Searle's Chinese Room Argument:
Annotated Bibliography   by Larry Hauser

Back to Home

Under construction

Annotated References
BELOW: Searle: Ur Article | Elaboration and Defense | Others: Initial "Open Peer Commentary" | Further Commentaries and Criticism

SEE ELSEWHERE: The Chinese Room entry by Searle in the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science

The Ur Article

Searle, J. 1980a. "Minds, brains, and programs" Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:417-424. 

Against "strong AI" - the claim that "the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind in the sense that computers given the right programs can be literally said to understand and have other cognitive states" (p. 417) - Searle imagines himself locked in a room, receiving (as input) Chinese writing (stories and questions); he processes the writing by following a set of written instructions in English specifying a Natural Language Understanding (NLU) program for Chinese modeled on Schank & Abelson 1977's Script Applier Mechanism (SAM); and he produces (as output) Chinese writing  (answers to the questions) "indistinguishable from . . . native Chinese speakers" (p. 418).  In the room, Searle is a Turing (1950) test passing human computer (a la Turing 1937); yet he doesn't understand a word of Chinese.  So, neither would an electronic computer running SAM or any other NLU program.  "The computer has nothing more than I have in the case where I understand nothing" (p. 418): it attaches no meaning (semantics) to the physical symbols (syntax) it processes and hence has no genuine mental states.  This result is said to generalize to "any Turing machine simulation of human mental phenomena" (p. 417).

Searle considers several would-be rejoinders to the experiment. The systems reply says the thinker (in the scenario) isn't Searle, it's the whole Searle-in-the-room system.  Searle responds by imagining himself to "internalize all the elements of the system" by memorizing the instructions, etc.: "all the same," he intuits, he "understands nothing of the Chinese" and "neither does the system" (p. 419). The robot reply would add "a set of causal relation[s]" between the symbols and "the outside world" by putting the computer in a robot.  Searle replies that "the addition of such 'perceptual' and 'motor' capacities adds nothing in the way of understanding": imagining himself in the room in the robot, computationally acting as "the robot's homunculus," still, he intuits, "by instantiating the program I have no intentional states of the relevant type" (p. 420). The brain simulator reply envisages a program that "simulates the actual sequence of neuron firings in the brain of a native Chinese speaker" (p. 420).  Searle replies, "even getting close to the operation of the brain is still not sufficient to produce understanding" (p. 421). The combination reply imagines all of the above and Searle replies - in effect - three times nil is nil. The other minds reply insists "if you are going to attribute cognition to other people" on the basis of their behavior "you must in principle also attribute it to computers": Searle dismisses this as an epistemological worry beside his metaphysical point.  "The problem in this discussion," he says, "is not about how I know that other people have cognitive states. But rather what it is that I am attributing to them when I attribute cognitive states" and "it couldn't be just computational processes and their outputs because the computational processes and their outputs can exist without the cognitive state" (p.421-422).  To the many mansions reply - that we can imagine would-be AI-crafters succeeding by supplemental (or wholly other) noncomputational means, if computational means don't suffice - Searle retorts, this "trivializes the project of strong AI by redefining it as whatever artificially produces and explains cognition" (422).  In conclusion, Searle advances his own thought that the brain must produce intentionality by some noncomputational means which are "as likely to be as causally dependent on . . . specific biochemistry . . . as lactation, photosynthesis, or any other biological phenomenon" (p. 424).

Searle: Elaboration and Defense

Searle, J., 1980b, Intrinsic intentionality, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:450-456.

In this companion piece Searle rebuts objections targeting the Ur (1980a) article raised in the accompanying Open Peer Commentary. This, he observes, requires him to "make fully explicit some of the points that were implicit in the target article" and "involve recurring themes in the commentaries" (p. 450).  As Searle explains it, "the point of the Chinese room example" was to show that "instantiating a program could not be constitutive of intentionality, because it would be possible for the agent to instantiate the program and still not have the right kind of intentionality" (p. 450-451: my emphasis); intrinsic intentionality. Cases of "intrinsic intentionality are cases of actual mental states." Assertions that computers "decide" or "represent" things, by contrast, are just "observer relative ascriptions of intentionality, which are ways that people have of talking about entities figuring in our activity but lacking intrinsic intentionality" (p. 451), like words, sentences, and thermostats.  Much opposition to the Chinese room argument rests "on the failure to appreciate this distinction" (p.452). The difference  between intrinsic and observer-relative concerns awareness.   "Who does the interpreting?" (p. 454), that is the question; a question dictating the methodological imperative "in these discussions [to] always insist upon the first person point of view" (p. 451).  (Cf., Hauser forthcoming; Hauser 1993.)

Against complaints (by Block, Dennett, Pylyshyn, and Wilensky)  "that the argument is just based on intuitions of mine" Searle insists that intuitions "in the deprecatory sense have nothing to do with the argument" (p. 451): in the room, it is a plain "fact about me that I don't understand Chinese": from "the first person point of view" there can be no doubt.  Curiously, Searle holds it to be likewise indubitable "that my thermostat lacks beliefs": professed doubts (of Marshall and McCarthy) on this score he attributes to "confusing observer-relative ascriptions of intentionality with ascriptions of intrinsic intentionality" (p. 452).  The curiosity is that the first person point of view seems here, inaccessible (cf., Nagel 1974).

Against Minsky, Block, and Marshall's suggestions that psychology might "assimilate intrinsic intentionality" under a "more general explanatory apparatus" that "enables us to place thermostats and people on a single continuum" Searle insists "this would not alter the fact that under our present concept of belief, people literally have beliefs and thermostats don't" (p. 452).  As for those - like Dennett and Fodor - who "take me to task because I don't explain how the brain works to produce intentionality," Searle replies, "no one else does either, but that it produces mental phenomena and that the internal operations of the brain are causally sufficient for the phenomena is fairly evident from what we do know": we know, for instance, that light "reflected from a tree in the form of photons strikes my optical apparatus" which "sets up a series of neuron firings" activating "neurons in the visual cortex" which "causes a visual experience, and the visual experience has intentionality" (p. 452: cf., Explanatory Gaps).  The objection "that Schank's program is just not good enough, but newer and better programs will defeat my objection" (Block, Sloman & Croucher, Dennett, Lycan, Bridgeman, Schank) "misses the point" which "should hold against any program at all, qua formal computer program"; and "even if the formal tokens in the program have some causal connection to their alleged referents in the real world, as long as the agent has no way of knowing that, it adds no intentionality whatever to the formal tokens," and this applies (contra Fodor) whatever "kind of causal linkage" is supposed (p. 454).  Haugeland's demon assisted brain's neurons "still have the right causal powers: they just need some help from the demon" (p. 452); the "semantic activity" of which Haugeland speaks "is still observer-relative and hence not sufficient for intentionality" (p. 453).

Contrary to Rorty, Searle protests his view "does not give the mental a `numinous Cartesian glow,' it just implies that mental processes are as real as any other biological processes" (p. 452).  Hofstadter is similarly mistaken: Searle advises him to "read Eccles who correctly perceives my rejection of dualism" (p.. 454): "I argue against strong AI" Searle explains, "from a monist interactionist position" (my emphasis: cf.,  Searle 1992 ch. 1).  Searle thanks Danto, Libet, Maxwell, Puccetti, and Natsoulas for adding "supporting arguments and commentary to the main thesis." He responds to Natsoulas' and Maxwell's "challenge to provide some answers to questions about the relevance of the discussion to the traditional ontological and mind-body issues" as follows: "the brain operates causally both at the level of the neurons and at the level of the mental states, in the same sense that the tire operates causally both at the level of the particles and at the level of its overall properties" (p. 455).  (Note that the properties of tires in question - "elasticity and puncture resistance" - being dispositions of matter arranged as in "an inflated car tire" are materialistically unproblematic.  But mental states according to Searle are not dispositions (as behaviorism and functionalism maintain) but something else; not "a fluid" (p. 451) he assures us; something  made of qualia and partaking of ontological subjectivity (cf., Searle 1992),  but without the numinous Cartesian glow.)

Wilensky, Searle complains, "seems to think that it is an objection that other sorts of mental states besides intentional ones could have been made the subject of the argument," but, Searle says, "I quite agree.  I could have made the argument about pains, tickles, and anxiety," he continues, but "I prefer to attack strong AI on what its proponents take to be their strongest ground" (p. 453).  (Note this response implicitly concedes that the experiment is "about consciousness rather than about semantics" (Searle 1999): pains, tickles, and anxiety have no semantics, yet the experiment,  Searle allows, is none the worse for it .)  The remaining commentators (Abelson, Rachlin, Smythe, Ringle, Menzel, and Walter), in Searle's estimation, "missed the point or concentrated on peripheral issues" (p. 455): the point, he avers, is that "there is no reason to suppose that instantiating a formal program in the way a computer does is any reason at all for ascribing intentionality to it" (p. 454).

Searle, J., 1984a, Minds, Brains, and Science, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Chapter two is titled "Can Machines Think?" (n.b.).   After initially summarizing the view being opposed - "strong AI" - as the view "that the mind is to the brain as the program is to the computer" (Computationalism) Searle proceeds to advertise the Chinese room as "a decisive refutation" of claims such as Herbert Simon's claim that "we already have machines that can literally think" (AI Proper: cf., Hauser 1997a) ).  The argument that follows reprises the thought experiment and several of the replies to objections from Searle 1980a with a notable addition . . . a "derivation from axioms" (Searle 1989a) supposed to capture the argument's "very simple logical structure so you can see whether it is valid or invalid" (p. 38).  The derivation proceeds from the following premises (p. 39):

1.  Brains cause minds.
2.  Syntax is not sufficient for semantics.
3.  Computer programs are entirely defined by their formal, or syntactical, structure.
4.  Minds have mental contents; specifically they have semantic contents.

to the following conclusions (pp. 39-41)

CONCLUSION 1.  No computer program by itself is sufficient to give a system a mind.  Programs, in short, are not minds and they are not by themselves sufficient for having minds.
CONCLUSION 2.  The way that the brain functions to cause minds cannot be solely in virtue of running a computer program.
CONCLUSION 3.  Anything else that caused minds would have to have causal powers at least equivalent to those of the brain.
CONCLUSION 4.  For any artefact that we might build which had mental states equivalent to human mental states, the implementation of a computer program would not by itself be sufficient.  Rather the artefact would have to have powers equivalent to the powers of the human brain.

The stated "upshot" (p. 41) is that Searle's own "monist interactionist" (Searle 1980b, p. 454) hypothesis of "biological naturalism" (Searle 1983, p. 230) - "namely, mental states are biological phenomena" (p. 41) - is confirmed.  (cf., Pinker 1997).

Searle, J. (1990a), "Is the brain's mind a computer program?", Scientific American 262(1):26-31.

