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Although computation and the science of physical systems would appear to be unrelated, there are a number of ways in which computational and physical concepts can be brought together in ways that illuminate both. This volume examines fundamental questions which connect scholars from both disciplines: is the universe a computer? Can a universal computing machine simulate every physical process? What is the source of the computational power of quantum computers? Are computational approaches to solving physical problems and paradoxes always fruitful? Contributors from multiple perspectives reflecting the diversity of thought regarding these interconnections address many of the most important developments and debates within this exciting area of research. Both a reference to the state of the art and a valuable and accessible entry to interdisciplinary work, the volume will interest researchers and students working in physics, computer science, and philosophy of science and mathematics.
In this introductory chapter, we summarize each of this volume's parts and the particular contributions that fall under them: I) the computability of physical systems and physical systems as computers, II) the implementation of computation in physical systems, III) physical perspectives on computer science, and IV) computational perspectives on physical theory. Before we do so, however, we review some of the basic concepts which will generally be taken for granted in the rest of the book, including those from: I) computability theory, Turing machines, and the Church-Turing thesis, II) computational complexity theory, III) quantum computing, IV) theories of computational implementation and the variety of “physical” Church-Turing theses, and V) Landauer's principle and the thermodynamics of computation.