The Chinese Room Argument

An argument intended to show that information processing is not sufficient to understand language or think was put forward by philosopher John Searle in 1980. The widely-discussed argument, known as The Chinese Room Argument, refutes the theory that human minds are computer-like, computational or information processing systems.

The reasoning behind the three premise argument is that 1) programs are purely formal (i.e. syntactic), 2) human minds have mental contents (i.e. semantics) and 3) syntax by itself is neither constitutive of, nor sufficient for, semantic content. Therefore, programs by themselves are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for minds. In other words, computers manipulate symbols using syntax rules without any knowledge about such symbols' semantics, i.e. their meanings. Thus, programs cannot produce minds.

While making such a sweeping statement on thought processing, Searle has not considered its most essential part, i.e. interaction processing, in the argument. He mentions input and output, but not what is happening under the "black box". Analogy: In explaining reheating a frozen patty in the microwave oven, if I explain steps of removing the patty from the fridge, putting it into microwave safe plate, putting the plate into the oven, how can I forget the step of the patty being heated in the oven before removing it in the desired state? Isn't heating patty the only reason I put it in the oven?

Arguments and counter-arguments going on for more than 3 decades have failed to note such a fundamental flaw in the argument.

Besides the flaw, the DOS model resolves the argument “Computer programs are entirely defined by their formal, or syntactical, structure and minds have mental contents; specifically they have semantic contents. Syntax is not sufficient for semantics. Therefore, no computer program by itself is sufficient to give a system a mind” in a single sentence, as follows:

The meaning (i.e. semantics) in the thought process is realized by VP matching current experience with past data using language as a vehicle, which is governed by syntax rules.

No more Chinese room argument.

© Copyright 2017 Parag Jasani. All Rights Reserved.