Re: Searle's Chinese Room Argument

From: Hawkins, Sean (
Date: Fri Feb 21 1997 - 15:46:35 GMT

I think Simon Cox raises an important point. Presumably, substituting
our man in the Chinese room with a computer would result in an output
of "Syntax Error".

His point led me to think about grammar on a macro level. It would
appear to me that although language may be a form of symbol
manipulation, this really only applies when it is written, not spoken.
Let me explain why.

When you read the sentance "No, do not do that" (although out of any
particular context), you will necessarily believe that the
object/person was requesting a termination of something, possibly
responding to a question or instructing another person to disengage.

Now, if the sentance is spoken, emphasis can be given to just about any
word and depending on which one(s), will or can, for a lay-person,
change the meaning. This in some ways can be related back to the
Chinese Room - the response of the man in the room, may have differed
if they had heard the spoken "symbol" as well as seeing it.

Tonal inferences play a major part in everyday life and at an extreme
level can be the difference between enjoying a good old session or
being accussed of rape.

The point I am trying to raise is that although rules of grammar exist,
they can be broken under the quasi-guise of universe of meaning (ie the
vast majority understand the meaning of a grammatically correct or
incorrect sentance based on a whole host of factors eg tonal
inferences, body language, context).

Any true simulation of language must surely therefore have to take
these things into consideration - any that do not may be simply
text-book simulations that do not concur with real life.

Are there models that can cope with this idiosyncratic feature of the
human organism ?

Sean Hawkins

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