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Old 7th September 2010, 05:46 PM   #1
thadman is offline thadman  United States
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Default The Chinese Room Thought Experiment

Here's an interesting thought experiment proposed by John Searle in 1978

Let us suppose you have a room with a slot in one wall, and inside is an English-speaking person sitting at a desk. He has a big book of instructions and all the pencils and scratch paper he could ever need. Flipping through the book, he sees that the instructions, written in English, dictate ways to manipulate, sort, and compare Chinese characters. Mind you, the directions say nothing about the meanings of the Chinese characters; they only deal with how characters are to be copied, erased, reordered, transcribed, and so forth.

Someone outside the room slips a piece of paper through the slot. On it is written a story and questions about the story, all in Chinese. The man inside doesn't speak or read a word of Chinese, but he picks up the paper and goes to work with the rulebook. He toils and toils, rotely following the instructions in the book. At times the instructions tell him to write characters on scrap paper, and at other times to move and erase characters. Applying rule after rule, writing and erasing characters, the man works until the book's instructions tell him he is done. When he is finished at last he has written a new page of characters, which unbeknownst to him are the answers to the questions. The book tells him to pass his paper back through the slot. He does it, and wonders what this whole tedious exercise has been about.

Outside, a Chinese speaker reads the page. The answers are all correct, she notes---even insightful. If she is asked whether those answers came from an intelligent mind that had understood the story, she will definitely say yes. But can she be right? Who understood the story? It wasn't the fellow inside, certainly; he is ignorant of Chinese and has no idea what the story was about. It wasn't the book, which is just, well, a book, sitting inertly on the writing desk amid piles of paper.

So where did the understanding occur?
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:11 PM   #2
Cassiel is offline Cassiel  Libya
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Outside, a Chinese speaker reads the page.

Last edited by Cassiel; 7th September 2010 at 06:14 PM.
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:29 PM   #3
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The "understanding" is in the mindless tedium. Without the time, it wouldn't've happened.
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:32 PM   #4
thadman is offline thadman  United States
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Originally Posted by chris661 View Post
The "understanding" is in the mindless tedium. Without the time, it wouldn't've happened.
Is "understanding" necessary for the phenomenon to have taken place?
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:35 PM   #5
Cassiel is offline Cassiel  Libya
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Originally Posted by chris661 View Post
the mindless tedium.
Yes, pretty boring experiment.
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:37 PM   #6
Cassiel is offline Cassiel  Libya
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Originally Posted by thadman View Post
Is "understanding" necessary for the phenomenon to have taken place?
Is it necessary to undersand life in order to live it?
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:37 PM   #7
jrenkin is offline jrenkin  United States
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Wouldn't the real understanding lay with the person who wrote the instructions? Not of the particular questions, but about language.
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:41 PM   #8
thadman is offline thadman  United States
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Is it necessary to undersand life in order to live it?
No.

However, if we're going to discuss the concept of "understanding", we should define it. Otherwise, we're just going to end up confusing each other.
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Old 7th September 2010, 06:41 PM   #9
SY is offline SY  United States
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thadman View Post

So where did the understanding occur?
With Daniel Dennett.
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Old 7th September 2010, 08:02 PM   #10
Pano is offline Pano  United States
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I don't get it. If the answers make sense, and are even "insightful" then obviously the person wrote the big book of instructions understood.
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