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

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2010 21:45:31 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "iro3isdx" <xznwrjnk-evca@...> wrote:

> --- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "SWM" <SWMirsky@> wrote:
> For reference, I repeat the argument from an earlier post.

> 1) Minds (consciousness) have (has) semantics.
> 2) Computers consist exclusively of syntax.
> 3) Syntax does not constitute and is not sufficient for semantics.
> 4) Therefore computers cannot have minds (be conscious)

> > Premise #3 is, of course, the tricky one. It purports to show (in,
> > as Searle has put it, a self-evident manner) that the constituents
> > in the CR are not conscious and cannot conceivably be conscious.

> I don't see that.  Rather, #3 just express something that Searle, and
> many other people, find intuitively plausible.  It does not say anything
> about the CR.

Yes, it expresses an intuition. But it is THAT intuition which is precisely 
what the CR purports to show us.

What does Searle say after he has spelled out this scenario? He says there is 
no understanding in the CR because there are only syntactical (uncomprehending) 
operations going on. "Nothing in the Chinese Room," he says, "understands 
Chinese and the Chinese Room doesn't either."

The CR is the thought experiment.

The CRA is the argument he derives from it.

Premise #3, in the CRA, is what the CR is supposed to demonstrate, i.e., it 
speaks directly to, and reflects, that intuition you refer to.

But THAT intuition depends on a certain picture of consciousness or, better, is 
the source of that particular picture.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the CR is not the CRA.

> I think you too easily accepted Searle's #2.  When I play a music CD, I
> hear music.  The music does not come from syntax of the computation.  It
> comes from the data recorded on the CD. Computations consist of syntax
> (computation rules) applied to data. I don't find Searle's #2 to be at
> all persuasive, particularly in an era of digital music, digital
> photography, digital telephony, etc.

I accept #2 conditionally, granting it for the purpose of the argument. It 
depends on what we mean by "syntax" after all and I am not always in agreement 
with the way Searle uses that term. But for the purpose of his argument there 
is a meaning of the term that is reasonable, on my view, namely that computers 
running programs are not mindful of them but are just running certain 
operations according to an algorithmic pattern that has been encoded and fed 
into them. That those patterns can result in sounds we recognize as music is 
beside the point of whether computers are running what Searle calls "syntax" in 
their innards.

> Presumably Searle could have argued that while there is semantics
> encoded in the data, the computer itself experiences that data only as
> syntax.

If he did he would have a problem because if you say the computer "experiences" 
you already have consciousness, awareness, unless you are radically changing 
the meaning of "experiences". But then you run into questions of logical 

>  But I think that's a hard case to make because we don't have a
> good account of what constitutes experience.

At the least though we use the term for animate entities. No one would normally 
say a rock experiences falling or erosion! These things just happen TO it.

> > There are, indeed, other reasons for believing that #3 is true. But
> > those reasons only refer to the particular kinds of processes we
> > find in the CR, not to the idea of physical processes themselves.
> You need to broaden your horizons beyond the CR argument.

That may be but the issue here WAS the CR argument or at least it became that 
after Joe redirected it from Dennett about whose theory of mind we had 
initially been debating. (Joe challenged me to stop depending on Dennett's 
criticisms of Searle, as he saw it -- I wasn't but that was how he seemed to 
perceive it -- and speak for myself by referencing Searle directly rather than 
through Dennett's words, as he thought I was doing. My interest is and has long 
been with issues of consciousness so naturally those who have made some waves 
in this arena will attract my attention and, more, I happen to be most in sync 
with Dennett's views on the matter, at least as of now.)

>  Chomsky's
> linguistics dates from around 1956, and has had many critics from its
> beginnings.  And most of the criticism was because of Chomsky's emphasis
> on syntax, where the critics thought that semantics was the primary
> feature of language.  I'll suggest that most of Chomsky's critics would
> have agreed with #3, and that's as far back as 1956, long before the CR
> argument was conceived.
> Regards,
> Neil

#3 reflects an intuition we have but being intuitive is no indication of being 


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