Searle again rehearses his 1980a thought experiment here as "a decisive refutation" of the computational theories of mind, or "strong AI," and restates the derivation from axioms with minor variations (cf., Searle 1984a).  He then proceeds to address the Connectionist Reply and the Luminous Room Counterexample, both posed by Paul and Patricia Churchland in a companion (1990) article. The Connectionist Reply has it that Searle-in-the-room's lack of understanding is due to the system's serial computational architecture. The experiment, consequently, fails to show that symbol processing by a more brainlike parallel or connectionist system would similarly lack semantics and similarly fail to understand. Searle replies that the insufficiency of connectionism is easily shown by a "Chinese gym" variation on the original thought experiment. Imagine that a gym full of "monolingual English-speaking men" implements a connectionist architecture conferring the same Chinese language processing abilities envisaged in the original experiment. Still, "No one in the gym speaks a word of Chinese, and there is no way for the gym as a whole to learn the meanings of any Chinese words" (p. 28). The Luminous Room Counterexample presents an absurd "refutation" of Maxwell's electromagnetic wave theory light: a man in a dark room causes electromagnetic waves by waving around a bar magnet; he concludes from the failure of the waving to illuminate the room that electromagnetic waves are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for light. The Chinese room example, according to the Churchlands, is completely analogous and equally ineffectual as a "refutation" of the computational theory of mind.  Searle disputes the analogy.  It breaks down, he claims, "because syntax [purely formally] construed has no physical powers and hence no physical, causal powers" such that it might be possibly be "giving off consciousness" (p. 31) at an undetectably low level as with the light (cf., Searle 1999).

Searle, J. (1992), The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Though the Chinese room argument is not itself prominently featured in it, this work can be viewed as an attempt to shore up the foundations on which that argument rests, and to nurture background assumptions (e.g., the Connection Principle) and supplementary contentions (e.g., the observer relativity of syntax) which encourage Searle's wonted "intuition" about the room.

Chapter 1 -countering criticism that the Chinese room argument depends on dubious dualistic assumptions (Hauser 1993a, chap. 6; forthcoming) or requires us to "regress to the Cartesian vantage point" (Dennett 1987, p. 336) - defends Searle's claim to "give a coherent account of the facts about the mind without endorsing any of the discredited Cartesian apparatus" (Searle 1992: 14).  He then deploys - by my count - at least five Cartesian devices in developing his own "biological naturalist" account in the pages immediately following.  He affirms (1) the essential ontological subjectivity of mental phenomena ("the actual ontology of mental states is a first-person ontology" (p. 16)) and its correlative "Connection Principle" that "[b]eliefs, desires, etc. . . . are always potentially conscious" (p. 17); (2) a distinction "between something really having a mind, such as a human being, and something behaving as if it had has a mind, such as a computer" (p. 16), a distinction Descartes deploys to deny nonhuman animals any genuine mentality which Searle redeploys (with similar intent) against computers; (3) a methodological principle of privileged access according to which "the first-person point of view is primary" (p. 20);  (4) a distinction between primary ("intrinsic") and secondary ("observer relative") properties; and, perhaps most notably, (5) a Cartesian ego, i.e., "a `first person' an `I,' that has these mental states" (p. 20).  He even dots the "`I'" (cf., Descartes 1642, Meditation 2), and appropriately so, for Searle's "`I'" is no more identifiable with body or brain than Descartes'.  Not every property had (e.g., grayness), nor every event undergone (e.g., a hemorrhage), nor even every biological function performed by a brain  (e.g., cooling the blood) is mental: but being had by a subject is supposed to constitute the mental as mental.  Nor would it avail - it would be circular, here -  to say, "thoughts are subjective properties of brains": it is precisely in order to explicate what it is for a property to be subjective that Searle introduces "a `first person' an `I' that has these mental states" in the first place.    Given his acceptance of all of this, it's hard then to see what it is about Cartesian dualism - besides the name - that Searle thinks "discredited."

Chapter 3 is notable for  acknowledging, finally, "the three hundred years of discussion of the `other minds problem'" about which Searle had hitherto - in his original (1980a) presentation and subsequent discussions (1980-1990) of the other minds reply"  - feigned amnesia.  Searle's proposed "solution" to this problem, however, is not new but, essentially, a reworking of the well worn argument from analogy.  Neither is it improved.  The analogical argument in its original form -  wherein behavioral effects are held to provide independent confirmation of the hypothesis suggested by physiological resemblance (c.f., Mill 1889, p. 204-205n) - is generally thought too weak to ward off the solipsism "implicit in . . . any theory of knowledge which adopts the Cartesian egocentric approach as its basic frame of reference" (Thornton 1996).  Yet, Searle's "solution" is to weaken the argument further by discounting the evidentiary import of behavior.  In so doing Searle regresses in this connection not only to Cartesianism, but beyond it, employing stronger as-ifness apparatus to exclude computers from the ranks of thinking things than Descartes employs to exclude infrahuman animals.  (C.f., Harnad 1991Hauser 1993b).

Chapter 7 elaborates and defends what Searle calls the "Connection Principle": "The notion of an unconscious mental state implies accessibility to consciousness" (p. 152: c.f., Searle 1990f).  As the credulity of Harnad (1991) and Bringsjord (1992) attest , such inviolable linkage of mentality to consciousness facilitates acceptance of Searle's example: if the argument is to be "about semantics" (Searle 1999, p. 128) and thought in general - not just consciousness thereof/therein - the possibility of unconscious understanding must be foreclosed.  Enter "the Connection Principle" (p. 162).

Chapter 9 (p. 208) reprises the Wordstar-on-the-wall argument of  Searle 1990c (p.27) in pursuit of the supplemental stratagem (c.f., Searle 1999) of maintaining that "syntax is essentially an observer-relative notion.  The multiple realizability of computationally equivalent processes in different physical media is not just a sign that the processes are abstract, but that they are not intrinsic to the system at all.  They depend on interpretation from the outside" (p. 209: original italics).  This buttresses the Chinese room argument against the rejoinder that, while the argument (as characterized by Searle) merely "reminds" us of the "conceptual truth that we knew all along" (Searle 1988, p. 214) that syntax alone doesn't suffice for semantics by definition or in principle, whether implemented syntax or computational processes suffice for semantics causally or in fact  (what is chiefly at issue here) is an empirical question.  The Chinese room experiment, the rejoinder continues, is ill equipped to answer this empirical question due to the dualistic methodological bias introduced by Searle's tender of overriding epistemic privileges to the first-person.  Furthermore, Searle's would-be thought experimental evidence that computation doesn't suffice for meaning (provided by Searle-in-the-room's imagined lack of introspective awareness of the meaning) is controverted by real experimental evidence (provided by the actual intelligent-seeming-behavior of programmed computers) that it does (c.f., Hauser forthcoming).  However, if syntax and computation "exist only relative to observers and interpreters," as Searle insists, arguably, empirical claims of causal-computational sufficiency are "nonstarters" (Searle 1999, p. 176) and the possibility that implemented syntax causally suffices for thought (or anything) is foreclosed.

Searle, J. (1994), "Searle, John R." in A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, ed. S. Guttenplan, Basil Blackwell Ltd., Oxford, pp. 544-550.

Searle strenuously disavows his previously advertised claim to have "demonstrated the falsity" of the claim "computers . . . literally have thought processes" (Searle et al. 1984, p. 146) by the Chinese room argument.  He here styles it "a misstatement" to "suppose that [the Chinese room] proves that 'computers cannot think'" (p. 547).  The derivation from axioms contra  Computationalism is reprised (from Searle 1984a, 1989a, 1990a).  Characterizing "the question of which systems are causally capable of producing consciousness and intentionality" as "a factual issue" Searle relies on renewed appeal to the need for "causal powers . . . at least equal to those of human and animal brains" to implicate the inadequacy of actual computers for "producing consciousness and intentionality" (p. 547).

Searle, J., (1999), The Mystery of Consciousness, New York: A New York Review Book.

This book is based on several consciousness-related-book reviews by Searle that were originally published in the New York Review of Books (1995-1997).  Notably, it includes Daniel Dennett's reply to Searle's review of Consciousness Explained (and Searle's response) and David Chalmers' reply to Searle's review of The Conscious Mind (and Searle's response).  Though in defending the Chinese room argument against Dennett, Searle bristles, "he misstates my position as being about consciousness rather than about semantics" (p. 128), The Mystery of Consciousness, ironically, features the Chinese room argument quite prominently; beginning, middle, and end.

Chapter One re-rehearses the thought experiment and re-presents the intended argument as "a simple three-step structure" as elsewhere  (cf., Searle 1984a, 1989a, 1990a, 1994).  Its validity is high-handedly presumed ("In order to refute the argument you would have to show that one of those premises is false") and its premises touted as secure ("that is not a likely prospect" (p. 13)),  as always, despite, as Searle himself notes, "over a hundred published attacks" (p. 11).  To these attacks, Dennett complains, Searle "has never . . . responded in detail": rather, Dennett notes, despite "dozens of devastating criticisms," Searle "has just presented the basic thought experiment over and over again" (p. 116) unchanged.  Unchanged, but not, I observe, unsupplemented; as it is here.  Searle continues, "It now seems to me that the Chinese Room Argument, if anything, concedes too much to Strong AI in that it concedes that the theory is at least false," whereas, "I now think it is incoherent" because syntax "is not intrinsic to the physics of the system but is in the eye of the beholder" (p. 14).  If I choose to interpret them so, Searle explains, "Window open = 1, window closed = 0" (p. 16).  On yet another interpretation (to cite an earlier formulation) "the wall behind my back is implementing the Wordstar program, because there is some pattern of molecule movements under which is isomorphic to the formal structure of Wordstar" and "if it is a big enough wall it is implementing any program" (Searle 1990c, p.27). This supplemental argument "is deeper," Searle says, than the Chinese room argument.  The Chinese room argument "showed semantics was not intrinsic to syntax"; this argument "shows that syntax is not intrinsic to physics" (p. 17). (C.f., Searle 1992, chap.. 7)

Since the Chinese room argument is so "simple and decisive" that Searle is "embarrassed to have to repeat it" (p. 11) - yet has so many critics - it must be we critics misunderstand: so Searle steadfastly maintains.  We think the argument is about consciousness somehow, or that it's "trying to prove that `machines can't think' or even `computers can't think'" when, really, it's directed just at the "Strong AI" thesis that "the implemented program, by itself, is sufficient for having a mind" (p. 14).  This oh-how-you-misunderstand-me plaint is familiar (c.f., Searle 1984a, 1990a, 1994)) and fatuous.  Searle takes it up again, in conclusion here, where he explains,

