About this topic

The Chinese Room Argument, by John Searle, is one of the most important thought experiments in 20th century philosophy of mind.  The point of the argument is to refute the idea that computers (now or in the future) can literally think. In short, executing an algorithm cannot be sufficient for thinking.  The method is to focus on the semantics of our thoughts.  The thought experiment proceeds by getting you to imagine yourself in the role of the central processor of a computer, running an arbitrary computer program for processing Chinese language.  Assume you speak no Chinese language at all.  Imagine yourself locked in a room with a program (a set of instructions written in, say, English) for manipulating strings of Chinese characters which are slid under the door on pieces of paper.  If a note with string S1 (in Mandarin, say) is put under the door, you use the program to produce the string S2 (also in Mandarin), which you then slide back out under the door. Outside the room, there is a robust conversation going on Chinese history.  Everyone outside the room thinks that whoever is inside the room understands Chinese. But that is false. By assumption, you have no idea what S1 and S2 mean (S2 is unbeknownst to you, an insightful reply to a complicated question, S1, about the Ming dynasty).  But you are running a computer program.  Hence, there is no computer program such that running that program suffices for understanding Chinese.  This suggests that computer processing does not suffice for thought.

Key works The paper that got all of this started is John Searle's famous Searle 1980. See also the initial replies to his paper in the same journal issue.  Since its appearance, a large literature has been produced trying to answer Searle's challenge.   Leibniz, in his Monadology (1714), Leibniz 1902, suggested something similar by asking his readers to consider stepping into a mill.  One of the best replies to the argument is Churchland & Churchland 1990. One theory of computational processes that attemtps to avoid the argument by construing semantics as an explanatory construct is given in Dietrich 1990.

Introductions Cole 2008
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  1. Cyborgs in the Chinese Room: Boundaries Transgressed and Boundaries Blurred.Alison Adam - 2003 - In John M. Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press. pp. 319--337.
  2. Is the Chinese Room the Real Thing?David Anderson - 1987 - Philosophy 62 (July):389-93.
  3. What is It Like to Be a Chinese Room?Jay David Atlas - unknown
    When philosophers think about mental phenomena, they focus on several features of human experience: (1) the existence of consciousness, (2) the intentionality of mental states, that property by which beliefs, desires, anger, etc. are directed at, are about, or refer to objects and states of affairs, (3) subjectivity, characterized by my feeling my pains but not yours, by my experiencing the world and myself from my point of view and not yours, (4) mental causation, that thoughts and feelings have physical (...)
  4. Transcendental Idealism From the Chinese Room: Does God Speak Chinese?Kent Baldner - unknown - Proceedings of the Heraclitean Society 15.
  5. Sprachverstehende Maschinen.Ansgar Beckermann - 1988 - Erkenntnis 28 (1):65-85.
    In this paper the author tries to disentangle some of the problems tied up in John Searle's famous Chinese-room-argument. In a first step to answer the question what it would be for a system to have not only syntax, but also semantics the author gives a brief account of the functioning of the language understanding systems (LUS) so far developed in the framework of AI research thereby making clear that systems like Winograd's SHRDLU are indeed doing little more than mere (...)
  6. Ungrounded Semantics: Searle's Chinese Room Thought Experiment, the Failure of Meta-and Subsystemic Understanding, and Some Thoughts About Thought-Experiments.Christian Beenfeldt - 2007 - Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 42:75-96.
  7. A Note on the Chinese Room.Hanoch Ben-Yami - 1993 - Synthese 95 (2):169-72.
    Searle's Chinese Room was supposed to prove that computers can't understand: the man in the room, following, like a computer, syntactical rules alone, though indistinguishable from a genuine Chinese speaker, doesn't understand a word. But such a room is impossible: the man won't be able to respond correctly to questions like What is the time?, even though such an ability is indispensable for a genuine Chinese speaker. Several ways to provide the room with the required ability are considered, and it (...)
  8. A View Inside the Chinese Room.J. M. Bishop - 2004 - Philosopher: revue pour tous 28 (4):47-51.
  9. Quantum Linguistics and Searle's Chinese Room Argument.J. M. Bishop, S. J. Nasuto & B. Coecke - 2011 - In V. C. Muller (ed.), Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence. Springer. pp. 17-29.
    Viewed in the light of the remarkable performance of ‘Watson’ - IBMs proprietary artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language - on the US general knowledge quiz show ‘Jeopardy’, we review two experiments on formal systems - one in the domain of quantum physics, the other involving a pictographic languaging game - whereby behaviour seemingly characteristic of domain understanding is generated by the mere mechanical application of simple rules. By re-examining both experiments in the context (...)
  10. A Short Visit to the Chinese Room.John Mark Bishop - 2004 - The Philosophers' Magazine (28):47-51.
  11. Dancing with Pixies: Strong Artificial Intelligence and Panpsychism.John Mark Bishop - 2003 - In John M. Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press.
