[Wittrs] Re: Dualism Cooties: Dennett Accuses Searle

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2010 13:15:16 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Joseph Polanik <jPolanik@...> wrote:

> thank you. I've found your post from 2010-01-31 in which you quote some
> material including the next paragraph and then provide a parenthetical
> comment:

> Dennett: "Here is how the misdirection occurs. We see clearly enough
> that if there were understanding in such a giant system, it would not be
> Searle's understanding (since he is just a cog in the machiery,
> oblivious to the context of what he is doing). We also see clearly that
> there is nothing remotely like genuine understanding in any hunk of
> programming small enough to imagine readily -- whatever it is, it's just
> a mindless routine for transforming symbol strings into other symbol
> strings according to some mechanical or syntactical recipe. Then comes
> the suppressed premise: Surely more of the same, no matter how much
> more, would never add up to genuine understanding. But why should anyone
> think this is true? Cartesian dualists would think so, because they
> think that even human brains are unable to accomplish understanding all
> by themselves . . ."

> Stuart: [Recall my point that Searle's CRA hinges on an implicit case of
> substance dualism.]

> I stand by my previous conclusion about Dennett's case against Searle;

Well, I never dreamed you'd do otherwise!

> but, given your insistence that Dennett is implicitly accusing Searle of
> substance dualism,

No, explicitly. He says it, although it takes him a while to make the point.

> I will admit that one could interpret Dennett's
> seductive rhetoric as an invitation to perpetrate a logical fallacy.
> and you fell for it, Stuart.

> Dennett's premise is that if you are a Cartesian Dualist (C) then you
> will deny that there is any understanding (-U) in the chinese room
> C -> -U

Dennett's point is that if you can't conceive of consciousness as reducible to 
non-conscious constituents you will not be able to see how anything syntactical 
(which is non-conscious) could possibly combine to constitute anything 
conscious and that way of thinking about what consciousness is implies dualism 
(as in the ontological basicness).

> interestingly enough, this is probably true; but, of course, that's
> irrelevant to the logical validity of the argument.

Because Dennett's argument against Searle is that Searle underspecs the CR and 
it is only a dualist presumption that makes such an underspecked system look 
like a case where the thesis that consciousness can be constituted from 
computational processes running on computers (so-called computationalism) fails.

Once one frees oneself from that picture, that idea of what consciousness must 
be, then the underspecking looks glaringly obvious.

But the CRA is superficially very compelling because our intuitive idea about 
consciousness is tied tightly to this idea that consciousness is ontologically 
distinct (as in basic) from the rest of the universe. It sometimes takes a lot 
of work (see Dennett's very lengthy book) to shake this intuition. I know it 
did for me (though I did the work without his book). I was originally very 
taken with the apparent power of the CRA. I thought Searle had hit the 
proverbial nail on the head initially and it was only after I looked more 
deeply at the argument that I saw:

1) a series of flaws in the syllogistic construction; and

2) I realized that it was the underlying conception of consciousness that was 
at issue and which drove the apparent power of the argument.

> there are two things you can do with a conditional statement like that
> 1: Deny the Consequent [valid]
> [1]: C -> -U
> [2]: U
> [3]: -C
> this is a valid move and is known as modus tollens.

Thank you for the logic lesson but it misses the point.

Note that not all instances of consciousness will involve the presence of 
understanding though there is the further problem that both consciousness and 
understanding allow of many levels of meaning and application so we are stuck 
with a complex set of potential equivocations at the outset. You cannot make a 
statement like:

"If there is consciousness, then there is no understanding"

because both terms are robustly ambiguous (they can mean many different things, 
and quite legitimately so).

Reducing this to logical form merely masks these important nuances. Note that 
by consciousness we can mean anything from what we humans have to what cats 
have to what frogs have to what fish have, etc. Similarly we may draw the line 
for understanding at a myriad of places along the continuum. A cat understands 
the difference between a mouse and a dog but it doesn't understand it like we 
do so is it real understanding? On the other hand it is likely that lizards and 
frogs understand much less about such distinctions than the cat.