I do not offer a proof that computers are not conscious.  Again, if by some miracle all Macintoshes suddenly became conscious, I could not disprove the possibility.  Rather I offered a proof that computational operations by themselves, that is formal symbol manipulations by themselves, are not sufficient to guarantee the presence of consciousness.  The proof was that the symbol manipulations are defined in abstract syntactical terms and syntax by itself has no mental content, conscious or otherwise.  Furthermore, the abstract symbols have no causal powers to cause consciousness because they have no causal powers at all.  All the causal powers are in the implementing medium.  A particular medium in which a program is implemented, my brain for example, might independently have causal powers to cause consciousness.  But the operation of the program has to be defined totally independently of the implementing medium since the definition of the program is purely formal and thus allows implementation in any medium whatever.  Any system - from men sitting on high stools with green eyeshades, to vacuum tubes, to silicon chips - that is rich enough and stable enough to carry the program can be the implementing medium.  All this was shown by the Chinese Room Argument. (pp. 209-210)

Here it is all about consciousness, yet Searle bristled that Dennett "misstates my position as being about consciousness rather than about semantics" (p. 128).  Searle is right: I don't understand.  Furthermore, if it all comes down to programs as abstract entities having no causal powers as such - no power in abstraction to cause consciousness or intentionality or anything - then The Chinese Room Argument is gratuitous.  "Strong AI," thus construed, is straw AI: only implemented programs were ever candidate thinkers in the first place.  It takes no fancy "Gedankenexperiment" or "derivation from axioms" to show this!  Even the Law  of Universal Gravitation is causally impotent in the abstract - it is only as instanced by the shoe and the earth that the shoe is caused to drop.  Should we say, then, that the earth has the power to make the shoe drop independently of gravitation?  Of course not.  Neither does it follow from the causal powers of programs being powers of their implementing media (say brains) that these media (brains) have causal powers to cause consciousness "independently" of computation.  That brains "might," for all we know, produce consciousness by (as yet unknown) noncomputational means, I grant.  Nothing in the Chinese room, however, makes the would-be-empirical hypothesis that they do any more probable (Hauser forthcoming).

Enter, here, the supplemental Wordstar-on-the-wall argument - though more as a substitute than a supplement.  It does not so much take up where the Chinese room argument leaves off as take over the whole burden: to show that that the brain's computational power isn't in the brain in the objective way that gravitational power is in the earth; that computation, unlike gravitation, is "in the eye of the beholder."  Along these lines, in response to Chalmers, Searle complains,

Chalmers's candidates for explaining consciousness, "functional organization" and "information" are nonstarters, because as he uses them, they have no causal explanatory power. To the extent you make the function and the information specific, they exist only relative to observers and interpreters. (p. 176)

Chalmers has since replied: 

[T]his claim is quite false. Searle has made it a number of times, generally without any substantive supporting argument. I argue in Chapter 9 of the book, and in more detail in my papers "A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition" and "Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?" that the relevant notions can be made perfectly precise with objective criteria, and are therefore not at all observer-relative. If a given system has a given functional organization, implements a given computation, and therefore realizes certain information, it does so as a matter of objective fact. Searle does not address these arguments at all. ("On `Consciousness and the Philosophers'")

Where Chalmers finds Searle's "response" an "odd combination of mistakes, misrepresentations, and unargued gut reactions.."  Dennett complains similarly of the unresponsiveness of Searle's "response" to him:

[H]e trots out the Chinese Room yet one more time and has the audacity to ask, "Now why does Dennett not face the actual argument as I have stated it?  Why does he not tell us which of the three premises he rejects in the Chinese Room Argument?" Well, because I have already done so, in great detail, in several of the articles he has never deigned to answer.  For instance in "Fast Thinking" (way back in The Intentional Stance, 1987) I explicitly quoted his entire three premise argument and showed exactly why all three of them are false, when given the interpretation they need for the argument to go through!  Why didn't I repeat that 1987 article in my 1991 book?  Because, unlike Searle, I had gone on to other things..  I did, however, cite my 1987 article prominently in a footnote (p. 436), and noted that Searle's only response to it had been simply to declare, without argument, that the points offered there were irrelevant.  The pattern continues; now he both ignores that challenge and goes on to misrepresent the further criticism of the Chinese Room that I offered in the book under review . . . . (p117)

Elsewhere, Copeland 1993 makes a careful cogent case that Searle's would-be thought experimental counterexemplification of Computationalism is invalid.  Copeland, like Chalmers, complains that the supplemental "Wordstar-on-the-wall argument" is "simply mistaken" (pp. 136-7).  Searle has never - to my knowledge - replied to Copeland.  The pattern continues.

With so many weighty unmet criticisms against it, the least that can be said is that the Chinese Room Argument is hardly "simple and decisive."  Simply understood, the argument is simply invalid (c.f., Copeland 1993, Hauser 1997a); and issues about what things are "by themselves . . . sufficient to guarantee" are not simple.  Whether it can further be fairly said of the Chinese Room Argument that "just about anyone who knows anything about the field has dismissed it long ago" as "full of well-concealed fallacies," as Dennett says (p. 116), depends on how you count experts.  I, for one, have dismissed it and do find it  full of fallacies (Hauser 1993, 1997a); though the argument still has defenders (c.f. Bringsjord 1992, Harnad 1991).  It can, I think fairly, be said, that the Chinese room argument is a potent conversation starter, and has been a fruitful discussion piece.  Discussion of the argument has raised and are is helping to clarify a number of broader issues concerning AI and computationalism.  It can also, I think fairly, be said that Searle's arguments pose no clear and presently unmet challenge to claims of AI or Computationalism, much less "proof" against them, as Searle claims ( p. 228).

Others: Commentaries and Criticisms

Original "Open Peer Commentaries" (complete)

Abelson, Robert P. (1980), "Searle's argument is just a set of Chinese symbols", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:424-425.

Searle's complaints about "intentionality" raise interesting worries about the evidentiary disconnect between machines'  representations and the (putative) facts represented and concerning their lack of appreciation of the "conditions for . . . falsification" (p. 425) of their representations in particular.  Nevertheless, "Searle has not made convincing his case for the fundamental essentiality of intentionality in understanding" (p. 425).  Hence, "we might well be humble and give the computer the benefit of the doubt when and if it performs as well as we do" (p. 424).

Block, Ned (1980), "What intuitions about homunculi don't show", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:425-426.

The crucial issue with regard to the imagined homunculus in the room is "whether the homunculus falls in the same natural kind . . . as our intentional processes. If so, then the homunculus head does think in a reasonable sense of the term" (p. 425); commonsense based intuitions not withstanding. Furthermore, "the burden of proof lies with Searle to show that the intuition that the cognitive homunculi head has no intentionality (an intuition that I and many others do not share) is not due to doctrinal hostility to the symbol-manipulation account of intentionality" (p. 425).

Bridgeman, Bruce (1980), "Brains + programs = minds", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:427-428.

Searle thinks "we somehow introspect an intentionality that cannot be assigned to machines" (p. 427), but "human intelligence is not as qualitatively different from machine states as it might seem to an introspectionist" (p. 427).  "Searle may well be right that present programs (as in Schank and Abelson 1977) do not instantiate intentionality according to his definition.  The issue is not whether present programs do this but whether it is possible in principle to build machines that make plans and achieve goals.  Searle has given us no evidence that this is not possible" (p. 427-8): "an adequately designed machine could include intentionality as an emergent property even though individual parts (transistors, neurons, or whatever) have none" (p. 427).

Danto, Arthur C. (1980), "The use and mention of terms and the simulation of linguistic understanding", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:428.

Danto would "recast Searle's thesis in logical terms", in terms of the U-properties of words (use properties, e.g., meaning: distinguishable only by those able to use the words) and the M-properties (mention properties, e.g., shape: distinguishable even to those unable to use the words).  This recasting "must force [Searle's] opponents either to concede machines do not understand" on the "evidence that in fact the machine operates pretty much by pattern recognition" and "Schank's machines, restricted to M-properties, cannot think in the languages they simulate thinking in"; or else for them "to abandon the essentially behaviorist theory of meaning for mental predicates" they cling to, since "an M-specified simulation can be given of any U-performance, however protracted and intricate" and if we "ruthlessly define" U-terms in M-terms "then we cannot any longer, as Schank and Abelson wish to do, explain outward behavior with such concepts as understanding."

Dennett, Daniel (1980), "The milk of human intentionality", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:428-430.

Searle argument is "sophistry" - "tricks with mirrors that give his case a certain spurious plausibility": "Searle relies almost entirely on ill-gotten gains: favorable intuitions generated by misleadingly presented thought experiments."  In particular Searle's revisions to the experiment in response to the robot reply and systems reply taken together present "alternatives so outlandishly unrealizable as to caution us not to trust our gut reactions in any case."   "Told in detail the doubly modified story suggests either that there are two people, one of whom understands Chinese, inhabiting one body, or that one English-speaking person has, in effect, been engulfed within another person, a person who understands Chinese" (cf., Cole 1991a).

On Searle's view "the `right' input-output relations are symptomatic but not conclusive or criterial evidence of intentionality: the proof of the pudding is in the presence of some (entirely unspecified) causal properties that are internal to the operation of the brain" (p. 429).  Since Searle "can't really view intentionality as a marvelous mental fluid", his concern with the internal properties of control systems appears to be a misconceived attempt to capture the interior point of view of a conscious agent" (p. 429).  Searle can't see "how any mere computer, chopping away at a formal program could harbor such a point of view" because "he is looking too deep" into "the synapse filled jungles of the brain" (p. 430).  "It is not at that level of description that a proper subject of consciousness will be found" but rather at the systems level: the systems reply is "a step in the right direction" and that is "away from [Searle's] updated version of élan vital" (p. 430).

Eccles, John C. (1980), "A dualist-interactionist perspective", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:430-431.

Though Searle asserts that "the basis of his critical evaluation of AI is dependent on" (p. 430) the proposition, "`Intentionality in human beings (and animals) is a product of causal features of the brain" this unsupported invocation of "a dogma of the psychoneural identity theory" (431) does not figure crucially in his arguments against strong AI.  Thus Eccles finds, "Most of Searle's criticisms are acceptable for dualist interactionism"; and he agrees with Searle, "It is high time that Strong AI was discredited.

Fodor, J. A.  (1980), "Searle on what only brains can do", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:431-432.

Fodor agrees, "Searle is certainly right that instantiating the same program that the brain does is not, in and of itself, a sufficient condition for having those propositional attitudes characteristic of the organism that has the brain" but finds "Searle's treatment of the robot reply . . . quite unconvincing": "All that Searle's example shows is that the kind of causal linkage he imagines - one that is, in effect, mediated by a man sitting in the head of a robot - is, unsurprisingly, not the right kind.  Though we "don't know how to say what the right kind of causal linkages [to endow syntax with semantics] are, nevertheless, "Searle gives no clue as to why . . .. the biochemistry is important for intentionality and, prima facie, the idea that what counts is how the organism is connected to the world seems far more plausible."  Furthermore, there is "empirical evidence for believing that `manipulation of symbols' is involved in mental processes"; evidence deriving "from the considerable success of work in linguistics, psychology, and AI that has been grounded in that assumption."