  12. Essays on Searle's Chinese Room Argument.M. Bishop & J. Preston (eds.) - 2001 - Oxford University Press.
  13. A Short Visit to the Chinese Room.Mark Bishop - 2004 - The Philosophers' Magazine 28:47-51.
  14. Mindwaves: Thoughts on Intelligence, Identity, and Consciousness.Colin Blakemore & Susan A. Greenfield - 1987 - Blackwell.
  15. Searle's Arguments Against Cognitive Science.Ned Block - 2003 - In John M. Preston & Michael A. Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press. pp. 70--79.
  16. Computer Models On Mind: Computational Approaches In Theoretical Psychology.Margaret A. Boden - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.
    What is the mind? How does it work? How does it influence behavior? Some psychologists hope to answer such questions in terms of concepts drawn from computer science and artificial intelligence. They test their theories by modeling mental processes in computers. This book shows how computer models are used to study many psychological phenomena--including vision, language, reasoning, and learning. It also shows that computer modeling involves differing theoretical approaches. Computational psychologists disagree about some basic questions. For instance, should the mind (...)
  17. Escaping From the Chinese Room.Margaret A. Boden - 1988 - In John Heil (ed.), Computer Models of Mind. Cambridge University Press.
  18. From the Philosophy of Mind to the Philosophy of the Market.Peter J. Boettke & J. Robert Subrick - 2002 - Journal of Economic Methodology 9 (1):53-64.
    John Searle has argued against the viability of strong versions of artificial intelligence. His most well-known counter-example is the Chinese Room thought experiment where he stressed that syntax is not semantics. We reason by analogy to highlight previously unnoticed similarities between Searle and F.A. Hayek's critique of socialist planning. We extend their insights to explain the failure of many reforms in Eastern Europe in the 1990's.
  19. A Modal Defence of Strong AI.Steffen Borge - 2007 - In Dermot Moran Stephen Voss (ed.), The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy. The Philosophical Society of Turkey. pp. 127-131.
    John Searle has argued that the aim of strong AI of creating a thinking computer is misguided. Searle’s Chinese Room Argument purports to show that syntax does not suffice for semantics and that computer programs as such must fail to have intrinsic intentionality. But we are not mainly interested in the program itself but rather the implementation of the program in some material. It does not follow by necessity from the fact that computer programs are defined syntactically that the implementation (...)
  20. Artificial Qualia, Intentional Systems and Machine Consciousness.Robert James M. Boyles - 2012 - In Proceedings of the DLSU Congress 2012. pp. 110a–110c.
    In the field of machine consciousness, it has been argued that in order to build human-like conscious machines, we must first have a computational model of qualia. To this end, some have proposed a framework that supports qualia in machines by implementing a model with three computational areas (i.e., the subconceptual, conceptual, and linguistic areas). These abstract mechanisms purportedly enable the assessment of artificial qualia. However, several critics of the machine consciousness project dispute this possibility. For instance, Searle, in his (...)
  21. Brains + Programs = Minds.Bruce Bridgeman - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):427.
  22. Psychometric Artificial General Intelligence: The Piaget-MacGuyver Room.Selmer Bringsjord & John Licato - 2012 - In Pei Wang & Ben Goertzel (eds.), Theoretical Foundations of Artificial General Intelligence. Springer. pp. 25--48.
  23. Real Robots and the Missing Thought-Experiment in the Chinese Room Dialectic.Selmer Bringsjord & Ron Noel - 2003 - In John Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press. pp. 144--166.
  24. Banners of the Barrack-Room.Walter Ewart Bristow - 1907
  25. Peirce and Formalization of Thought: The Chinese Room Argument.Steven Ravett Brown - 2000 - Journal of Mind and Behavior.
    Whether human thinking can be formalized and whether machines can think in a human sense are questions that have been addressed by both Peirce and Searle. Peirce came to roughly the same conclusion as Searle, that the digital computer would not be able to perform human thinking or possess human understanding. However, his rationale and Searle's differ on several important points. Searle approaches the problem from the standpoint of traditional analytic philosophy, where the strict separation of syntax and semantics renders (...)
  26. Searle and the Chinese Room Argument.Leslie Burkholder - 2011 - In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell.
  27. Artificial Intelligence, the Mind and Evolution.Kenneth George Butcher - 1987 - Dissertation, University of Sussex (United Kingdom)
    Available from UMI in association with The British Library. ;The putative contribution of AI and Functionalism to the solution of Searle's Problem, , is examined. Searle's Chinese Room Argument, which claims to show that contribution illusory, is shown to beg the question. To show Searle's position actually wrong, the subject of possibility-explanation , is developed, including a technical concept of "Fundamental Physics", and a Dynatological definition of Dualism. It is shown that Dualism, so defined, cannot be ruled out, but that (...)
  28. Re-Entering the Chinese Room.Graham Button, Jeff Coutler & John R. E. Lee - 2000 - Minds and Machines 10 (1):149-152.
  29. Artificial Intelligence, Biology, and Intentional States.Terrell Ward Bynum - 1985 - Metaphilosophy 16 (October):355-77.
