[Wittrs] Re: Searle's CRA and its Implications

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 20:34:12 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Gordon Swobe <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
> Dennett's Page 439:
> "The argument that begins 'this little bit of brain activity doesn't 
> understand Chinese, and neither does this bigger bit of which it is a 
> part...' is headed for the unwanted conclusion that even the activity of the 
> whole brain is insufficient to account for understanding Chinese..."
> No it isn't.
> Here Dennett reveals his own suppressed premise: *only if the organic brain 
> equals as a software/hardware system* would Searle's argument lead to "the 
> unwanted conclusion that even the activity of the whole brain is insufficient 
> to account for understanding Chinese".

Well yes, because Dennett's point is that mind can be accounted for by a system 
description. But it's not a suppressed premise. It's right out there, an 
integral part of his claim, i.e., he speaks of the mind as a group of virtual 
serial machines (software programs) running on a massively parallel processing 
platform. His thesis hinges on this picture of the brain and how it works.

Of course he could be wrong but it is at least a viable thesis (testable) while 
Searle's claim is a logical denial of possibility which stands or falls on the 
validity of the logic alone.

> Searle denies adamantly that the brain equals a S/H system, so his argument 
> does not lead where Dennett would have us believe.

Yes, Searle denies it but he is unclear on what he actually means much of the 
time while finding as a flaw in computational programs running on computers 
what he does not find to be a flaw in brains, leading to self-contradiction.

> Dennett continues: "It is hard to imagine how 'just more of the same' could 
> add up to understanding, but we have very good reason to believe that it 
> does, so in this case we should try harder, not give up."

> No, we have no reason whatsoever to believe that it does. Again he assumes 
> the organic brain works like a S/H system.
> -gts

We KNOW that brains cause consciousness (Searle's use of "cause"). And we know 
that brains are physical and run perfectly physical processes in their complex 
configuration of cells and cell-based components.

We don't know HOW they do it yet but we have, at least, prima facie reason to 
figure that it is something physical going on. Insofar as it is, it may 
certainly be rather like computers (though, as Edelman and Hawkins argue, it 
also may not). What's at issue then is whether we should assume that, just 
because we don't know and don't see what brains are doing when they produce 
consciousness, we should assume that anything indescribable is going on.

Yes, of course there is a mystery here because we don't know the answer (and 
don't know if we will ever figure it out) but brains certainly appear to be the 
relevant physical entities, the right candidates for assigning a causal source 
for minds. All Dennett is doing, above, is urging us to keep looking to come up 
with an explanation (that can be tested, of course) for how brains do what they 

But yes, his thesis IS that the brain is like a massively parallel processing 
computer and that what we call mind is a bunch of operations the various parts 
of the brain perform in a comprehensive way, as an overarching system.


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