Haugeland, John (1980), "Programs, causal powers, and intentionality", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:432-433.

In the first place, Searle's suggestion "that only objects (made of the stuff) with `the right causal powers' can have intentionality" is "incompatible with the main argument of his paper": whatever causal powers are supposed to cause intentionality "a superfast
person - whom we might as well call `Searle's demon'" - might take over these powers presumably (as per the thought
experiment) also without understanding; showing these (biochemical or whatever) factors to be insufficient for intentionality too!

Dismissing the demon argument (and with it Searle's thought experiment) Haugeland  characterizes the central issue as "what differentiates original from derivative intentionality" - the "intentionality that a thing (system, state, or process) has `in its own right'" - from intentionality "that is `borrowed from' or `conferred by' something else."  "What Searle objects to is the thesis, held by many, that good-enough AI systems have (or will eventually have) original intentionality."  It is a plausible claim that what distinguishes systems whose states have original intentionality is that these states are "semantically active" through being "embodied in a `system' that provides `normal channels' for them to interact with the world" like thought, and unlike text.  "It is this plausible claim that underlies the thesis that (sufficiently developed) AI systems could actually be intelligent, and have original intentionality.  For a case can surely be made that their `representations' are semantically active (or, at least, that they would be if the system were built into a robot)" (cf., the robot reply).

Still, Haugeland sympathizes with Searle's denial that good-enough AI systems have (or will eventually have) original intentionality.  Not for Searle's demon-based reason - that no matter how much semantically appropriate interactivity a program had it wouldn't count as semantics (since the demon might have the same).  Rather, for a much more "nitty-gritty empirical" reason: Haugeland doubts whether programming can in fact capture or impart the appropriate type and degree of system-world interactivity.  Again, not because, if there were such a program, it still wouldn't suffice (as Searle argues), "but because there's no such program": none is or ever will be good-enough.  Speculation aside, at least, "whether there is such a program, and if not, why not are . . .  the important questions."

Hofstadter, Douglas R. (1980), "Reductionism and Religion", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:433-434.

Searle's argument is a "religious diatribe against AI masquerading a a serious scientific argument."  Like Hofstadter himself, Searle "has deep difficulty in seeing how mind, soul, `I,' can come out of brain, cells, atoms"; but while claiming to accept this fact of nature, Searle will not accept the consequence that, since, all physical processes "are formal, that is, rule governed" `(except "at the level of particles"), "`intentionality' . . . is an outcome of formal processes."  Searle's thought experiment provides no real evidence to the contrary because "the initial situation, which sounds plausible enough, is in fact highly unrealistic", especially as concerns time scale.  This  is fatal to the experiment since "any time some phenomenon is looked at on a scale a million times different from its familiar scale, it doesn't seem the same!"  Thus, "what Searle is doing" is "inviting you to identify with a nonhuman which he lightly passes off as human, and by so doing he invites you to participate in a great fallacy."

Libet, B. (1980), "Mental phenomena and behavior", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:434.

Though Searle's thought experiment "shows, in a masterful and convincing manner, that the behavior of the appropriately programmed computer could transpire in the absence of a cognitive mental state" Libet believes "it is also possible to establish the proposition by means of an argument based on simple formal logic.  In general, where "systems A and B are known to be different, it is an error in logic to assume that because systems A and B both have property X, they must both also have property Y".  From this, Libet urges, it follows that "no behavior of a computer, regardless of how successful it may be in simulating human behavior, is ever by itself sufficient evidence of any mental state."  While he concurs with  Searle's diagnosis of "why so many people have believed that computer programs do impart a kind of mental process or state ot the computer" - it's due to their "residual behaviorism or operationalism" underwriting "willingness to accept input-output patterns as sufficient for postulating . . . mental states" - Libet here proposes a cure more radical even than Searle.  Libet deems Searle's admission (in response to the combination reply) that it would be rational to attribute intentionality to "a robot whose behavior was indistinguishable over a large range from human behavior . . . pending some reason not to" [my emphasis] - too concessive.  "On the basis of my argument," Libet asserts, one would not have to know that the robot had a formal program (or whatever) that accounts for its behavior, in order not to have to attribute intentionality to it.  All we need to know is that the robot's internal control apparatus is not made in the same way and out of the same stuff as is the human brain."

Lycan, William G. (1980), "The functionalist reply (Ohio State)", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:434-435.

Searle's counterexample (among others) effectively refutes behaviorism,  the view  that "if an organism or device D passes the Turing test, in the sense of systematically manifesting all the same outward behavioral dispositions that a normal human does, then D has all the same sorts of contentful or intentional states that humans do.  But Searle's would-be counterexamples have no such force as advertised against functionalism, "a more species-chauvinistic view" according to which "D's manifesting all the same sorts of behavioral dispositions we do does not alone suffice for D's having intentional states: it is necessary in addition that D produce the behavior from stimuli in roughly the way that we do," i.e., that D's "inner procedures" and "inner functional organization" should be "not unlike ours."  Lycan accepts Searle's judgment that neither Searle nor the room-Searle system nor the room-Searle-robot system understands; but this is not at all prejudicial to functionalism, he maintains, for the simple reason that the imagined systems "are pretty obviously not functionally isomorphic at the relevant level to human beings who do understand Chinese."  Lycan pitches the relevant level fairly low and expresses "hopes for a sophisticated version of the `brain simulator' (or the `combinationmachine') that Searle illustrates with his plumbing example."

Besides agreeing with Searle's intuitions about the imagined systems (except the "combination machine")  Lycan endorses a  theoretical point that Searle's subsequent presentations have come more and more prominently to feature (cf., Searle 1984a, Searle 1990a).  Lycan puts it thus: "A purely formally or syntactically characterized element has no meaning or content in itself, obviously, and no amount of mindless syntactic manipulation of it will endow it with any.  Lycan further agrees that this "shows that no computer has or could have intentional states merely in virtue of performing syntactic operations on formally characterized elements.  But that does not suffice to prove that no computer can have intentional states at all," as Searle seems to think.  Our brain states do not have the contents they do just in virtue of having their purely formal properties either" (my emphases): "the [semantic] content of a mental representation is not determined within its owner's head (Putnam 1975a; Fodor 1980[b]): rather it is determined in part by the objects in the environment that actually figure in the representation's etiology and in part by social and contextual factors of other sorts."  (Searle 1983 tries mightily - and, in my opinion, fails miserably - to counter such "semantic  externalism".)

Given his considerable agreement with Searle's intuitions and principles, perhaps not unsurprisingly, in the end, Lycan concludes less with a bang than a whimper that "nothing Searle has said impugns the thesis that if a sophisticated future computer not only replicated human functional organization but harbored its inner representations as a result of the right sort of causal history and had also been nurtured with a favorable social setting, we might correctly ascribe intentional states to it."

McCarthy, John, (1980), "Beliefs, machines, and theories", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:435.

"Searle's dismissal of the idea that thermostats may be ascribed belief," McCarthy urges,  "is based on a misunderstanding.  It is not a pantheistic notion that all machinery including telephones, light switches, and calculators believe.  Belief may usefully be ascribed only to systems about which someone's knowledge can best be expressed by ascribing beliefs that satisfy axioms [definitive of belief] such as those in McCarthy (1979).  Thermostats are sometimes such systems.  Telling a child, `If you hold the candle under the thermostat, you will fool it into thinking the room is too hot, and it will turn off the furnace' makes proper use of the child's repertoire of mental concepts."

In the case of the Chinese room, McCarthy maintains "that the system understands Chinese" if "certain other conditions are met": i.e., on the condition that someone's knowledge of this system can best be expressed by ascribing states that satisfy axioms definitive of understanding.

Marshall, John C. (1980), "Artificial intelligence - the real thing?", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:435-437.

Though himself incredulous that anyone at present could actually believe computers "literally have cognitive states," Marshall points out that programming might endow systems with intelligence without providing a theory or explanation of that intelligence.  Furthermore Searle is misguided in his attempts to belabor "the everyday use of mental vocabulary."  "Searle writes, `The study starts with such facts as that humans have beliefs, while thermostats, telephones, and adding machines don't'": Marshall replies, "perhaps it does start there, but that is no reason to suppose it must finish there": indeed the "groping" pursuit of "levels of description" revealing "striking resemblances between [seemingly] disparate phenomena" is the way of all science; and "to see beyond appearances to a level at which there are profound similarities between animals and artifacts" (my emphasis) is the way the mechanistic scientific enterprise must proceed in psychology as in biology more generally. It is "Searle, not the [cognitive] theoretician, who doesn't really take the enterprise seriously."  His unseriousness is especially evident in the cavalier way he deals with - or rather fails to deal with - the other minds problem.

Maxwell, Grover (1980), "Intentionality: Hardware, not software", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:437-438.

Believing that  "Searle makes exactly the right central points and supports them with exactly the right arguments" Maxwell explores "some implications of his results for the overall mind-body problem."  Assuming that "intentional states are genuinely mental in the what-is-it-like-to-be-a-bat? sense" - i.e., accepting Searle's later-named thesis of "ontological subjectivity" - Maxwell finds the argument weighs heavily against eliminativism and reveals functionalism to be "just another variety" thereof.  The argument's "main thrust seems compatible with interactionism, with epiphenomenalism, and with at least some versions of the identity thesis. Maxwell sketches his own version of the identity thesis according to which mental events are part of the hardware of `thinking machines'" and "such hardware must somehow be got into any machine we build" before it would be thinking.  "Be all this as it may," he concludes, "Searle has shown the total futility of the strong AI route to genuine artificial intelligence."

Menzel, E. W. Jr. (1980), "Is the pen mightier than the computer", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:438-439.

While "by, convention if nothing else, in AI one must ordinarily assume, until proven otherwise, that one's subject has no more mentality than a rock: whereas in the area of natural intelligence one can often get away with the opposite assumption" in other respects "the problems of inferring mental capacities are very much the same in the two areas." Here, "the Turing test (or the many counterparts to the test which are the mainstay of comparative psychology)" seeks "to devise a clear set of rules for determining the status of subjects of any species."  But "Searle simply refuses to play such games" and consequently "does not . . . provide us with any decision rules for the remaining (and most interesting) undecided cases."  His "discussion of `the brain' and `certain brain processes' in this connection is not only vague" but would "displace and complicate the problems it purports to solve": "their relevance is not made clear," and "the problem of deciding where the brain leaves off" - or more generally where is the locus of cognition -  "is not as easy as it sounds."  "Einstein," Menzel notes, "used to say `My pencil is more intelligent than I am'": pencil equipped brains acquire mental abilities in virtue being so (among other ways) equipped and "it is only if one confuses present and past, and internal and external happenings with each other, and considers them a single `thing,' that `thinking' or even the causal power behind thought can be allocate to a single `place' or `entity'."

