Whole forests have been wasted in the effort to refute the Chinese Room Thought Experiment proposed by Searle in 1980 and refined (really derived from axioms) in 1990. The experiment envisages a room in which an English speaker sits, equipped with a book of instructions in English. Through one window messages in Chinese are passed on to him (in the original experiment, two types of messages). He is supposed to follow the instructions and correlate the messages received with other pieces of paper, already in the room, also in Chinese. This collage he passes on to the outside through yet another window. The comparison with a computer is evident. There is input, a processing unit and output. What Searle tried to demonstrate is that there is no need to assume that the central processing unit (the English speaker) understands (or, for that matter, performs any other cognitive or mental function) the input or the output (both in Chinese). Searle generalized and stated that this shows that computers will never be capable of thinking, being conscious, or having other mental states. In his picturesque language "syntax is not a sufficient base for semantics". Consciousness is not reducible to computations. It takes a certain "stuff" (the brain) to get these results.
Objections to the mode of presentation selected by Searle and to the conclusions that he derived were almost immediately raised. Searle fought back effectively. But throughout these debates a few points seemed to have escaped most of those involved.
First, the English speaker inside the room himself is a conscious entity, replete and complete with mental states, cognition, awareness and emotional powers. Searle went to the extent of introducing himself to the Chinese Room (in his disputation). Whereas Searle would be hard pressed to prove (to... [continues]
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