Functional individuation, mechanistic implementation: the proper way of seeing the mechanistic view of concrete computation

Synthese 195 (8):3477-3497 (2017)
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I examine a major objection to the mechanistic view of concrete computation, stemming from an apparent tension between the abstract nature of computational explanation and the tenets of the mechanistic framework: while computational explanation is medium-independent, the mechanistic framework insists on the importance of providing some degree of structural detail about the systems target of the explanation. I show that a common reply to the objection, i.e. that mechanistic explanation of computational systems involves only weak structural constraints, is not enough to save the standard mechanistic view of computation—it trivialises the appeal to mechanism, and thus makes the account collapse into a purely functional view. I claim, however, that the objection can be put to rest once the account is appropriately amended: computational individuation is indeed functional, while mechanistic explanation plays a role in accounting for computational implementation. Since individuation and implementation are crucial elements in a satisfying account of computation in physical systems, mechanism keeps its central importance in the theory of concrete computation. Finally, I argue that my version of the mechanistic view helps to provide a convincing reply to a powerful objection against non-semantic theories of concrete computation: the argument from the multiplicity of computations.



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Dimitri Coelho Mollo
Umeå University

References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Functional analysis.Robert Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

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