The Chinese carnival

In contrast to many areas of contemporary philosophy, something like a carnival atmosphere surrounds Searle’s Chinese room argument. Not many recent philosophical arguments have exerted such a pull on the popular imagination, or have produced such strong reactions. People from a wide range of fields have expressed their views on the argument. The argument has appeared in Scientific American, television shows, newspapers, and popular science books. Preston and Bishop’s recent volume of essays reflects this interdisciplinary atmosphere. The volume includes essays from computer science, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, sociology, science studies, physics, mathematics, and philosophy. There are two sides to this interdisciplinary mix. On the one hand, it makes for interesting and fun reading for anyone interested in the Chinese room argument, but on the other, it raises the threat that the Chinese room argument might be left in some kind of interdisciplinary no man’s land. The Chinese room argument (CRA) is an argument against the possibility of Strong artificial intelligence (Strong AI). The thesis of Strong AI is that running a program is sufficient for, or constitutive of, understanding: it is merely in virtue of running a 1 particular program that a system understands. Searle appreciates that understanding is a complex notion, and so he has a particular form of understanding in mind: the understanding of simple stories. It seems intuitively obvious that when I read a simple story in English, I understand that story. One could say that somewhere in my head there is understanding going on. However, if I read a simple story written in Chinese (a language I do not speak), then there is no understanding going on. What makes the difference between these two cases? The advocate of Strong AI says that the difference..
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