I’m about half-way through my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “computation”:
computation, the process of arriving at a (typically numerically or symbolically interpretable) state from an initial condition via the application of a set of rules; alternately, rule-governed symbol manipulation. The definition of computation is somewhat vexed, and its historical development has been influence by the not always congruent concerns of philosophers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. The most archaic uses of the term refer to calculation, typically of the sort done by humans solving problems involving numerically represented quantities. The notion of computation came to be associated with the notion of being effectively computable, which involves calculation via procedures that are “mechanical” in the sense of being able to be performed by the application of relatively simple procedures without the utilizations of much insight or ingenuity. This notion was later developed in such a way that made it clear how the procedures in question might be literally mechanical, that is, performed by machines. Such notions were made mathematically precise by Turing via the notion of what sorts of things can be done by Turing machines. Part of the history of these notions, and most significant for the philosophy of mind, is the hypothesis that human mental processes are themselves composed of the sorts of rule-governed and mechanistic processes distinctive of computing machines. According to some, the mind literally is a computer. See also ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE; FUNCTIONALISM; TURING MACHINE; TURING TEST; TURING, ALAN.
[Related Brain Hammer post: What’s so metaphorical about the computer metaphor?]