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John Searle: The Chinese Room Argument

John Searle is an American philosopher, he is best known for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy.

In this video, he explains that the Chinese room argument came as a response to the view that says that human minds can be created computationally in a way that you cannot tell whether you are dealing with a human being or a machine; the view states that:

“The mind is to the brain as the program is to the hardware.”

The Chinese room argument refutes this claim through a simple question: How would it be for me?

John Searle imagines it as follow:

Imagin you do not understand Chinese. You are locked in a room where there are a lot of boxes of Chinese symbols, and you are given a book in English which tells you what to do with them. Each time you are asked by people outside by sending you little batches of Chinese symbols. You read the manual to know what to do with them and based on that you give them back the right answers in Chinese.

People outside call you the computer or the central unit processing, the rule book: the program, and the boxes you use: the computer database.

Although you do not understand Chinese, you are getting so good at shuffling symbols that at some point you successfully passed the Turing test: People outside will not be able to see the difference between you and a native Chinese speaker.

The point in this, Searle’s conclude, is that:

“No matter how good the program, no matter how effective I am in carrying out the program, and no matter how my behavior simulates that of a Chinese speaker, I don’t understand a word of Chinese. and if I don’t understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the program, neither does any other digital computer on that basis, because that’s all a computer has.”

From this it follows that computers and human minds are different:

“The computer just manipulates formal symbols, syntax, syntactical objects, whereas mine has something in addition to symbols. it’s got meanings.”

The Chinese room then shows that a mind is more than just a program: on top of the syntactic abilities, it’s got semantics.

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