Michael Cuffaro

Advanced seminars

Philosophy of Computing and Computer Science (LMU Munich Summer Semester 2015)

The aim of this course is to survey some of the more important metaphysical, epistemological, and value-theoretic questions arising from the science of computers and from their ubiquitousness in the modern world. Some of the topics we will discuss are: (a) the nature of the concept of computation, and its relation to and origins within logic and mathematics; (b) the philosophical significance of the complexity-theoretic distinction between tractable and intractable computational problems; (c) whether the human mind can be described as a computer in any meaningful sense, and the possibility of and our attitudes towards artificial intelligence; (d) the semantics of programming languages and the ontological status of software; (e) using computer simulations to answer questions in moral philosophy; (f) the legal status of autonomous software agents.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics (LMU Munich Winter Semester 2014-2015)

This course will provide students with an introduction to the philosophy of physics. By the end of the course, students should be familiar with and conversant in the major contemporary research areas in the philosophy of physics. Major topics to be covered will include: historical and contemporary debates over the fundamental structure of space, time, and motion; the significance of probabilities in statistical and quantum physics; the problem of the "arrow of time" in thermodynamics; and the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Classical Concepts in the Philosophy of Physics from Kant to the Present (LMU Munich Summer Semester 2014)

Discussion of what Bohr referred to as the "classical concepts" (space, time, causality, etc.) has historically occupied a central place in the philosophy of science. Yet since the advent of quantum theory early in the previous century, the question of the scope and validity of classical concepts has come under particular scrutiny. In this course we will conduct a historical survey of the topic. We will begin with one of the earliest modern expressions of these ideas, Kant's "pure concepts of the understanding," move forward to the philosophies of Heisenberg and Bohr, to Neo-Kantian and Logical Positivist responses, and end finally with contemporary literature on decoherence-based approaches to the resolution of the measurement problem and the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Philosophy of Quantum Computation (LMU Munich Winter Semester 2013-2014)

Of the many and varied applications of quantum information theory, perhaps the most fascinating is the sub-field of quantum computation. In this sub-field, computational algorithms are developed which utilise quantum mechanical systems to compute solutions to computational problems with exponentially fewer resources than known classical alternatives. This is called "quantum speedup," and the search for its source has resulted in a flowering of philosophical and foundational research, and a wealth of new conceptual resources for philosophers and others interested in foundational issues in physics and computer science to draw upon.

The aim of this course is to provide the student with an understanding of the basic principles of and philosophical issues surrounding quantum computation. Philosophical topics to be addressed include: the status and significance of the "strong" Church-Turing principle; the implications of quantum computation for our philosophical understanding of mathematical proof, and its implications for computability theory and computational complexity theory more generally; the physical source of "quantum speedup"; and the relevance of quantum computation for the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Undergraduate courses

Big Ideas (University of Western Ontario, Winter 2013)
Basic Logic (University of Western Ontario, Winter 2011)