Why everything doesn't realize every computation

Minds and Machines 4 (4):403-420 (1994)
Authors
Ron Chrisley
University of Sussex
Abstract
Some have suggested that there is no fact to the matter as to whether or not a particular physical system relaizes a particular computational description. This suggestion has been taken to imply that computational states are not real, and cannot, for example, provide a foundation for the cognitive sciences. In particular, Putnam has argued that every ordinary open physical system realizes every abstract finite automaton, implying that the fact that a particular computational characterization applies to a physical system does not tell oneanything about the nature of that system. Putnam''s argument is scrutinized, and found inadequate because, among other things, it employs a notion of causation that is too weak. I argue that if one''s view of computation involves embeddedness (inputs and outputs) and full causality, one can avoid the universal realizability results. Therefore, the fact that a particular system realizes a particular automaton is not a vacuous one, and is often explanatory. Furthermore, I claim that computation would not necessarily be an explanatorily vacuous notion even if it were universally realizable.
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