis appropriate as an upper bound for physical computation.



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Jeffrey Barrett
University of California, Irvine

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