Material Semantics for Unconventional Programming


from MaxSynBio – Max Planck research network in Synthetic Biology


Unconventional computing (or computation) may become more “conventional” with progress in synthetic biology and nanotechnology where new kinds of “computers” are being made. In the PLTOS (program-language-translator-object-substrate) vocabulary, the objects could be lifeforms or microbots (or even macrobots) that go out into the “real world” to perform tasks versus being conventional (object) code running within a conventional computer. Programming Unconventional Computers: dynamics, development, self-reference (Susan Shapley) points to a physical semantics in addition to the conventional programming language semantics (denotational, operational, axiomatic, etc.) Physical semantics would define the semantics of certain types of unconventional programs (like bioprograms of synthetic biology) in terms of their physical, chemical, and biological properties.

In addition to conventional and physical semantics, one should expect (assuming an experiential nature of matter) an experiential or psychical program semantics. This panpsychist theory posits “psychical” states in matter in addition to the physical (like charge, mass, …) ones:


φ-states   (physical [including chemical and biological])
ψ-states   (psychical [or experiential])


           material semantics =

                     physical (incl. chemical+biological)
                     psychical (or experiential) semantics


The exploration of physical and psychical semantics (towards a conscious synthetic agent) is a next phase of unconventional programming.

HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies
Vol 9 No 31 (2016): The Enactive Approach to Qualitative Ontology: In Search of New Categories

– the enactive approach opposes the Cartesian bifurcation of reality into psychological and physical
– complements quantitative categories, offering a mathematical treatment of qualitative aspects of reality

A mathematics of (qualitative) “experientials” would be an unconventional mathematics.

A toy example for material semantics: A Turing-type computer, but instead of operating with symbols, it is operating with emojis – but the emojis have actual (material) realization as (elements of) experience.

Programming for unconventional computing (particularly related to synthetic biology) would have its unconventional programming language theory (UPLT), with its semantics.

24 Jan 2019

Consider immersive virtual reality (IVR) programs. An IVR program will compile into an object (code) that does a whole bunch of computing within a whole bunch of electronics attached to your head and maybe whole body. It can have a denotational semantics, which, in a gaming context (cf. game semantics) could involve modal logics. But there is also its operational semantics, and then physical semantics (the power consumption of the apparatus, its graphical grade of quality, …) which depends on the physical substrate of the program, and, potentially, its experiential semantics – as you yourself become immersed in its environment.


Philip Thrift


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