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Roles for morphology in computation
1  Centre for Cognitive Science/Department of Informatics, University of Sussex


The morphological aspects of a system are the shape, geometry, placement and compliance properties of that system.  On the rather permissive construal of computation as transformations of information, a correspondingly permissive notion of morphological computation can be defined: cases of information transformation performed by the morphological aspects of a system.  This raises the question of what morphological computation might look like under different, less inclusive accounts of computation, such as the view that computation is essentially semantic.  I investigate the possibilities for morphological computation under a particular version of the semantic view.  First, I make a distinction between two kinds of role a given aspect might play in computations that a system performs: foreground role and background role.  The foreground role of a computational system includes such things as rules, state, algorithm, program, bits, data, etc.  But these can only function as foreground by virtue of other, background aspects of the same system: the aspects that enable the foreground to be brought forth, made stable/reidentifiable, and to have semantically coherent causal effect.  I propose that this foreground/background distinction cross-cuts the morphological/non-morphological distinction.  Specifically, morphological aspects of a system may play either role.