By John Searle
Imagine that you carry out the steps in a program for answering questions in a language you do not understand. I do not understand
Chinese, so I imagine that I am locked in a room with a lot of boxes of Chinese symbols (the database), I get small bunches
of Chinese symbols passed to me (questions in Chinese), and I look up in a rule book (the program) what I am supposed to do.
I perform certain operations on the symbols in accordance with the rules (that is, I carry out the steps in the program) and
give back small bunches of symbols (answers to the questions) to those outside the room. I am the computer implementing a
program for answering questions in Chinese, but all the same I do not understand a word of Chinese. And this is the point:
if I do not understand Chinese solely on the basis of implementing a computer program for understanding Chinese, then neither
does any other digital computer solely on that basis, because no digital computer has anything I do not have.
This is such a simple and decisive argument that I am embarrassed to have to repeat it, but in the years since I first published
it there must have been over a hundred published attacks on it, including some in Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained....The Chinese Room Argument—as it has come to be called—has a simple three-step structure:
- Programs are entirely syntactical.
- Minds have a semantics.
- Syntax is not the same as, nor by itself sufficient for, semantics.
Therefore programs are not minds. Q.E.D.
Links Related To The Chinese Room Thought Experiment
Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some
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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit
things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.
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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford
Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose.
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