Re: [xmca] The Chinese Room

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Mon May 14 2007 - 03:27:21 PDT

Funnily enough, the Chinese Room was on the radio on Saturday. Searle was
very proud of this conundrum of his, claiming it generated 60 papers in
learned journals trying to refute it. But to be fair, I think it is
intended as a "thought experiment'' to demonstrate an ontological problem,
i.e., that valid processing of symbols says nothing about *meaning*. I
accept that it does that. My only beef with Searle on this was that I think
the Turing test is such a load of hog-wash it doesn't deserve to be taken
seriously. This stuff is just providing an excuse for highly paid academics
to pass the time of day playing games. But I don't take the Chinese Room as
a metaphor for the brain. It is a direct response to Turing's claim that
there is no essential difference between a suffering human being and a
computer, both being symbol processing input-output devices. And Searle
says: "no, this obviously isn't the case" by putting a person inside the
input-output device.

I am convinced that measurement of reaction time, or "thinking time" is a
valid way of comparing tasks and proving that task A must have something in
addition to task (A+B) is task (A+B) takes longer. It is a very simplistic
analytical tool, but I can't find fault with it.

What brain-body (or brain-matter) dualism is about is that they say: "for
every thought, there is and must be a corresponding state of the neurons in
the brain. A thought is in fact nothing other than a brain-state." This
means that all problems of human society can be transformed from problems
about human thoughts and feeling, ideas, theories, etc., and their
consequences, into problems about the relation of brain states to
everything else. Since brain states are physical systems obedient to the
laws of physics, like everything else in the world, they claim that
Cartesianism is eliminated as everything is now part of a single system
obedient to the laws of physics (and chemistry, biology, etc., etc.) It is
key to this approach that there is a one-t-one relation between a brain
state and a state of consciousness, irrespective of anything happening with
the sense organs or somatic senses, or in the external world, which might
be active as a cause or effect. IMHO, the Archilles heel of this approach
is Free Will. If thoughts are nothing other than an alternative description
of the state of a body obedient to the laws of physics, there is no room
for Free Will. Try as you might, accept this form of dualism, and free will
is an illusion.

Recently I read Damassio, and his book was a classic of this genre, despite
his touchy-feely variation on the theme. Just like the Artificial
Intelligence people used to say that the computer which could think was
just around the corner, these people always claim that the discovery of the
homunculus is just around the corner (even while pouring scorn on the very
idea). Damassio was happy to report that we were only a year or two away
from finding where Mr. Homunculus is watching that "movie-in-the-brain"
(his phrase).


At 01:54 AM 14/05/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>Dear Andy:
> This morning I remembered a remark you made many months ago now on how
> Searle and the speech act theorists believed that by replacing body-mind
> dualism with brain-body dualism they had really accomplished something.
> At the time, I wasn't sure what you meant. But Belyayev presents a
> whole slew of experimental results where he demonstrates that people who
> have "really mastered" a foreign language have the same response times to
> problems as people who are working in their native language. The response
> time is predicted by the conceptual difficulty of the problem, and not by
> the language in which it is presented.
> In contrast, he shows that the response time of people who are learning
> a foreign language is much slower. He argues on the basis of these
> results that people who translate a foreign language into their own
> language in order to understand do not really understand a foreign
> language; they only understand the translation.
> Basically, he's arguing that a two-stage process of comprehension is
> not comprehension at all. It is not possible to have one set of formal
> rules for turning a string of symbols into meanings and then bring in
> another set of formal rules for understanding those meanings.
> This is, like many of Belyayev's best ideas, from Vygotsky. In the
> higher psychological processes, there is no such thing as mentalese;
> there is no naked, pre-linguistic "thought" which is subsequently encoded
> in language. Thought and speech have different genetic roots, but both
> are social from the outset. As for adult thinking, it is saturated with
> speech (those of others as well as one's own) as soon as it is engendered.
> I think this is the real answer to Searle's Chinese Room problem.
> Searle posits a sealed room (a clumsy metaphor for the brain) containing
> a vast library of phrase books. Under the door, someone passes long lists
> of sentences in Chinese. The person in the room
> looks up the sentence in the phrase book and the phrase book gives the
> answer in Chinese, which the person in the room copies down and passes
> back under the door. There is no way for people outside the room to know
> that the person in the room does not know Chinese.
> This was Searle's response to the Turing test, which stipulates that if
> a blind interlocutor cannot tell the difference between a computer and a
> human than the computer can be said to be intelligent. Searle responded
> that although the person outside the room cannot know that the person in
> the room does not know Chinese, the person in the room certainly can.
> Therefore the Turing test is invalid.
> At first I was thrown by this, because I strongly agree with Bakhtin
> that the way to understand understanding is simply by the responsiveness
> of the understander--if someone is ready to respond to an utterance (even
> if that response is not actually made) that person can be said to have
> understood, and if someone is not ready to respond to an utterance (even
> if that response is actually made and appears to be formally correct)
> than that person cannot be said to have understood. The Chinese Room
> appears to refer to the latter possibility.
> But as you say, Searle has merely replaced one form of dualism with
> another. Searle's Chinese Room problem is so dualistic it comes with a
> built-in homunculus. In fact, there is no way for the person in the room
> to respond unless s/he has found a way to allow the speech and the
> thoughts of the one outside the room to infiltrate and permeate his/her
> own. No phrase book can do this, because phrase books encode texts and
> not discourses. Belyayev would add, not even a bilingual phrase book can do it.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> n
> into which meanings are remark that Belyayev makes
> Get your own web address.
> Have a HUGE year through Yahoo! Small Business.
>xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden. The Subject -

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Received on Mon May 14 04:28 PDT 2007

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