Minsky, Marvin (1980), "Decentralized minds", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:439-440.

"In the case of a mind so split into two parts that one merely executes some causal housekeeping for the other, I should suppose that each part - the Chinese rule computer and its host - would then have its own separate phenomenologies - perhaps along different time scales.  No wonder the host can't `understand' Chinese very fluently" (cf., Cole 1991a).  Searle's argument, couched as it is in "traditional ideas inadequate to this tremendously difficult enterprise" could hardly be decisive, especially in the face of the fact that "computationalism is the principal source of the new machines and programs that have produced for us the first imitations, however limited and shabby, of mindlike activity."

Natsoulas, Thomas (1980)  ,The primary source of intentionality", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:440-441.

Natsoulas shares Searle belief that "the level of description that computer programs exemplify is not one adequate to the explanation of mind" as well as his emphasis on the qualitative or phenomenal content of perception (in particular) - "the qualitative being thereness of objects and scenes" - being something over and above the informational content.  The remaining question for both concerns the explanatory gap between physiology and phenomenology or "what is the `form of realization?' of our visual [and other] experiences that Searle is claiming when he attributes them to us."

Puccetti, Roland (1980), "The chess room: further demythologizing of strong AI", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:441-442.

"On the grounds he has staked out, which are considerable" Puccetti deems Searle to be "completely victorious": Puccetti wants "to lift the sights of his argument and train them on a still larger, very tempting target.  To this end he devises a Chinese-room-like scenario involving having "an intelligent human from a chess-free culture" follow a the instructions of a "chess playing" program: since he "hasn't the foggiest idea of what he's doing," Puccetti concludes, "[s]uch operations, by themselves, cannot , then, constitute understanding of the game, no matter how intelligently played." Chess playing computers "do not have the intentionality towards the chess moves they make that midget humans had in the hoaxes of yesteryear.  They simply know now what they do."

Pylyshyn, Zenon W. (1980), "The `causal power' of machines", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:442-444.

Searle's insists that causal powers of the implementing medium under and beneath the powers that make it an implementation are crucial  for intentionality, for Searle "the relation of equivalence with respect ot causal powers is a refinement of the relation of equivalence with respect to function": this has the consequence that "if more and more of the cells in your brain were replaced by integrated circuit chips programmed in such a way as to keep the input-output function of each unit the identical to that of the unit being replaced, you would in all likelihood just keep right on speaking exactly as you are doing now except that you would eventually stop meaning anything by it" (cf., zombies).  Furthermore the "metaphors and appeals to intuition" Searle advances "in support of this rather astonishing view" are opaque and unconvincing.  "But what is the right kind of stuff?  Pylyshyn asks.  "Is it cell assemblies, individual neurons, protoplasm, protein molecules, atoms of carbon and hydrogen, elementary particles?  Let Searle name the level, and it can be simulated perfectly well in `the wrong kind of stuff'.  Indeed, "it's obvious from Searle's own argument that the nature of the stuff cannot be what is relevant, since the monolingual English speaker who has memorized the formal rules is supposed to be an example of a system made of the right stuff and yet it allegedly still lacks the relevant intentionality."   "What is frequently neglected in discussions of intentionality," Pylyshyn concludes, "is that we cannot state with any degree of precision what it is that entitles us to claim that people refer . . . and therefore that arguments against the intentionality of computers," such as Searle's, "typically reduce to `argument from ignorance'.."

Rachlin, Howard (1980), "The behaviorist reply (Stony Brook)", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:444.

Rachlin finds it "easy to agree with the negative point Searle makes about mind and AI" - "that the mind can never be a computer program."  But Searle's "positive point . . . that the mind is the same thing as the brain . . . is just as clearly false as the strong AI position that he criticizes."  The "combination robot example" -"essentially a behavioral example" - illustrates Rachlin's point.  "Searle says `If the robot looks and behaves sufficiently like us, then we would suppose, until proven otherwise, that it must have mental states like ours'" (Rachlin's emphasis).  "But proof otherwise," Rachlin insists, "can only come from one place - the robot's subsequent behavior": Searle's willingness "to abandon the assumption of intentionality (in a robot) as soon as he discovers that a computer was running it after all" is "a mask for ignorance."

[S]uppose, contrary to anyone's expectations, all of the functional properties of the human brain were discovered.  Then the "human robot" would be unmasked, and we might as well abandon the assumption of intentionality for humans too.

But we should not so abandon it.  "It is only the behaviorist, it seems who is able to preserve terms such as thought, intentionality, and the like (as patterns of behavior).  The "Donovan's brain reply (Hollywood)" shows the utter absurdity of identifying mind with brain. Let Donovan's brain be "placed inside a computer console with the familiar input-output machinery," taking the place of the CPU and being "connected to the machinery by a series of interface mechanisms."  "This `robot' meets Searle's criterion for a thinking machine - indeed it is an ideal thinking machine from his point of view" - but it would be no less "ridiculous to say" Donovan's brain was thinking in processing the input-output than to say the original computer was thinking in so doing.  Indeed it would probably be even more ridiculous since a "brain designed to interact with a body, will surely do no better (and probably a lot worse) at operating the interface equipment than a standard computer mechanism designed for such equipment."

Ringle, Martin (1980), "Mysticism as a philosophy of artificial intelligence", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:444-445.

On the salient interpretation, "the term `causal powers' refers to the capacities of protoplasmic neurons to produce phenomenal states such as felt sensations, pains, and the like."  "But even if we accept Searle's account of intentionality" as dependent on phenomenal consciousness, the assumption made by his argument - that things of "inorganic physical composition" like silicon chips, "are categorically incapable of causing felt sensations" - "still seems to be untenable." 

The mere fact that mental phenomena such as felt sensations have been, historically speaking, confined to protoplasmic organisms in no way demonstrates that such phenomena could not arise in a nonprotoplasmic system.  Such an assertion is on a par with a claim (made in antiquity) that only organic creatures such as birds or insects could fly.

Since Searle "never explains what sort of biological phenomenon it is, nor does he ever give us a reason to believe there is a property inherent in protoplasmic neural matter that could not, in principle, be replicated in an alternative physical, substrate," even in silicon chips, "[o]ne can only conclude that the knowledge of the necessary connection between intentionality and protoplasmic embodiment is obtained through some sort of mystical revelation."

Rorty, Richard (1980), "Searle and the special powers of the brain", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:445-446.

Searle's claim "`that actual human mental phenomena might be dependent on actual physical-chemical properties of actual human brains' . . . seems just a device for insuring that the secret powers of the brain will move further and further back out of sight every time a new model of brain functioning is proposed.  For Searle can tell us that any such model is merely a discovery of formal patterns, and the `mental content' has still escaped us."  "If Searle's present pre-Wittgensteinian attitude gains currency," Rorty fears, the good work of Ryle and Putnam will be undone and `the mental' will regain its numinous Cartesian glow"; but this, he predicts,  "will boomerang in favor of AI.  `Cognitive scientists' will insist that only lots more simulation and money will shed light upon these deep `philosophical' mysteries."

Schank, Roger C. (1980), "Understanding Searle", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:446-447.

Searle is "certainly right" in denying that the Script Applier Mechanism program (SAM: Schank & Abelson 1977) can understand and consequently he is also right in denying that SAM "explains the human ability to understand'": "Our programs are at this stage are partial and incomplete.  They cannot be said to be truly understanding.  Because of this they cannot be anything more than partial explanations of human abilities."  Still, Searle is "quite wrong" in his assertion "that our programs will never be able to understand or explain human abilities" since these programs "have provided successful embodiments of theories that were later tested on human subjects": "our notion of a script (Schank & Abelson 1977) is very much an explanation of human abilities."

Sloman, Aaron and Monica Croucher (1980), "How to turn an information processor into an understander," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:447-448.

Sloman and Croucher combine elements of robot and systems replies.  In their view a system having a computational architecture or form capable of intelligent sensorimotoric functioning in relation to things is "required before the familiar mental processes can occur," e.g., mental processes such as beliefs and desires about such things.  "Searle's thought experiment .. . . does not involve operations linked into an appropriate system in an appropriate way."  Anticipating Searle's reply - that "whatever the computational architecture . . . he will always be able to repeat his thought experiment to show that a purely formal symbol manipulating system with that structure would not necessarily have motives, beliefs, or percepts" for "he would execute all the programs himself (at least in principle) without having any of the alleged desires, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, or whatever" - Sloman & Croucher respond, "Searle is assuming that he is a final authority on such questions whether what is going on in his mental activities" and "that it is impossible for another mind to be based on his mental processes without his knowing"; and this assumption is unwarranted.  Sloman and Croucher hypothesize "that if he really does does faithfully execute all the program, providing suitable time sharing between parallel subsystems where necessary, then a collection of mental processes will occur of whose nature he will be ignorant, if all he thinks he is doing is manipulating meaningless symbols" (cf., Cole 1991a).

Smythe, William E. (1980), "Simulation games", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:448-449.

Since "intentional states are, by definition, `directed at' objects and states of affairs in the world" and "this relation is not part of the computational account of mental states" this "casts considerable doubt on whether any purely computational theory of intentionality is possible."  While Searle's thought experiment "may not firmly establish that computational systems lack intentionality . . . it at least undermines one powerful tacit motivation for supposing that they have it" deriving from the fact that the "symbols of most AI and cognitive simulations systems are rarely the kind of meaningless tokens that Searle's simulation game requires." "Rather, they are often externalized in forms that carry a good deal of surplus meaning to the user, over and above their procedural identity in the systems itself, as pictorial and linguistic inscriptions, for example.."  "An important virtue of Searle's argument is that it specifies how to play the simulation game correctly" such that "the procedural realization of the symbols" is all that matters.

Walter, Donald O. (1980), "The thermostat and the philosophy professor", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 449.

For Searle "a program is formal" whereas "`intentionality'" is "radically different" and "not definable in terms of . . . form but of content.  Searle merely, "asserts this repeatedly, without making anything explicit of this vital alternative": such explication is owed before Searle's argument can be credited.

Wilensky, Robert (1980), "Computers, cognition and philosophy", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 449-450.

In the Chinese room scenario we are misled into identifying the two systems by the implementing system being "so much more powerful than it need be.  That is, the homunculus is a full-fledged  understander, operating at a small percentage of its capacity to push around some symbols.  If we replace the man by a device that is capable of performing only these operations, the temptation to view the systems as identical greatly diminishes" (cf., Copeland 1993, Cole 1991a).  Furthermore, Wilensky observers, "it seems to me that Searle's argument has nothing to do with intentionality at all.  What causes difficulty in attributing intentional states to the machines is the fact that most of these states have a subjective nature as well"; so, "Searle's argument has nothing to do with intentionality per se, and sheds no light on the nature of intentional states or on the kinds of mechanisms capable of having them"  (cf., Searle 1999).

