[ExI] How not to make a thought experiment

John Clark jonkc at bellsouth.net
Thu Feb 18 17:26:26 UTC 2010

Since my last post Gordon Swobe has posted 5 times.

> The [Chinese Room] man cannot understand the symbols and he does no more than implement a program.

Swobe's blunder has been pointed out many times but he still doesn't get it. Never mind that the man is only a trivially small part of this Cosmologically large Chinese room, never mind that the consciousness in the room runs a hundred thousand million billion trillion times slower than anything humans have experience with, Swobe continues to blindly insist that if consciousness exists it must be in that silly little man; so if the man reports that he doesn't understand the Chinese symbols not only does Swobe instantly believes him he thinks that settles the question since if the man doesn't understand the symbols then "obviously" nothing else in that enormous room could.

But determining what has understanding and what does not is the entire point of the Chinese room fiasco in the first place! If it was already "obvious" then what is the point of inventing the Chinese Room?

> But the human brain understands symbols. So, either
> 1) the brain does not implement programs, or 
> 2) the brain implements programs and does something else also.

Swobe thinks that if one neuron running a program can't have any understanding then 100 billion neurons working together can't either. One water molecule is not wet, so using Swobe's way of thinking we conclude that the Pacific Ocean is not wet either. 

> if I want to know if you have subjective mental states, it helps me to know if you have a brain in your head. 

Anything that behaves intelligently will have something that corresponds to a brain, although not necessarily in the head, or even have a head.  

> Some philosophers abandon common sense and dive deep down into the sceptic's rabbit hole such that they doubt even their own existence. 

Swobe delights in bringing up this mythical moronic philosopher as a straw man, but that's all it is. And my nomination for the two most foolish philosophers in the last century are:
1) Those who say Evolution produced consciousness even though it doesn't effect behavior.
2) Those who say consciousness does effect behavior but the Turing Test still can't detect it.

> if you have a brain and nervous sytem but no behaviors or reports (including self-reports) of subjective experience 

It would be enormously helpful if Swobe could explain what a report of subjective experience made by someone other than the subject in question is. In fact not only would it be helpful it would elevate Swobe to being by far the greatest philosopher who ever lived.

I'm also a little curious why Swobe takes at face value a report from a human being that he has subjective experience but if a robot, regardless of how intelligent, reports the same thing Swobe is certain he is lying. 
 John K Clark

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