Re: Searle's Chinese Room Argument

From: Dunsdon, Graham (
Date: Wed Feb 19 1997 - 09:44:28 GMT

On Mon, 17 Feb 1997 18:44:53 +0000 McKee, Alex wrote:

> 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.

Alex, I thought Searle argued that the meaning was, as you would seem
to be saying, extrinsic to the symbol system. On this basis, wouldn't
everything that could be required of the 'process' have to be
considered in advance of the execution of the process? Is that
compatible with what we observe in cognitive functioning as individual
differences? The concept of a learning,dynamic system such as that
envisioned by a hybrid symbolic- connectionist system seems more likely
to me. Is that view inconsistent with your view that " isn't it symbol
manipulation up front with a process which necessitates understanding
in the background?"
> 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.

I argue you have probably summed the position up correctly: if you
only have a symbol system and a process dedicated wholly to processing
within that system. Isn't there a big difference between machine
instructions and intelligent, learning processes?

You then go on to say

> ......, 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. 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
> etc...

Why do you need a 'process of processes' - if it is dynamic then,
subject to any species related structural problems, why not let it run
free? Will not the cognitive, biological and behavioural/ social levels
of description act upon this 'freedom' in an appropriate, albeit
programmed way? Could this not be as far as we can go anyway in terms
of explanation with the tools available to cogsci today?

> 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?

Alex, I would say we ARE born with some understanding AND the
capabilities to understand how to understand a heck of a lot more.
However, in terms of a framing problem (which I understand to be the
problem of when to stop thinking and when to start acting) I am not
sure what point you are making. If you are referring to Harnad's symbol
grounding theory, what is the problem with the answer being we have
both? Graham.

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