> Dennett denies that there is a lack of understanding (--U) in the
> chinese room. this is equivalent to saying that there is understanding
> (U).

No, no, no! Dennett does NOT deny there is a lack of understanding in the room! 
You have that exactly wrong. He says the room is inadequately specked to have 
understanding so, of course, it lacks it!

In principle, a room made of the same "constituents" could have understanding 
if it were more robustly specked on his view. That is, it would have to have 
all the connective and linking capacities that are in place with instances of 
understanding we have, including memories, complex global pictures at many 
levels and of certain types, the ability to make connections and associations 
across and within these, and to map new complex pictures and retain and use 
these, too.

Searle's system is, by definition, a rote responding mechanism that blindly 
(uncomprehendingly) matches one configuration of lines (which has no meaning to 
it) to another (which has no meaning to it). By assuming it is following the 
rules, we stipulate that it is sending out the right (convincing) responses.

But Dennett notes that such a system could not, in fact, be convincing across a 
sufficiently broad testing regimen. Yet, even allowing, for argument's sake, 
that it could, the things that a conscious intelligence does have obviously 
been left out of it so, of course, the CR isn't conscious and we would all 
agree to that!

But, Dennett argues, that is only because we forget (or never realized) that 
understanding involves a much more complex set of operations. "Complexity," he 
points out at the end of the text I quoted, "matters."

> from this we may validly conclude that Dennett is not a Cartesian
> dualist (-C)

Well blow me down! (But no, that is NOT evidence that Dennett isn't a Cartesian 
dualist because the syllogism you've built is insufficiently refined to state 
anything we could or could not agree to. More, a denial of "If there is 
consciousness, there is no understanding" does not entail a claim of Cartesian 

> 2: Affirm the Consequent [invalid]
> [1]: C -> -U
> [2]: -U
> [3]: C

> clearly, Searle denies that there is understanding in the chinese room.

And note that Dennett doesn't dispute that! Dennett's argmuent boils down to 
pointing out that what is found in the CR says nothing about a system that has 
all the needed functions and so it can imply no conclusions about such systems.

> however, to conclude from this that Searle is a Cartesian or substance
> dualist is fallacious (without first proving that it is logically
> impossible for anyone not a Cartesian dualist to deny that there is
> understanding in the chinese room).
> http://www.onegoodmove.org/fallacy/affirm.htm
> Joe

1) Your question to me wasn't about whether Dennett was right or wrong but 
about whether that was his case and I have shown you that it was, using 
Dennett's own words.

2) Since the syllogism you have presented above, with its variant conclusions, 
bears no relation to Dennett's actual claims or to claims of Cartesian dualism, 
it is irrelevant to this issue. (There is nothing in Cartesian dualism that 
implies: "If there is consciousness, then there is understanding [or then there 
is no understanding]". Descarte's argument was about awareness, not 
understanding, and the certainty or lack thereof that derived from it. His 
conclusion was grounded in an intuited supposition that consciousness was a 
distinct and separate thing from the things which we are aware of.)

3) As to whether Dennett is, finally, right or wrong, note that the issue boils 
down to what we think consciousness is. While there are many nuances there are 
two basic alternatives. Either consciousness is:

A) Ontologically basic (i.e., irreducible to anything different than itself); or

B) It isn't ontologically basic (i.e., reducible to some thing or things that 
are different than itself).

What it may be reducible to is an empirical question and what it is, if it 
isn't reducible, is a question of another type (conceptual though with 
empirical implications) and there are all sorts of answers we may consider in 
either category. There's lots of room for argument. But the bottom line 
question is whether consciousness is conceivable as being constituted by 
otherwise non-conscious constituents or not.

Dennett rightly notes that Searle's belief that the CR supports his CRA (and, 
of course, its conclusions) can only stand if one takes the first view and the 
first view is the dualist one (nuances of the what-kind-of-dualism and 
what-kinds-of-entities, aside).


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