Devon Teichman November 17, 2009
Section 106 Weisvogel
Reflections on Searle
I enjoyed reading Searle’s Minds, Brains, Programs. It was an entertaining piece of work that made me think. The relationship between robots and humans is actually quite close, and Searle makes several analogies to us and them.
In the Chinese room analogy, Searle (who understands no Chinese) is locked in a room with an instruction book (written in English), plenty of paper, and slots for incoming and outgoing paper. Searle receives paper with "squiggle squoggles" on it through the in-slot and, by following the instructions in the book, draws "squoggle squiggles" on paper, and sends it through the out-slot. A native Chinese speaker outside the room would be deceived into thinking he was communicating with someone who genuinely understands Chinese inside the room. Searle himself does not understand Chinese, but the system as a whole does understand it. The comparison here is that the man inside the room is a computer, just taking information and copying it, using a set of instructions it can understand, interpreting nothing. The computer cannot be human because it is a program, not a mind. It does not understand the information, it simply computes.
I thought the Chinese room was the best part of Searle’s work, and he presents such a tough argument towards genuine understanding versus simulation of understanding, memorization, or instructional understanding. This made me think, what do I really understand? And I was surprised that much of what I “know” I do not understand. Fact is only fact because we memorize it as fact. But then again, take math for example, what do we really understand from math? We understand 2+2=4, and use that as the basis for our understanding, then we say 4-2=2. This can only be true and understood, if accept the theory that 2+2=4. Much of how we operate as human beings involves memorization, simulation and instruction. We put together a puzzle once,...