Can the Chinese Room Think?

In Hong Kong today, asking if the Chinese Room think. Can it?

The history of the debate here:


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Can the CR think?

It depends on what you mean by “think”. Some people take “think” to mean the use of logic. And the CR can use logic.

For me, “to think” has to do with thinking about the world. And logic is not enough for that. So, in my opinion, no the Chinese Room cannot actually think. But there isn’t any knock down proof of that.

I never found Searle’s argument to be persuasive. The only thing that Searle actually demonstrated, was that logic can be done without having access to meaning. And that was already well known (and trivially obvious) to mathematicians, computer programmers and probably many other people.


My understanding (though I haven’t actually read Searle on this) is that the Chinese room is intended as an argument against functionalism: the thesis that mental states are constituted by their functional role (very roughly, the relationships between their inputs and outputs).

The idea is that the Chinese room has all the right functional behaviour (it “converses” in Chinese), but it is just a guy in a room mechanically following certain rules, and the guy is replaceable. The idea that the room somehow manifests conscious mental states, especially states that understand and think about the conversation it is having (states that exhibit intentionality, that is), is supposed to be absurd.

This is one of the reasons that, it seems to me, mental phenomena can’t be reduced to physical phenomena, and so at least property dualism (if not substance dualism) must be true. That’s probably a whole other discussion, though.


Bear in mind, Searle is not a property dualist.

Well, Searle claims not to be a property dualist, from what I’ve read. He says (a) mental properties emerge from physical properties the way that (b) macroscopic physical properties (e.g. liquidity) emerge from microscopic physical properties (motion of particles).
But the analogy between (a) and (b) is really not much good, because while in (b) the microscopic behaviour necessitates the macroscopic, there seems to be no physical reason why a certain pattern of neurons firing should result in a given mental property - and it isn’t even clear that there is such a thing as a certain neural pattern that always corresponds to a given mental property. This casts doubt on whether we can ever find a reduction (a) analogous to the one in (b), even in principle.
So it doesn’t look like there is anything about Searle’s view to differentiate it in practice from the view that there are irreducible mental properties contingently correlated with physical systems - which would be property dualism.