Further Commentaries and Criticisms

Bringsjord, Selmer (1992), What Robots Can and Can't Be, Kluwer, pp. 184-207. 

In Chapter 5, "Searle," Bringsjord proposes a variant of John Searle's Chinese room experiment involving an imagined idiot-savant "Jonah" who "automatically, swiftly, without conscious deliberation" can "reduce high-level computer programs (in, say, PROLOG and LISP) to the super-austere language that drives a Register machine (or Turing machine)" and subsequently "can use his incredible powers of mental imagery to visualize a Register machine, and to visualize this machine running the program that results from his reduction" (p. 185). The variant is designed to be systems-reply-proof and robot-reply-proof, building in Searle's wonted changes - internalization of the program (against the systems reply) and added sensorimotor capacities (to counter the robot reply) - from the outset. Bringsjord then considers three further objections - the Churchlandsí (1990) connectionist reply, David Coleís (1991a) multiple-personality reply, and Rapaportís (1990) process reply - and offers rebuttals. (c.f. Hauser 1997b).

Chalmers, D. (1996), The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford University Press, pp. 322-328.

The Chinese room argument is characterized by Chalmers as an "internal objection" (p. 314) to "Strong AI".   Where external objections - e.g., H. Dreyfus (1979), H. Dreyfus & S. Dreyfus (1986) - allege the inability of computers to do many of the things humans do, internal objections, like the Chinese room, argue that it wouldn't be thinking (or even evidence of thinking) anyhow, even if they did.  Though Searle's  "original [1980a] version directs the argument against machine intentionality rather than machine consciousness," Chalmers says, "All the same, it is fairly clear that consciousness is at the root of the matter" (p. 322).   At the systems reply, Chalmers thinks, "the argument reaches an impasse": an impasse broken, Chalmers maintains,  by his own "dancing qualia" proof (online) that "any system that has the same functional organization at a fine enough grain will have qualitatively identical conscious experiences" (p. 249: cf., Searle 1980a, the brain simulator reply).

Churchland, Paul, and Patricia Smith Churchland (1990), "Could a Machine Think?", Scientific American 262(1, January):32-39.

The Churchlands point up what they see as the "question-begging character of Searle's axiom" that "Syntax by itself is neither constitutive of nor sufficient for semantics" (Searle 1980a, p.27). Noting its similarity to the conclusion "Programs are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for minds," the axiom, they complain, "is already carrying 90 percent of the weight of this almost identical conclusion" which "is why Searle's thought experiment is devoted to shoring up axiom 3 specifically" (p.34). The experiment's failure in this regard is shown by imagining an analogous "refutation" of the electromagnetic theory of light involving a man producing electromagnetic waves by waving a bar magnet about in a dark room; observing the failure of the magnet waving to illuminate the room; and concluding that electromagnetic waves "are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for light" (p.35). The intuited "semantic darkness" in the Chinese Room no more disconfirms the computational theory of mind than the observed darkness in the Luminous Room disconfirms the electromagnetic theory of light. Still, the Churchlands, like Searle, "reject the Turing test as a sufficient condition for conscious intelligence" and agree with him that "it is also very important how the input-output function is achieved; it is important that the right sorts of things be going on inside the artificial machine"; but they base their claims "on the specific behavioral failures of classical [serial symbol manipulating] machines and on the specific virtues of [parallel connectionist] machines with a more brainlike architecture" (p.37). The brainlike behavioral virtues of such machines - e.g., fault tolerance, processing speed, and near instantaneous data retrieval (p.36) - suggest, contrary to Searle's "common-sense intuitions," that "a neurally grounded theory of meaning" (p.37) will confirm the claims of future "nonbiological but massively parallel" machines to true (semantics laden) artificial intelligence (p.37) - the Connectionist Reply (I call it). Searle's (1990a) "Chinese gym" version of the experiment - targeting connectionism - seems "far less responsive or compelling than his first [version of the experiment]" (p.37). First, "it is irrelevant that no unit in his system understands Chinese since . . . no neuron in my brain understands English." Then there is the heightened implausibility of the scenario: a true brain simulation "will require the entire human populations of over 10,000 earths" (p. 37).

Cole, David (1991a), Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity. Synthese 88:399-417.

"John Searle's `Chinese Room' argument," Cole allows, "shows that no computer will ever understand English or any other natural language."  Drawing on "considerations raised by John Locke and his successors (Grice, Quinton, Parfit, Perry and Lewis) in discussion of personal identity," Cole contends Searle's result "is consistent with the computer's causing a new entity to exist (a) that is not identical with the computer, but (b) that exists solely in virtue of the machine's computational activity, and (c) that does understand English."   "This line of reasoning," Cole continues, " reveals the abstractness of the entity that understands, and so the irrelevance of the fact that the hardware itself does not understand." "Thus," he concludes, "Searle's argument fails completely to show any limitations on the present or potential capabilities of AI" (online abstract).

Copeland, B. J. (1993), Artificial Intelligence: A Philosophical Introduction, Blackwell, pp. 121-139 & pp. 225-230.

In Chapter 6, titled "The Strange Case of the Chinese Room," Copeland undertakes  "careful and cogent refutation" (p. 126) of Searle's argument, pursuing the systems reply.  This reply, Copeland thinks, reveals the basic "logical flaw in Searle's argument" (p. 126).  The Chinese room argument invites us to infer the absence of a property (understanding) in the whole (system) from lack of understanding in one part (the man); and this is invalid.  The argument commits the fallacy of composition.

But Searle "believes he has shown the systems reply to be entirely in error" (p. 126: my emphasis)!   Consequently, Copeland, proposes to "take Searle's objections one by one" to "show that none of them work" (p.126).  He identifies and carefully examines four lines of Searlean resistance to the systems reply, debunking each (I think successfully).

  1. The first Searlean line of resistance portrays the systems reply as simply, intuitively, preposterous. As Searle has it, "the idea that  somehow " the conjunction of that person and bits of paper might understand" Chinese is ridiculous (Searle 1980a, p. 419).  Copeland agrees "it does sound silly to say the man-plus-rulebook understands Chinese even while it is simultaneously true that the man doesn't understand" (p. 126); but to understand why it sounds silly is to see that the apparent silliness does not embarrass the systems reply.  First, since the fundamental issue concerns computational systems in general, the inclusion of a man in the room is an inessential detail "apt to produce something akin to tunnel vision": "one has to struggle not to regard the man in the room as the only possible locus of Chinese-understanding" (p. 126).  Insofar as it depends upon this inessential detail in the thought experimental setup, the "pull towards Searle's conclusion" is "spurious" (p. 126).  The second reason the systems reply sounds silly in this particular case (of the Chinese room) is that "the wider system Searle has described is itself profoundly silly.  No way a man could handwork a program capable of passing a Chinese Turing test" (p. 126).  Since the intuitive preposterousness Searle alleges against the systems reply is so largely an artifact of the "built-in absurdity of Searle's scenario" the systems reply is scarcely impugned.  "It isn't because the systems reply is at fault  that it sounds absurd to say that the system [Searle envisages] . . . may understand Chinese" (p. 126); rather it's due to the absurdity and inessential features of the system envisaged.
  2. Secondly, Searle alleges that the systems reply "begs the question by insisting without argument that the system understands Chinese" (Searle 1980a, p. 419).  Not so.  In challenging the validity of Searle's inference from the man's not understanding to the system's not understanding, Copeland reminds us, he in no way assumes that the system understands.  In fact in the case of the system Searle actually envisages - modeled on Schank and Abelsons' "Script Applier Mechanism" - Copeland thinks we know this is false!  He cites Schank's own confession that "No program we have written can be said to truly understand" (p.128) in this connection.
  3. Thirdly  Copeland considers the rejoinder Searle himself fronts.  The "swallow-up stratagem" Weiss 1990 calls it: "let the individual internalize all the elements of the system" (Searle 1980a, p. 419).  By this stratagem Searle would scotch the systems reply, as Copeland puts it, "by retelling the story so there is no `wider system'" (p. 128).  The trouble is that, thus revised, the argument would infer absence of a property (understanding) in the part (the room-in-the-man)  from its absence in the whole (man).  This too is invalid.  Where the original version commits a fallacy of composition the revision substitutes a fallacy of division; to no avail, needless to say.
  4. Finally Copeland considers Searle's insistence, against the systems reply, that there is "no way the system can get from the syntax to the semantics" (Searle 1984a, p. 34: my emphasis) either.  Just as "I as the central processing unit [in the Chinese room scenario] have no way of figuring out what any of these symbols means," Searle explains, "neither does the system" (Searle 1984a, p. 34).  Here, as Copeland points out, it is Searle who begs the question: "The Chinese room argument is supposed to prove Searle's thesis that mere symbol manipulation cannot produce understanding, yet Searle has just tried to use this thesis to defend the Chinese room argument against the systems reply" (p. 130)

Having demolished Searle's supporting argument Copeland proceeds to discuss Searle's thesis that "there is no way the system can get from the syntax to the semantics."   In this connection, Copeland imagines a souped-up robot ensconced descendant of SAM - Turbo Sam - trained up until he "interacts with the world as adeptly as we do, even writes poetry."  Whether to count Turbo Sam as understanding  (among other things) his own poetry amounts to "a decision on whether or not to extend to an artefact terms and categories that we currently apply only to each other and our biological cousins"; and "if we are ever confronted with a robot like Turbo Sam we ought to say it thinks" (p. 132: my emphasis).  "Given the purpose for which we apply the concept of a thinking thing," Copeland thinks, "the contrary decision would be impossible to justify" (p. 132).  The real issue, as Copeland sees it, is "whether a device that works by [symbol manipulation] .. . . can be made to behave as I have described Turbo Sam as behaving" (132): The  Chinese room argument is a failed attempt to settle this empirical question by a priori philosophical argument.

The concluding section of Chapter 6 first debunks Searle's "biological objection" as fatally dependent on the discredited Chinese room argument for support of its crucial contention that it "is not possible to endow a device with the same [thought causing] powers as the human brain by programming it" (p. 134), then goes on to dispute Searle's contention that "for any object there is some description under which that object is a digital computer" (Searle 1990c, p. 27).  This  "Wordstar-on-the-wall argument" - which would trivialize claims of AI, if true - is, itself,  off the wall.  Searle is "simply mistaken in his belief that the `textbook definition of computation' implies that his wall is implementing Wordstar" (pp. 136-7).   Granting "that the movements of molecules [in the wall] can be described in such a way that they are `isomorphic' with a sequence of bit manipulations carried out by a machine running Wordstar" (p. 137); still, this is not all there is to implementing Wordstar.  The right counterfactuals must also hold (under the same scheme of description); and they don't in the case of the wall.  Consequently, Searle fails to make out his claim that "every object has a description under which it is a universal symbol system."  There is, Copeland asserts, "in fact every reason to believe that the class of such objects is rather narrow; and it is an empirical issue whether the brain is a member of this class" (p. 137).

