Does the solar system compute the laws of motion?

Type of content
Journal Article
Thesis discipline
Degree name
Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Yang Y
Campbell, Douglas

The counterfactual account of physical computation is simple and, for the most part, very attractive. However, it is usually thought to trivialize the notion of physical computation insofar as it implies ‘limited pancomputationalism’, this being the doctrine that every deterministic physical system computes some function. Should we bite the bullet and accept limited pancomputationalism, or reject the counterfactual account as untenable? Jack Copeland would have us do neither of the above. He attempts to thread a path between the two horns of the dilemma by buttressing the counterfactual account with extra conditions intended to block certain classes of deterministic physical systems from qualifying as physical computers. His theory is called the ‘algorithm execution account’. Here we show that the algorithm execution account entails limited pancomputationalism, despite Copeland’s argument to the contrary. We suggest, partly on this basis, that the counterfactual account should be accepted as it stands, pancomputationalist warts and all.

Campbell DI, Yang Y (2021). Does the solar system compute the laws of motion?. Synthese. 198(4). 3203-3220.
Counterfactual Account, Algorithm Execution Account, Physical Computation, Pancomputationalism, Cellular Automata
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
2202 History and Philosophy of Specific Fields
2203 Philosophy
Fields of Research::50 - Philosophy and religious studies::5003 - Philosophy::500315 - Philosophy of mind (excl. cognition)
Fields of Research::50 - Philosophy and religious studies::5003 - Philosophy::500317 - Philosophy of science (excl. history and philosophy of specific fields)
Fields of Research::46 - Information and computing sciences::4613 - Theory of computation::461399 - Theory of computation not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research::46 - Information and computing sciences::4602 - Artificial intelligence::460202 - Autonomous agents and multiagent systems
All rights reserved unless otherwise stated