  30. Historical Charts of Chinese Philosophy. [REVIEW]M. C. - 1955 - Review of Metaphysics 9 (1):158-158.
  31. Searle on Strong AI.Philip Cam - 1990 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):103-8.
  32. Should Computer-Programs Be Ownable-a Reply.Dh Carey - 1993 - Metaphilosophy 24 (1-2):91-96.
  33. Programs, Language Understanding, and Searle.Lawrence Richard Carleton - 1984 - Synthese 59 (May):219-30.
  34. Subsymbolic Computation and the Chinese Room.David J. Chalmers - 1992 - In J. Dinsmore (ed.), The Symbolic and Connectionist Paradigms: Closing the Gap. Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 25--48.
    More than a decade ago, philosopher John Searle started a long-running controversy with his paper “Minds, Brains, and Programs” (Searle, 1980a), an attack on the ambitious claims of artificial intelligence (AI). With his now famous _Chinese Room_ argument, Searle claimed to show that despite the best efforts of AI researchers, a computer could never recreate such vital properties of human mentality as intentionality, subjectivity, and understanding. The AI research program is based on the underlying assumption that all important aspects of (...)
  35. God, Mind, and Artificial Intelligence: An Interview with John Searle.Matt Cherry - 1998 - Free Inquiry 18.
  36. Weak Strong AI: An Elaboration of the English Reply to the Chinese Room.Ronald L. Chrisley - unknown
    Searle (1980) constructed the Chinese Room (CR) to argue against what he called \Strong AI": the claim that a computer can understand by virtue of running a program of the right sort. Margaret Boden (1990), in giving the English Reply to the Chinese Room argument, has pointed out that there isunderstanding in the Chinese Room: the understanding required to recognize the symbols, the understanding of English required to read the rulebook, etc. I elaborate on and defend this response to Searle. (...)
  37. Could a Machine Think?Paul M. Churchland & Patricia S. Churchland - 1990 - Scientific American 262 (1):32-37.
  38. Are Turing Machines Platonists? Inferentialism and the Computational Theory of Mind.Jon Cogburn & Jason Megill - 2010 - Minds and Machines 20 (3):423-439.
    We first discuss Michael Dummett’s philosophy of mathematics and Robert Brandom’s philosophy of language to demonstrate that inferentialism entails the falsity of Church’s Thesis and, as a consequence, the Computational Theory of Mind. This amounts to an entirely novel critique of mechanism in the philosophy of mind, one we show to have tremendous advantages over the traditional Lucas-Penrose argument.
  39. What Sorts of Machines Can Understand the Symbols They Use?L. Jonathan Cohen - 1986 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 60:81-96.
  40. The Chinese Room Argument.David Cole - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  41. Thought and Thought Experiments.David Cole - 1984 - Philosophical Studies 45 (May):431-44.
    Thought experiments have been used by philosophers for centuries, especially in the study of personal identity where they appear to have been used extensively and indiscriminately. Despite their prevalence, the use of thought experiments in this area of philosophy has been criticized in recent times. Bernard Williams criticizes the conclusions that are drawn from some experiments, and retells one of these experiments from a different perspective, a retelling which leads to a seemingly opposing result. Wilkes criticizes the method of thought (...)
  42. The Causal Powers of CPUs.David J. Cole - 1994 - In Eric Dietrich (ed.), Thinking Computers and Virtual Persons. Academic Press.
  43. Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity.David J. Cole - 1991 - Synthese 88 (September):399-417.
    Considerations of personal identity bear on John Searle's Chinese Room argument, and on the opposed position that a computer itself could really understand a natural language. In this paper I develop the notion of a virtual person, modelled on the concept of virtual machines familiar in computer science. I show how Searle's argument, and J. Maloney's attempt to defend it, fail. I conclude that Searle is correct in holding that no digital machine could understand language, but wrong in holding that (...)
  44. Artificial Minds: Cam on Searle.David J. Cole - 1991 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (3):329-33.
  45. The Chinese Room From a Logical Point of View.B. Jack Copeland - 2003 - In John M. Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press.
  46. The Curious Case of the Chinese Gym.B. Jack Copeland - 1993 - Synthese 95 (2):173-86.
    Searle has recently used two adaptations of his Chinese room argument in an attack on connectionism. I show that these new forms of the argument are fallacious. First I give an exposition of and rebuttal to the original Chinese room argument, and then a brief introduction to the essentials of connectionism.
  47. Hubert Handley, Theological Room. [REVIEW]H. C. Corrance - 1915 - Hibbert Journal 14:462.
  48. Make Room for a New Feller Hand.Paola Corso - 2005 - Feminist Studies 31 (3):613.
  49. The Hinterland of the Chinese Room.Jeff Coulter & S. Sharrock - 2003 - In John M. Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press.
  50. The Hinterland of the Chinese Room.Jeff Coulter & Wes Sharrock - 2002 - In John M. Preston & John Mark Bishop (eds.), Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence. Oxford University Press. pp. 181.
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