Chapter 10, titled "Parallel Distributed Processing" (PDP), takes up the cudgel against Searle's (1990a) Chinese gym variant of his argument, a variant targeting PDP and Connectionism.  Here, amidst much nicely nuanced discussion,  Copeland makes a starkly obvious central point: "the new [Chinese gym] version of the Chinese room commits exactly the same fallacy [of composition] as the old [version]" (226).

Dennett, Daniel (1987), "Fast Thinking," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 428-430.

"Having a program - any program by itself - is not sufficient for semantics" is Searle's stated conclusion.  Dennett observes that it is "obvious (and irrelevant)" that "no computer program `by itself'" - as a "mere sequence of symbols" or even "lying unimplemented on the shelf" - "could `produce intentionality'" (p. 324-325).  Only the claim "that no concretely implemented running computer program could `produce intentionality'" is "a challenge to AI" (p. 425); so this is how the argument's conclusion must be construed to be of interest.  When the argument's premises are reconstrued as needed to support this conclusion, however, its premises are, at best, dubious..

"Programs are purely formal (i.e., syntactic) syntactical" - apropos program runs - is false.

If details of `embodiment' are included in the specification of a program, and are considered essential to it, then the program is not a purely formal object at all . . . and without some details of embodiment being fixed - by the internal semantics of the machine language in which the machine is ultimately written - a program is not even a syntactic object, but just a pattern of marks inert as wallpaper.  (p. 336-337)

"Syntax is neither equivalent to nor sufficient for semantics" - apropos program runs - is a dubious prediction.  More likely,

embodied, running syntax  - the `right program' on a suitably fast machine - is sufficient for derived intentionality, and that is all the intentionality there is.  (p. 336)

"Minds have mental contents" - even this - is a dubious proposition if content is "viewed, as Searle can now be seen to require, as a property to which the subject has conscious privileged access" (p. 337).  Searle is required to so view it since his case "depends on the `first-person point of view' of the fellow in the room";  so, "that is the crux for Searle: consciousness, not `semantics'" (p. 335).

Harnad, Steven (1991), "Other bodies, other minds: a machine incarnation of an old philosophical problem", Minds and Machines 1:5-25. 

Harnad endorses Searle's Chinese Room Experiment as a reason for preferring his proposed Total Turing Test (TTT) to Turing's original "pen pal" test (TT).  By "calling for both linguistic and robotic capacity," Harnad contends, TTT is rendered "immune to Searle's Chinese Room Argument" (p. 49) because "mere sensory transduction can foil Searle's argument": Searle in the room must "perform all the internal activities of the machine . . . without displaying the critical mental function in question" yet, if "he is being the device's sensors . . . then he would in fact be seeing!" (p. 50).  Though thwarted by transduction, Harnad thinks that as an "argument against the TT and symbol manipulation" the Chinese room has been "underestimated" (p. 49).  The Chinese room, in Harnad's estimation, adequately shows "that symbol manipulation is not all there is to mental functions and that the linguistic version of the Turing Test just isn't strong enough, because linguistic communication could in principle (though perhaps not in practice) be no more than mindless symbol manipulation" (p. 50). "AI's favored `systems reply'" is a "hand-waving" resort to "sci-fi fantasies," and the Churchland's (1990) "luminous room" rests on a false analogy.

Harnad sees that the Chinese Room Experiment is not, in the first place, about intentionality (as advertised), but about consciousness therein/thereof: "if there weren't something it was like [i.e., a conscious or subjective experience] to be in a state that is about something" or having intentionality "then the difference between "real" and "as-if" intentionality would vanish completely" (p. 53 n. 3), vitiating the experiment.  Acknowledging this more forthrightly than Searle (1999 ), Harnad faces the Other-Minds Problem arising from such close linkage of consciousness to true ("intrinsic") mentality as Harnad insists on, in agreement Searle (cf. Searle 1992).  Your "own private experience" being the sole test of whether your mentality is intrinsic, on this view, it seems there "is in fact, no evidence for me that anyone else but me has a mind" (p. 45).  Remarkably, Harnad accepts this: no behavioral (or otherwise public test) provides any evidence of (genuine intrinsic) mentation "at all, at least no scientific evidence" (p. 46).  Regrettably, he never explains how to reconcile this contention (that no public test provides any evidence of true [i.e., private] mentation) with his contention that TTT (a public test itself) is a better empirical test than TT. (Hauser 1993b replies to this article.)

Hauser, Larry (1993a), Searle's Chinese Box: The Chinese Room Argument and Artificial Intelligence, Michigan State University (Doctoral Dissertation). 

Searle's Chinese room argument is fallacious (chap. 2).  Furthermore, the supporting Chinese room thought experiment is not robust (similar scenarios yield conflicting intuitions), fails to generalize other mental states (besides understanding) as claimed, and depends for its credibility on a dubious tender of epistemic privilege - the privilege to override all external or "third person" evidence - to first person (dis)avowals mental properties like understanding (chap. 3).  Searle's Chinese-room-supporting (1980b) contention that everyday predications of mental terms to computers are discountable as equivocal (figurative) "as-if" attributions is unwarranted: standard ambiguity tests evidence the univocality of such attributions (chap. 4).  Searle's further would-be-supporting differentiation of intrinsic intentionality (ours) from as-if intentionality (theirs) is untenable.  It depends either on dubious doctrines of objective intrinsicality according to which meaning is literally in the head (chap. 5); or else it depends on even more dubious doctrines of subjective intrinsicality according to which meaning is "in" consciousness (chap. 6).

Hauser, Larry (1993b), Reaping the Whirlwind: Reply to Harnad's Other Bodies Other Minds. Minds and Machines 3, pp. 219-238. 

Harnad's proposed "robotic upgrade" of Turing's Test (TT), from a test of linguistic capacity alone to a Total Turing Test (TTT) of linguistic and sensorimotor capacity - to protect against the Chinese room experiment - conflicts with his claim that no behavioral test provides even probable warrant for mental attributions.  The evidentiary impotence of behavior - on Harnad's view -  is due to the ineliminable consciousness of thought ( c.f., Searle's 1990f "Connection Principle") and there being "no evidence" ( Harnad 1991, p. 45) of consciousness besides "private experience" (Harnad 1991, p. 52).  I agree with Harnad that distinguishing real from "as if" thought on the basis of (presence or lack of) consciousness - thus rejecting Turing or other behavioral testing as sufficient warrant for mental attribution - has the skeptical consequence Harnad accepts: "there is in fact no evidence for me that anyone else but me has a mind" (Harnad 1991, p. 45). I disagree with his acceptance of it!  It would be better to give up the neo-Cartesian "faith" ( Harnad 1991, p. 52) in private conscious experience underlying Harnad's allegiance to Searle's controversial Chinese Room Experiment than to give up all claim to know others think. It would be better to allow that (passing) Turing's Test evidences - even strongly evidences - thought.

While Harnad's allegiance to the Connection Principle causes him to overestimate the force of Searle's argument against computationalism and against Turing's test (TT), he is further mistaken in thinking his "robotic upgrade" (TTT) confers any special immunity to Searle's thought experiment.  Visual transduction can be unconscious, as in "blindsight," which will be "as-if seeing" by Harnad's and Searle's lights.  So, by these lights Searle can transduce visual input without actually (i.e., consciously) seeing.  "If the critical mental function in question is not required to be conscious (as I advocate), then TT and TTT are both immune to Searle's example. If the critical mental function in question is required to be conscious (as Harnad advocates), then both TT and TTT are vulnerable to Searle's example, perhaps" (p. 229).

Hauser, Larry (1997a), "Searle's Chinese Box: Debunking the Chinese Room Argument," Minds and Machines 7: 199-226. 

Searle's original 1980a presentation suborns a fallacy: Strong AI or Weak AI; not Strong AI (by the Chinese room experiment); therefore, Weak AI.  This equivocates on "Strong AI" between "thought is essentially computation" (Computationalism), and "computers actually (or someday will) think" (AI Proper).  The experiment targets Computationalism . . . but Weak AI (they simulate) is logically opposed to AI Proper (they think), not to Computationalism.  Taken as targeting AI Proper, the Chinese room is a false dichotomy wrapped in an equivocation.  Searle's invocation of "causal powers (at least) equivalent to those of brains" in this connection (against AI Proper) is similarly equivocal.  Furthermore, Searle's advertised "derivation from axioms" targeting Computationalism is, itself, unsound.  Simply construed it's simply invalid and unsimply construed (as invoking modalities and second order quantification) - since program runs (what's at issue) are not purely syntactic (as Searle's first "axiom" asserts they are) - it makes a false assumption.

Hauser, Larry (forthcoming), "Nixin' goes to China". 

Computationalism holds `the essence of the mental is the operation of a physical symbol system' (Newell 1979 as cited by Searle 1980a, p. 421: my emphasis).  Computationalism identifies minds with processes or (perhaps even more concretely) with implementations, not  with programs "by themselves" (Searle 1999, p. 209).   But substituting "processes" or "implementations" for "programs" in "programs are formal (syntactic)" falsifies the premise: processes or implementations are not  purely syntactic but incorporate elements of dynamism (at least) besides.  In turn, substituting "running syntax" or "implemented syntax" for "syntax" in "syntax is not sufficient for semantics" makes it impossible to maintain the conceit that this is "a conceptual truth that we knew all along" (Searle 1988, p. 214)..  The resulting premise is clearly an empirical hypothesis in need of empirical support: support the Chinese room thought experiment is inadequate to provide.  The point of experiments being to adjudicate between competing hypotheses, to tender overriding epistemic privileges to the first person (as Searle does) fatally prejudices the experiment.   Further, contrary to Searle's failed thought experiment, there is ample evidence from real experiments - e.g., intelligent findings and decisions of actual computers running existing programs - to suggest that processing does in fact suffice for intentionality.  Searle's would-be distinction between genuine attributions of "intrinsic intentionality" (to us) and figurative attributions of "as-if" intentionality (to them) is too facile to impugn this evidence.

Pinker, S. (1997), How the Mind Works, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, pp. 93-95.

Searle appeals to his Chinese room example, as Pinker tells it, to argue this: "Intentionality, consciousness, and other mental phenomena are caused not by information processing . . . but by the 'actual physical-chemical properties of actual human brains" (p. 94).  Pinker replies that "brain tumors, the brains of mice, and neural tissues kept alive in a dish don't understand, but their physical chemical properties are the same as the ones of our brains."  They don't understand because "these hunks of neural tissue are not arranged into patterns of connectivity that carry out the right information processing" (p. 95: cf., Sharvy 1985).  Pinker endorses Paul & Patricia Churchland's (1990) electromagnetic room thought experiment as a refutation of Searle's (1990a) Chinese Gym variation on the Chinese room (a variant aiming to show that connectionist networks and parallel processing don't suffice for semantics or thought.)

