Abstraction and representation in living organisms: when does a biological system compute?

Dominic Horsman, Viv Kendon, Susan Stepney, Peter Young

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Even the simplest known living organisms are complex chemical processing systems. But how sophisticated is the behaviour that arises from this? We present a framework in which even bacteria can be identified as capable of representing information in arbitrary signal molecules, to facilitate altering their behaviour to optimise their food supplies, for example. Known as Abstraction/Representation theory (AR theory), this framework makes precise the relationship between physical systems and abstract concepts. Originally developed to answer the question of when a physical system is computing, AR theory naturally extends to the realm of biological systems to bring clarity to questions of computation at the cellular level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRepresentation and Reality in Humans, Other Living Organisms and Intelligent Machines
EditorsGordana Dodig-Crnkovic, Raffaela Giovagnoli
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-43784-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

Cite this