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On the impossibility of using analogue machines to calculate non-computable functions

R.O. Gandy
Nov 2023
A number of examples have been given of physical systems (both classical and quantum mechanical) which when provided with a (continuously variable) computable input will give a non-computable output. It has been suggested that these systems might allow one to design analogue machines which would calculate the values of some number-theoretic non-computable function. Analysis of the examples show that the suggestion is wrong. In Section 4 I claim that given a reasonable definition of analogue machine it will always be wrong. The claim is to be read not so much as a dogmatic assertion, but rather as a challenge. In Sections 1 and 2 I discuss analogue machines, and lay down some conditions which I believe they must satisfy. In Section I discuss the particular forms which a paradigm undecidable problem (or non-computable function) may take. In Sections 5 and 6 I justify any claim for two particular examples lying within the range of classical physics, and in Section 7 I justify it for two (closely connected) examples from quantum mechanics, and discuss, very briefly, other possible quantum mechanical situations. Section 8 contains various remarks and comments. In Section 9 I consider the suggestion made by Penrose that a (future) theory of quantum gravity may predict non-locally-determined, and perhaps non-computable patterns of growth for microsopic structures. My conclusion is that such a theory will have to have non-computability built into it.
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