Rapaport, William J. (1990), "Computer Processes and Virtual Persons: Comments on Cole's `Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity"', Technical Report 90-13 (Buffalo: SUNY Buffalo Department of Computer Science).

Rapaport seeks "to clarify and extend the issues" raised by Cole 1991a, arguing , "that, in Searle's celebrated Chinese-Room Argument, Searle-in-the-room does understand Chinese, in spite of his claims to the contrary. He does this in the sense that he is executing a computer `process' that can be said to understand Chinese" (online abstract).

as yet
Unannotated & Further References

Anderson, David. 1987.. Is the Chinese room the real thing? Philosophy 62:389-393.

Block, Ned. 1978. Troubles with Functionalism. In C. W. Savage, ed., Perception and Cognition: Issues in the Foundations of Psychology, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 9, 261-325. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Boden, Margaret A. 1988. Escaping from the Chinese room. In The philosophy of artificial intelligence, ed. Margaret Boden, 89-104. New York: Oxford University Press. Originally appeared as Chapter 8 of Boden, Computer models of the mind. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (1988).

Cam, Phillip. 1990.. Searle on strong AI. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 68(1, March):103-108.

Carleton, Lawrence.. 1984. Programs, language understanding, and Searle. Synthese 59:219-230.

Chalmers, David.  Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia. 

------.  A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition. 

------. Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton? 

Cole, David. 1984. Thought and thought experiments. Philosophical Studies 45:431-444.

­­­­­­. 1991b. Artificial minds: Cam on Searle. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69(3):329-333.

Dennett, Daniel.  1991.  Consciousness Explained.  Boston: Little, Brown.

Descartes, René. 1637. Discourse on method. Trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and Dugald Murdoch. In The philosophical writings of Descartes, Vol. I, 109-151. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fodor, J. A.  1980b.  Methodological solipsism considered as a research strategy in cognitive science.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:1. 

Fisher, John A. 1988. The wrong stuff: Chinese rooms and the nature of understanding. Philosophical Investigations 11(4):279-299.

Gregory, Richard. 1987. In defense of artificial intelligence - a reply to John Searle. In Mindwaves, ed. Colin Blakemore and Susan Greenfield, 235-244. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Harman, Gilbert. 1990. Intentionality: Some distinctions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:607-608.

Harnad, Stevan. 1982. Consciousness: An afterthought. Cognition and Brain Theory 5:29-47.

­­­­­­. 1989a. Minds, machines and Searle. Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence 1(1):5-25. ­­­­­­. 1989b. Editorial commentary on Libet. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12:183.

­­­­­­. 1990. The symbol grounding problem. Physica D 42:335-346. North Holland.

Hauser, Larry. 1992. Act, aim, and unscientific explanation. Philosophical Investigations 15(10, October 1992):313-323. 

---. 1993c. Why isn't my pocket calculator a thinking thing? Minds and Machines 3(1, February 1993):3-10. 

­­­­­­. 1993b. The sense of "thinking." Minds and Machines 3(1, February 1993):12-21. 

Hauser, Larry (1997b), "Review of Selmer Bringsjord's What Robots Can and Can't Be", Minds and Machines, Vol. 7, No. 3 (August 1997), pp. 433-438. 

Hayes, P. J. 1982. Introduction. In Proceedings of the Cognitive Curricula Conference, vol. 2, ed. P. J. Hayes and M. M. Lucas. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester.

Hayes, Patrick, Stevan Harnad, Donald Perlis, and Ned. Block. 1992. Virtual symposium on virtual mind. Minds and Machines 2(3):217-238.

Jackson, Frank. 1982. "Epiphenomenal qualia." Philosophical Quarterly 32:127-136. 

Jacquette, Dale. 1989. Adventures in the Chinese room. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research XLIX(4, June):606-623.

Lyons, William. 1985. On Searle's "solution" to the mind-body problem. Philosophical Studies 48:291-294. 

---. 1986. The Disappearance of Introspection. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

MacQueen, Kenneth G. 1990. Not a trivial consequence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:193-194.

Maloney, Christopher. 1987. The right stuff. Synthese 70:349-372.

McCarthy, John. 1979. Ascribing mental qualities to machines. Philosophical Perspectives in Artificial Intelligence, ed. M. Ringle.  Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Mill, J. S. 1889.   An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (6th ed.). Longmans Green.

Nagel, Thomas. 1974. What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83:435-450. 

Nagel, Thomas. 1986. The View from Nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Penrose, Roger.  1994.  Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the missing Science of Consciousness.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polger, Thomas.  Zombies. A Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, ed. M. Nani and M. Marraffa. 

Puccetti, Roland. 1980. The chess room: further demythologizing of strong AI. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:441-442.

Putnam, Hillary.  1975a.  The meaning of `meaning'.  Mind Language and Reality.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Putnam, Hillary. 1983. Models and Reality.  Realism and Reason: Philosophical Papers Volume 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Rapaport, William J. 1986. Searle's experiments with thought. Philosophy of Science 53:271-279.

­­­­­­. 1988. Syntactic semantics: foundations of computational natural language understanding. In Aspects of artificial intelligence, ed. James H. Fetzer, 81-131. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.

Russell, Bertrand. 1948. Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits.  New York: Simon & Schuster..

Savitt, Steven F. 1982. Searle's demon and the brain simulator. Behavioral and brain sciences 5(2):342-343.

Schank, Roger C., and Robert P. Abelson. 1977. Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.

Schank, Roger C. 1977. Natural language, philosophy, and artificial intelligence. In Philosophical perspectives in artificial intelligence, 196-224. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press.

Searle, John R., and Daniel Dennett. 1982. The myth of the computer. New York Review of Books 57(24/July):56-57.

­­­­­­. 1990. "The emperor's new mind": An exchange. New York Review of Books XXXVII(10, June):58-60.

Searle, John R. 1971a. Speech acts. New York: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1971b. What is a speech act? In The philosophy of language, ed. John Searle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

---. 1975a. Speech acts and recent linguistics. In Expression and meaning, 162-179. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1975b. Indirect speech acts. In Expression and meaning, 30-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1975c. A taxonomy of illocutionary acts. In Expression and meaning, 1-29. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1977. Reiterating the differences: A reply to Derrida. Glyph 2:198-208. John Hopkins.

­­­­­­. 1978. Literal meaning. In Expression and meaning, 117-136. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---. 1979a. What is an intentional state? Mind LXXXVIII:74-92.

­­­­­­. 1979b. Intentionality and the use of language. In Meaning and use, ed. A. Margalit, 181-197. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel Publishing Co.

---. 1979c. The intentionality of intention and action. Inquiry 22:253-280.

­­­­­­. 1979d. Metaphor. In Expression and meaning, 76-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1979e. Referential and attributive. In Expression and meaning, 137-161. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1979f. Expression and meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1980c. Analytic philosophy and mental phenomena. In Midwest studies in philosophy, vol. 5, 405-423. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

­­­­­­. 1980d. The background of meaning. In Speech act theory and pragmatics, ed. J. R. Searle, F. Kiefer and M. Bierwisch, 221-232. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel Publishing Co.

---. 1982. The Chinese room revisited. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5(2):345-348.

---. 1983.   Intentionality: an essay in the philosophy of mind. New York: Cambridge University Press.

­­­­­­. 1984b. Intentionality and its place in nature. Synthese 61:3-16.

­­­­­­. 1985. Patterns, symbols and understanding. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8(4):742-743.

­­­­­­. 1986. Meaning, communication and representation. In Philosophical grounds of rationality, ed. R. Grandy and xx, 209-226.

---. 1987. Indeterminacy, empiricism, and the first person. Journal of Philosophy LXXXIV(3, March):123-146.

­­­­­­. 1988. Minds and brains without programs. In Mindwaves, ed. Colin Blakemore and Susan Greenfield, 209-233. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

---. 1989a. Reply to Jacquette. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research XLIX(4):701-708.

­­­­­­. 1989b. Consciousness, unconsciousness, and intentionality. Philosophical Topics XVII(1, spring):193-209. ­­­­­­. 1989c. How performatives work. Linguistics and Philosophy 12:535-558.

­­­­­­. 1990b. Consciousness, unconsciousness and intentionality. In Propositional attitudes: the role of content in logic, language, and mind, ed. Anderson A. and J. Owens, 269-284. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

---. 1990c. Is the brain a digital computer? Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association 64(3):21-37. 

­­­­­­. 1990d. Forward to Amichai Kronfeld's Reference and computation. In Reference and computation, by Amichai Kronfeld, xii-xviii. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---. 1990e. The causal powers of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:164.

­­­­­­. 1990f. Consciousness, explanatory inversion, and cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:585-596.

­­­­­­. 1990g. Who is computing with the brain? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:632-640.

­­­­­­. 1991a. Meaning, intentionality and speech acts. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 81-102. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

---. 1991b. The mind-body problem. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 141-147. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

---. 1991c. Perception and the satisfactions of intentionality. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 181-192. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

---. 1991d. Reference and intentionality. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 227-241. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

---. 1991e. The background of intentionality and action. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 289-299. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell..

---. 1991f. Explanation in the social sciences. In John Searle and his critics, ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, 335-342. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

Searle, J. R., J. McCarthy, H. Dreyfus, M. Minsky, and S. Papert. 1984. Has artificial intelligence research illuminated human thinking? Annals of the New York City Academy of Arts and Sciences 426:138-160.

Searle, J. R., K. O. Apel, W. P. Alston, et al. 1991. John Searle and his critics. Ed. Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

Sharvy, Richard. 1985. It ain't the meat it's the motion. Inquiry 26:125-134.

Stipp, David. 1991.. Does that computer have something on its mind? Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, March 19, A20.

Thornton, Stephen.  "Solipsism and Other Minds" entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Turing, Alan M. 1936-7. On computable numbers with an application to the Entsheidungsproblem. In The undecidable, ed. Martin Davis, 116-154. New York: Raven Press, 1965. Originally published in Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, ser. 2, vol. 42 (1936-7), pp. 230­265; corrections Ibid, vol. 43 (1937), pp. 544-546.

---. 1950. Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind LIX:433-460. Online

Weiss, Thomas. 1990. Closing the Chinese room. Ratio (New Series) III(2):165-181.

Weizenbaum, Joseph.. 1965. Eliza ­­ a computer program for the study of natural language communication between man and machine. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery 9:36-45.

­­­­­­. 1976. Computer power and human reason. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Wilks, Yorick. 1982. Searle's straw man. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5(2):344-345.

Zalta, Edward N.  1999. Gottlob Frege. Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyOnline

                                                                    Top of page