Minds Brains, and Programs
John R. Searle
While I will elaborate at greater length on the subject, the core debate seems to center on:
- The universality of a logical machine (a Turing machine) in its ability to emulate any given system.
- The impact of a system’s architecture on it’s operation (be it an intended universal platform or not)
- A philosophical argument that fixates on or against the notion of structuralism in cognition.
To comment briefly on both Turing’s and Searle’s method or style of presentation. Turing arrives at the notion of machine learning as a visionary with emotional investment and total commitment and belief in the then emerging technology of digital computing systems. While at times his tangential venturing seems to veere into psychologically questionable territory; the speculation on digital child rearing specifically, yet one has to keep in mind that at the time he and many other’s in their field really were making science fictions a reality.
Searle on the other hand, while seemingly emotionally invested as well, approaches the argument in a painfully political way. By political I mean argumentative strategies not unlike those used by people like Bill O’Reilly and other’s on the Fox News network. Such are his methods that his logic can appear convincing for a brief moment until one actually dissects the logic of what they have just read and ignores the pseudo-logical markup language that he may or may not understand himself. It is interesting that he chose to use “Chinese” as his metaphor for natural language, while at the time it may have seemed benign, though it now adds an entertaining cultural subtext.
While the idealized notion that a Turing machine can facilitate the emulation of any given system algorithmically, allotted the necessary computing power and or time is sound so long as we accept that notion as being bound within an idealized space.
Related to the concept of a universal machine is the idea that a system’s physical constitution impacts its ability to perform certain tasks. While the conventional von Neumann architecture may be theoretically capable of emulating any other system it will at times prove to be impractical to the point that other architectures need to be considered; such is the case with things like quantum computing.
The impact of a system’s architecture could also be said to be formatively influential… that is that the constraints of the system influence its developmental path -be it a tendency toward more or less symmetrical game boards on the Atari 2600 console because the programming methods were so arduously time consuming that programmers often simply flipped their code “mirroring” the board layout to save precious time… or perhaps the nature of human language having had to develop on neural “hardware” that was available. Both the Atari 2600 games and human language could be said to be developmental imperatives on a social/evolutionary biological level (in very different ways).. that is to say that they both needed to happen and would do so given whatever architecture was available.
To be as direct as possible…
There is no man in the Chinese room! There is no homunculus, no little man in a tiny control room in your head, no cartesian theater…
Searle is wrong.. it’s painful to listen to an argument that assumes such liberties as endless recursion, circular logic, and side stepping (Searle somehow believes that it’s ok to talk of himself as both an agent within his metaphor and then as himself presumably in a real room.. assuming that his paper wasn’t generated algorithmically at MIT by two PhD candidates… which would be hilarious if it were true, but sadly it is not.
Another way to consider Searle’s viewpoint… to his defense, it’s incredibly seductive to reside in the space that he does, to fixate on our own intentional agency and how very special it does seem, after all it is a singular perspective of which there is presently no alternative.. but consider the argument for “Intelligent Design”… the idea that things in nature are just too perfect.. too apparently intelligent to have not been made by a creator… you can ask.. “Intelligent compared to what???”
… Saying this, I in no way intend to diminish the uniqueness and the awe of the human brain… the human mind… it is not a miracle, but something so much greater.