A computer can come to understand natural language the same way HelenKeller did: by using “syntactic semantics”—a theory of how syntax can suffice for semantics, i.e., how semantics for natural language can be provided by means of computational symbol manipulation. This essay considers real-life approximations of Chinese Rooms, focusing on HelenKeller’s experiences growing up deaf and blind, locked in a sort of Chinese Room yet learning how to communicate with the outside world. Using the (...) SNePS computational knowledge-representation system, the essay analyzes Keller’s belief that learning that “everything has a name” was the key to her success, enabling her to “partition” her mental concepts into mental representations of: words, objects, and the naming relations between them. It next looks at Herbert Terrace’s theory of naming, which is akin to Keller’s, and which only humans are supposed to be capable of. The essay suggests that computers at least, and perhaps non-human primates, are also capable of this kind of naming. (shrink)
Ford’s <span class='Hi'>Helen</span> <span class='Hi'>Keller</span> Was Never in a Chinese Room claims that my argument in How <span class='Hi'>Helen</span> <span class='Hi'>Keller</span> Used Syntactic Semantics to Escape from a Chinese Room fails because Searle and I use the terms ‘syntax’ and ‘semantics’ differently, hence are at cross purposes. Ford has misunderstood me; this reply clarifies my theory.
William Rapaport, in How Helen Keller used syntactic semantics to escape from a Chinese Room, (Rapaport 2006), argues that Helen Keller was in a sort of Chinese Room, and that her subsequent development of natural language fluency illustrates the flaws in Searle’s famous Chinese Room Argument and provides a method for developing computers that have genuine semantics (and intentionality). I contend that his argument fails. In setting the problem, Rapaport uses his own preferred definitions of semantics and syntax, (...) but he does not translate Searle’s Chinese Room argument into that idiom before attacking it. Once the Chinese Room is translated into Rapaport’s idiom (in a manner that preserves the distinction between meaningful representations and uninterpreted symbols), I demonstrate how Rapaport’s argument fails to defeat the CRA. This failure brings a crucial element of the Chinese Room Argument to the fore: the person in the Chinese Room is prevented from connecting the Chinese symbols to his/her own meaningful experiences and memories. This issue must be addressed before any victory over the CRA is announced. (shrink)
Plato, in his dialog Charmides, presents the question of how society can determine whether a person who claims superior expertise in a particular field of knowledge does, in fact, possess superior expertise. In the modern era, society tends to answer this question by funding institutions (universities) that award credentials to certain individuals, asserting that those individuals possess a particular expertise; and then other institutions (the journalistic media and government) are expected to defer to the credentials. When, however, the sequential reasoning (...) and theorizing and conclusion-stating of generation after generation of credential-bearing experts (i.e., scientists) leads to the assertion of the truth of statements that large segments of society find to be in conflict with the statements of persons who have earned credentials of expertise bestowed by an alternative institutional structure (i.e., religious teachers), representatives of the people are put to a choice. And when the conflicting statements present substantial implications for the moral and sexual behavior of people in the society, addressing the conflict brings into play not only the highest intellectual speculations and analyses, but also the most animal emotions and motivations. This paper, taking the form of a dialog, presents a scientist (Avram Codosia) named after an ancient Jewish patriarch and makes him a supplicant to a U.S. Senator (Helen Astartian) named after a pagan goddess. The stakes turn out to be not merely financial and intellectual, but personal and moral, involving the scientist's son (Isaac), an art student, and the senator's niece (Halia), a philosophy student. In a four-phase encounter, the paper hopes to offer some innovative observations on age-old issues and to stimulate productive new thinking on questions that too often seem to be debated by means of repetitions of the same old points. (shrink)
Nature's experiments in isolation—the wild boy of Aveyron, Genie, their name is hardly legion—are by their nature illusive. HelenKeller, blind and deaf from her 18th month and isolated from language until well into her sixth year, presents a unique case in that every stage in her development was carefully recorded and she herself, graduate of Radcliffe College and author of 14 books, gave several careful and insightful accounts of her linguistic development and her cognitive and sensory situation. (...) Perhaps because she is masked, and enshrined, in William Gibson's mythic and false Miracle worker , cognitive scientists have yet to come to terms with this richly enlightening, albeit anecdotal, resource. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine a new line of response to Frankfurt’s challenge to the traditional association of moral responsibility with the ability to do otherwise. According to this response, Frankfurt’s counterexample strategy fails, not in light of the conditions for moral responsibility per se, but in view of the conditions for action. Specifically, it is claimed, a piece of behavior counts as an action only if it is within the agent’s power to avoid performing it. In so far as (...) Frankfurt’s challenge presupposes that actions can be unavoidable, this view of action seems to bring his challenge up short. Helen Steward and Maria Alvarez have independently proposed versions of this response. Here I argue that this response is unavailable to Frankfurt’s incompatibilist opponents. This becomes evident when we put this question to its proponents: “Are actions that originate deterministically ipso facto unavoidable?” If they answer “yes,” they encounter one horn of a dilemma. If they answer “no,” they encounter the other horn. Since no one has a clearer stake in meeting Frankfurt’s challenge than these theorists do, it is significant that the Steward-Alvarez response is unavailable to them. (shrink)
Helen Beebee has recently argued that David Lewis’s account of compatibilism, so-called local miracle compatibilism (LMC), allows for the possibility that agents in deterministic worlds have the ability to break or cause the breaking of a law of nature. Because Lewis’s LMC allows for this consequence, Beebee claims that LMC is untenable and subsequently that Lewis’s criticism of van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument for incompatibilism is substantially weakened. I review Beebee’s argument against Lewis’s thesis and argue that Beebee has (...) not refuted LMC and concomitantly has not demonstrated that Lewis’s criticism of the Consequence Argument fails. (shrink)
: A central claim of Longino's contextual empiricism is that scientific inquiry, even when "properly conducted", lacks the capacity to screen out the influence of contextual values on its results. I'll show first that Longino's attack against the epistemic integrity of science suffers from fatal empirical weaknesses. Second I'll explain why Longino's practical proposition for suppressing biases in science, drawn from her contextual empiricism, is too demanding and, therefore, unable to serve its purpose. Finally, drawing on Bourdieu's sociological analysis of (...) scientific communities, I'll sketch an alternative view of scientific practice reconciling a thoroughly social view of science (such as Longino's) with a defense of its epistemic integrity. (shrink)