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Chinese room argument

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


P hilosophy of mind A thought experiment devised by John Searle in his 1980 paper “Minds, Brains and Programs.” It is designed to demonstrate that software cannot make a computer conscious or give it a mind that is anything like a human mind. Suppose an English speaker, who cannot speak Chinese, is locked in a room with two windows and an instruction book in English. Pieces of paper with questions in Chinese written on them are put into the room through one window. The person matches these pieces of paper with other pieces of paper with Chinese symbols according to the instructions in the book and then passes these other pieces of paper through the other window. Searle believes that this is basically what the set-up inside a computer is like and that the non-Chinese-speaking person is like the computer. He processes everything received from the input according to a program, and his output might, as a matter of fact, take the form of answers to the Chinese questions he received. Hence he passes the Turing test , but still does not gain an understanding of Chinese. Similarly, a computer only operates according to designed formal rules, and cannot be aware of the contents of the symbols it manipulates. Searle then concludes that a program is not a mind, for the former is formal or syntactical, while the latter has semantic content. Semantics is not intrinsic to syntax , and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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