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Turing, Matthews and Millikan: Effective Memory, Dispositionalism and Pushmepullyou Mental States

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In the first section of the paper I present Alan Turing’s notion of effective memory, as it appears in his 1936 paper ‘On Computable Numbers, With an Application to The Entscheidungsproblem’. This notion stands in surprising contrast with the way memory is usually thought of in the context of contemporary computer science. Turing’s view (in 1936) is that for a computing machine to remember a previously scanned string of symbols is not to store an internal symbolic image of this string. Rather, memory consists in the fact that the past scanning of the string affects the behavior of the computer in the face of potential future inputs. In the second, central section of the paper I begin exploring how this view of Turing’s bears upon contemporary discussions in the philosophy of mind. In particular, I argue that Turing’s approach can be used to lend support to dispositional conceptions of the propositional attitudes, like the one recently presented by Matthews (2007), and that his effective memory manifests some of the characteristics of Millikan’s (1996) pushmepullyou mental states.
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Keywords: Turing machines; dispositionalism; memory; propositional attitudes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Tel Aviv University, Israel

Publication date: 01 October 2012

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