Not all computational methods are effective methods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

An effective method is a computational method that might, in principle, be executed by a human. In this paper, I argue that there are methods for computing that are not effective methods. The examples I consider are taken primarily from quantum computing, but these are only meant to be illustrative of a much wider class. Quantum inference and quantum parallelism involve steps that might be implemented in multiple physical systems, but cannot be implemented, or at least not at will, by an idealised human. Recognising that not all computational methods are effective methods is important for at least two reasons. First, it is needed to correctly state the results of Turing and other founders of computation theory. Turing is sometimes said to have offered a replacement for the informal notion of an effective method with the formal notion of a Turing machine. I argue that such a view only holds under limited circumstances. Second, not distinguishing between computational methods and effective methods can lead to mistakes when quantifying over the class of all possible computational methods. Such quantification is common in philosophy of mind in the context of thought experiments that explore the limits of computational functionalism. I argue that these ‘homuncular’ thought experiments should not be treated as valid.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • computation
  • effective method
  • algorithm
  • human computer
  • Turing
  • hypercomputation
  • quantum computation
  • homuncular functionalism
  • computational functionalism
  • unconventional computation


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