Were it ever the case that there was another person as peculiar as myself, who would study topics like Whitehead’s philosophy of process and theory of computation at the same time (over a period of decades), such a singular individual might speculate about the connection between the theory of computation and Whitehead’s process of emergent actual occasions. The latter bears some real analogies to a real, completed computation: the data (Whitehead actually uses that term) that combine via a process of integration into the holistic completion of an occasion/computation has a variety of structural similarities. This is made more interesting by the fact that Whitehead was writing long before theoretical concepts of computation emerged in anything like a developed form in Alan Turing’s work in the mid-to-late 1930’s.
The analogy fails catastrophically, of course, after even a little examination. The theory of computation offers nothing in the way of insight into the continuum of possibility; it is hopelessly finite in every character; it does not even imagine a difference between analysis and ontology. Whitehead’s process philosophy transcends all of these distinctions. But – and this is key – that is because Whitehead looks at both analysis and ontology, and notes the distinction. The theory of computation only looks at analysis. Still, while it goes no further, as far as it does go is broadly applicable to any activity where analysis is involved. So that is what I want to talk about here. As always, I’ll avoid technical details; working through even a trivially simple computation in pure, “Turing Machine” (TM) form, is an exercise in tedious details that would stress even the most detail oriented individual to the breaking point. Books on theoretical computation, and computational complexity, are so readily available for the curious that I’ll not even trouble to make a list (which could, by itself, consume the 1500 words I otherwise try to limit myself to.) But neither will I say anything that I can’t cite multiple sources to justify.