[ExI] Semiotics and Computability

Gordon Swobe gts_2000 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 18 21:35:41 UTC 2010

--- On Thu, 2/18/10, Mike Dougherty <msd001 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Are you saying "man cannot understand" as a philosophical
> point?  I'm talking about the fact that I may not know what the chinese
> symbols are on the take-out menu, but I can notice the shapes are
> similar from one dish to another.  Eventually I might observe the
> symbol for "chicken" and have some idea that there's a pattern of
> usage.  Sure, that symbol might occur in an Enigma Machine that
> constantly changes the context for the symbol's use - but that suggests 
> only that it takes more effort to establish the pattern (if one exists)

It might add clarity if we break the process of understanding the CRA into two steps:

1) Understanding that the man cannot understand the symbols from manipulating them according to their forms, i.e., that formal syntax does not give semantics in any language including any programming language, and

2) Understanding that to an actual computer, the digital 1's and 0's or on/off states in image data (as in the digitized photos on your chinese menu) look just like any another kind of symbol.

Idea 2) becomes important when considering the so-called "Robot Reply" to the CRA, in which some of Searle's critics added external sensors to the Chinese Room and then tried to make the man inside understand the symbols. I haven't spent much time discussing the robot reply because I can hardly find agreement from people here that digital computers without sensors have no understanding.

> If you are suggesting that there is NO order at all to the
> CR experiment

Syntactic order exists in the CR, just as syntactic order exists in your computer. But syntactic order does not give understanding. Think of how the grammatical order of a sentence does not reveal the meanings of the words.



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