Computers in Abstraction/Representation Theory

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Recently, Horsman et al. (Proc R Soc Lond A 470:20140182, 2014) have proposed a new framework, Abstraction/Representation (AR) theory, for understanding and evaluating claims about unconventional or non-standard computation. Among its attractive features, the theory in particular implies a novel account of what is means to be a computer. After expounding on this account, I compare it with other accounts of concrete computation, finding that it does not quite fit in the standard categorization: while it is most similar to some semantic accounts, it is not itself a semantic account. Then I evaluate it according to the six desiderata for accounts of concrete computation proposed by Piccinini (Physical computation: a mechanistic account, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015). Finding that it does not clearly satisfy some of them, I propose a modification, which I call Agential AR theory, that does, yielding an account that could be a serious competitor to other leading account of concrete computation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-463
Number of pages19
JournalMinds and Machines
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Bibliographical note

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© 2018, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Computer
  • Concrete computation
  • Pancomputationalism
  • Representation


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