Computational Functionalism

I’m reading Reza Negarestani’s essay, “Revolution Backwards: Functional Realization and Computational Implementation”, in which he unpacks a computational functionalist approach to theories of mind. Reading this made me realize how often I approach the analysis or decomposition of systems and their processes in this way.

Very loosely, I paraphrase computational functionalism as: a) the decomposition of a system into functions, i.e. “what the [system] does and how it does it by reference to functional roles and properties that can be causal or logical-conceptual”; and b) the explication of each function through a computational lens, i.e. in terms of information processing.

Such an approach is both critical and constructive: “It is critical because it subjects whatever we understand as a [system] to a functional analysis or methodical decomposition”; and “if there is a computational description for a function, that function can … be reconstructed through a machine or a system of interacting agents capable of implementing the relevant computation.”

Negarestani cautions, of course, against naive assumptions of the paradigm of computation (e.g. Church-Turing computability versus various contemporary forms of multi-agent interactive computation), and of different types and classes of computation in general.


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