The indeterminacy of computation

Nir Fresco, B. Jack Copeland, Marty J. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Do the dynamics of a physical system determine what function the system computes? Except in special cases, the answer is no: it is often indeterminate what function a given physical system computes. Accordingly, care should be taken when the question ‘What does a particular neuronal system do?’ is answered by hypothesising that the system computes a particular function. The phenomenon of the indeterminacy of computation has important implications for the development of computational explanations of biological systems. Additionally, the phenomenon lends some support to the idea that a single neuronal structure may perform multiple cognitive functions, each subserved by a different computation. We provide an overarching conceptual framework in order to further the philosophical debate on the nature of computational indeterminacy and computational explanation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12753-12775
Number of pages23
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Boolean gates
  • Cognition
  • Computation
  • Computational explanation
  • Dual functions
  • Grounding function
  • Indeterminacy
  • Multiple specifiabilty
  • Underdetermination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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