The Chinese Room

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#1
We've had a few threads that dabbled with Searle's Chinese Room. One was in progress when it was rudely trashed by the Great Forum Apocalypse.

There are many reasons why Searle's thought experiment doesn't tell us much. I'll start with one.

Why did Searle put himself in the room, rather than a computer? Given that there is a human in the room, how do we know that the human understands English?

~~ Paul
 
#3
We've had a few threads that dabbled with Searle's Chinese Room. One was in progress when it was rudely trashed by the Great Forum Apocalypse.

There are many reasons why Searle's thought experiment doesn't tell us much. I'll start with one.

Why did Searle put himself in the room, rather than a computer? Given that there is a human in the room, how do we know that the human understands English?

~~ Paul
He "put himself" in the room to compare like for like. The computer doesn't understand that he can't speak Chinese. Oh it could stop it's programme if it doesn't receive some appropriate Chinese but it wouldn't be irked about it. It wouldn't have the desire, the determination to teach this ignorant human, Chinese.

There, you weren't expecting that from me, were you Paul ?
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#4
He "put himself" in the room to compare like for like. The computer doesn't understand that he can't speak Chinese. Oh it could stop it's programme if it doesn't receive some appropriate Chinese but it wouldn't be irked about it. It wouldn't have the desire, the determination to teach this ignorant human, Chinese.

There, you weren't expecting that from me, were you Paul ?
No, I was not. :)

The problem is that Searle is talking about machine understanding, but then puts a human in the room. This brings up various issues, one of which is: Why should we assume that the human understands English? If it is interesting that the human doesn't understand Chinese but can make it appear as if he does, then it is equally interesting that the human might not understand English but can make it appear as if he does.

~~ Paul
 
#5
Evidently Searle, in his though experiment, has checked that the man going into the room is a native English speaker, i.e. born in an English speaking country :)
 
#6
No, I was not. :)

The problem is that Searle is talking about machine understanding, but then puts a human in the room. This brings up various issues, one of which is: Why should we assume that the human understands English? If it is interesting that the human doesn't understand Chinese but can make it appear as if he does, then it is equally interesting that the human might not understand English but can make it appear as if he does.

~~ Paul
But Searle is just trying to show us that machines can't be conscious. And never will be. Intelligence is not consciousness and anyway English is God's own language whereas Chinese is just mandarin only kidding

And thank you for the smiley ....I shall treasure it until the forum goes down again
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
Hmm, I thought people would enjoy a good argum ... er ... discussion of the Chinese Room.

~~ Paul
I was thinking of making a thread about digital consciousness and what it means for human brains but I want to wait until the forum isn't eating up threads/posts.

Even new threads seem to be missing posts...
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#8
Evidently Searle, in his though experiment, has checked that the man going into the room is a native English speaker, i.e. born in an English speaking country :)
I'm not asking whether he speaks English in the usual sense. I am asking in this sense:

He can fool a Chinese speaker into believing that he understands Chinese even though he does not. In exactly the same sense, why should we assume that he understands English? Perhaps he is using an English Room to "understand" the English instructions for answering Chinese questions.

If he doesn't need to understand Chinese to answer Chinese questions, why does he need to understand English to understand the English instructions?

~~ Paul
 
#9
If he doesn't need to understand Chinese to answer Chinese questions, why does he need to understand English to understand the English instructions?
A native English speaker can take a book, let's say Joyce's "Ulysses", read it and then tell us what the book is about, produce a review, write an essay about Joyce's stylistic devices etc...

The same English speaker inside the Chinese Room can take 三国演义 sān guó yǎn yì (Guanzhong's "Romance of the Three Kingdoms") and fail completely at the same task, even though he possesses the instructions to manipulate the language.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#10
A native English speaker can take a book, let's say Joyce's "Ulysses", read it and then tell us what the book is about, produce a review, write an essay about Joyce's stylistic devices etc...
The same English speaker inside the Chinese Room can take ???? sa-n guó ya(n yì (Guanzhong's "Romance of the Three Kingdoms") and fail completely at the same task, even though he possesses the instructions to manipulate the language.
But according to the thought experiment, that English speaker in the Chinese room would not fail at the task. If given the book and the question "What is the book about?" (in Chinese), his response would be indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker.

My only point so far is to note that if his answers in Chinese are indistinguishable from a native speaker yet we say that he does not understand Chinese, then there is no reason to believe that he understands English, either. He could be using the services of an English Room.

Your example brings up another issue with the thought experiment. The typical descriptions underplay the complexity of the situation. Imagine giving the room a Chinese equivalent of this kind of question (thanks to Dennett*):

Imagine taking a capital letter D and turning it counterclockwise 90 degrees. Now place it on top of a capital letter J. What sort of weather does this remind you of?

Are we still going to insist that the room, as a whole, has no understanding?

And then, of course, there is the "read-only problem," illustrated by this question:

What is the opposite answer to the last question you were asked?

And the "external world problem":

What was the headline in the Guangming Daily last Tuesday?

And, finally, the killer, a question which gives the room a Chinese/English relationship:

What is the English word for 'horse'?

or a combination of the previous two:

What was the headline in the China Daily last Tuesday?


~~ Paul

* David Moser has such a question in Chinese, which I can scan and present, if you like.
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#11
I just discovered this interesting Chinese Room dialog by Peter Kugel, illustrating the read-only problem:

Questioner: From here on in I’m going to use the word ‘bad’ to mean ‘good’ as it does in some
contemporary American slang. Got it?
Room: Yes.
Questioner: Would you say that an A was a bad grade?
Room : No.


~~ Paul
 
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