Mechanistic Computational Individuation without Biting the Bullet

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axz005 (2019)
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Is the mathematical function being computed by a given physical system determined by the system’s dynamics? This question is at the heart of the indeterminacy of computation phenomenon (Fresco et al. [unpublished]). A paradigmatic example is a conventional electrical AND-gate that is often said to compute conjunction, but it can just as well be used to compute disjunction. Despite the pervasiveness of this phenomenon in physical computational systems, it has been discussed in the philosophical literature only indirectly, mostly with reference to the debate over realism about physical computation and computationalism. A welcome exception is Dewhurst’s ([2018]) recent analysis of computational individuation under the mechanistic framework. He rejects the idea of appealing to semantic properties for determining the computational identity of a physical system. But Dewhurst seems to be too quick to pay the price of giving up the notion of computational equivalence. We aim to show that the mechanist need not pay this price. The mechanistic framework can, in principle, preserve the idea of computational equivalence even between two different enough kinds of physical systems, say, electrical and hydraulic ones.

Author Profiles

Nir Fresco
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Marcin Miłkowski
Polish Academy of Sciences


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