Searle's Chinese Room Argument

From: McKee, Alex (
Date: Mon Feb 17 1997 - 18:44:53 GMT

So the Chinese room is saying that the mind cannot just be symbol
manipulation because there is no necessary understanding involved. But
then, this person in the room moving around symbols, is effecting a
process yes? Therefore in my mind, there must be some measure of
understanding involved, not of the symbols, but of how to work the
process. So isn't it symbol manipulation up front with a process which
necessitates understanding in the background? Can that fit into an
explanation of language? We don't understand the individual syllables,
such as 'fo' or 'neem', but we do achieve an understanding through
processing it. So Searle in his dojo doesn't understand what he is
doing but he understands what he must do?

When I said this to Stevan, it was argued that there was no
understanding present, only knowledge of the content of the process,
yes? As in:

1 - Receive symbol.
2 - Translate symbol.
3 - Give out symbol.

Just manipulating symbols of the process to manipulate symbols with the
process. No understanding.

This would be a major change in my world view were I to accept that a
process could be simple knowing and not as I had thought necessary
understanding. Before, content was to knowledge as process was to
understanding. So where is understanding? I am going to have to try and
re-establish myself though possibly not where I had previously been. I
guess that is one of the aims of Cognitive Science or knowledge in

It wasn't said that Searle didn't understand the process, only that he
need not have. Perhaps a test to see if understanding existed would
manifest itself in the idea that if he understood the process, any
change or new element into the process would lead to him adapting his
behaviour in order to progress with the task. Is this fair?

For example, a Japanese symbol is received. With no understanding what
would happen? Presumably, a continuous search through for infinity, a
shut down(staring at the symbol) or ignoring the symbol. It would
depend on what other parameters were written into his behaviour. No
matter how pedantic the argument over contents of the test can get
however, could it not be said that as long as adaptation or sme form of
learning was in effect, understanding existed? Perhaps ignoring the
symbol is the closest of the three previous choices. Recognition of
non-ability, not simply non-ability, implies understanding. Yes?

Okay, so now were back with a similar view I had of the world. This
time, understanding, what it is to have a mind, is not a process, but a
self-adapting process. Like a self-processing process. A dynamic
process. This does resemble Kant's differentiation between Applied and
Pure Logic in his Theory of Mind. Such that the former is the content
of the process and the latter the processing of that same process.
 Can we feel the feel the homonculus problem of infinite regression
though? If it is a process with the ability to process itself, then why
not a process of processes able to process themselves and so on?
Understanding not exlained but just put back a step and then another

But, instead of stopping short, why not play circumnavigation? If we
allow infinite progression and always facilitate a place of
understanding, then are we not in a loop? A cycle of understanding? The
progression shows us a process adapting and learning, as long as new
information exists, forever. Or at least for an unimaginably large
number. What else is infinity? So if no matter where we sail we find a
relative degree of adaptive processing, why sail further than a
self-processing process? What does it matter how many times you can say
processing and process in one sentence, only that you can say them once
and effect understanding? If this process of understanding is dynamic
and relative, then would not the process of communicating it, inwardly
or outwardly, supply a clearer picture than what is actually

With the Frame Problem, is there any significance that babies too have
to develop the concept of object permanence. Are we born with
understanding or with the ability to understand how to understand? Can
we pick up ouselves?

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