- In this essay, Searle asserts without argument: "The study of the mind starts with such facts as that humans have beliefs, while thermostats, telephones, and adding machines don't. If you get a theory that denies this. . .the theory is false."
- No. The study of mind is not the study of belief; it is the attempt to discover powerful concepts - be they old or new - that help explain why some machines or animals can do so many things others cannot. I will argue that traditional, every-day, pre-computational concepts like believing and understanding are neither powerful nor robust enough for developing or discussing the subject.
- In centuries past, biologists argued about machines and life much as Searle argues about programs and mind; one might have heard: "The study of biology begins with such facts as that humans have life, while locomotives and telegraphs don't. If you get a theory that denies this the theory is false." Yet today a successful biological science is based on energetics and information processing; no notion of "alive" appears in the theory, nor do we miss it. The theory's power comes from replacing, for example, a notion of "self-reproduction" by more sophisticated notions about encoding, translation, and recombination - to explain the reproduction of sexual animals that do not, exactly, "reproduce."
- Similarly in mind science, though prescientific idea germs like "believe," know," and "mean" are useful in daily life, they seem technically too coarse to support powerful theories; we need to supplant, rather than to support and explicate them. Real as "self" or "understand" may seem to us today, they are not (like milk and sugar) objective things our theories must accept and explain; they are only first steps toward better concepts. It would be inappropriate here to put forth my own ideas about how to proceed; instead consider a fantasy in which our successors recount our present plight: "The ancient concept of 'belief proved inadequate until replaced by a continuum in which, it turned out, stones placed near zero, and thermostats scored 0.52. The highest human score measured so far is 67.9. Because it is theoretically possible for something to be believed as intensely as 3600, we were chagrined to learn that men in fact believe so poorly. Nor, for that matter, are they very proficient (on an absolute scale) at intending. Still, they are comfortably separated from the thermostats." [Olivaw, R.D. (2063) Robotic reflections, Phenomenological Science 67:60.] A joke, of course; I doubt any such one-dimensional idea would help much. Understanding how parts of a program or mind can relate to things outside of it - or to other parts within - is complicated, not only because of the intricacies of hypothetical intentions and meanings, but because different parts of the mind do different things - both with regard to externals and to one another. This raises another issue: "In employing formulas like 'A believes that B means C,' our philosophical precursors became unwittingly entrapped in the 'single-agent fallacy' - the belief that inside each mind is a single believer (or meaner) who does the believing. It is strange how long this idea survived, even after Freud published his first clumsy portraits of our inconsistent and adversary mental constitutions. To be sure, that myth of 'self is indispensable both for social purposes, and in each infant's struggle to make simplified models of his own mind's structure. But it has not otherwise been of much use in modern applied cognitive theory, such as our work to preserve, rearrange, and recombine those aspects of a brain's mind's parts that seem of value." [Byerly, S. (2080) New hope for the Dead, Reader's Digest, March 13]
- Searle talks of letting "the individual internalize all of these elements of the system" and then complains that "there isn't anything in the system that isn't in him." Just as our predecessors sought "life" in the study of biology, Searle still seeks "him" in the study of mind, and holds strong AI to be impotent to deal with the phenomenology of understanding. Because this is so subjective a topic, I feel it not inappropriate to introduce some phenomenology of my own. While reading about Searle's hypothetical person who incorporates into his mind - "without understanding" - the hypothetical "squiggle squoggle" process that appears to understand Chinese, I found my own experience to have some of the quality of a double exposure: "The text makes sense to some parts of my mind but, to other parts of my mind, it reads much as though it were itself written in Chinese. I understand its syntax, I can parse the sentences, and I can follow the technical deductions. But the terms and assumptions themselves what the words like 'intend' and 'mean' intend and mean - escape me. They seem suspiciously like Searle's 'formally specified symbols' because their principal meanings engage only certain older parts of my mind that are not in harmonious, agreeable contact with just those newer parts that seem better able to deal with such issues (precisely because they know how to exploit the new concepts of strong AI)."
- Searle considers such internalizations - ones not fully integrated in the whole mind - to be counterexamples, or reductiones ad absurdum of some sort, setting programs somehow apart from minds. I see them as illustrating the usual condition of normal minds, in which different fragments of structure interpret - and misinterpret - the fragments of activity they "see" in the others. There is absolutely no reason why programs, too, cannot contain such conflicting elements. To be sure, the excessive clarity of Searle's example saps its strength; the man's Chinese has no contact at all with his other knowledge - while even the parts of today's computer programs are scarcely ever jammed together in so simple a manner.
- In the case of a mind so split into two parts that one merely executes some causal housekeeping for the other, I should suppose that each part - the Chinese rule computer and its host - would then have its own separate phenomenologies - perhaps along different time scales. No wonder, then, that the host can't "understand" Chinese very fluently - here I agree with Searle. But (for language, if not for walking or breathing) surely the most essential nuances of the experience of intending and understanding emerge, not from naked data bases of assertions and truth values, but from the interactions - the consonances and conflicts among different reactions within various partial selves and self-images.
- What has this to do with Searle's argument? Well, I can see that if one regards intentionality as an all-or-none attribute, which each machine has or doesn't have, then Searle's idea - that intentionality emerges from some physical semantic principle - might seem plausible. But in my view this idea (of intentionality as a simple attribute) results from an oversimplification - a crude symbolization - of complex and subtle introspective activities. In short, when we construct our simplified models of our minds, we need terms to represent whole classes of such consonances and conflicts - and, I conjecture, this is why we create omnibus terms like "mean" and "intend." Then, those terms become reified.
- It is possible that only a machine as decentralized yet interconnected as a human mind would have anything very like a human phenomenology. Yet even this supports no Searle-like thesis that mind's character depends on more than abstract information processing - on, for example, the "particular causal properties" of the substances of the brain in which those processes are embodied. And here I find Searle's arguments harder to follow. He criticizes dualism, yet complains about fictitious antagonists who suppose mind to be as substantial as sugar. He derides "residual operationalism" - yet he goes on to insist that, somehow, the chemistry of a brain can contribute to the quality or flavor of its mind with no observable effect on its behavior.
- Strong AI enthusiasts do not maintain, as Searle suggests, that "what is specifically mental about the mind has no intrinsic connection with the actual properties of the brain." Instead, they make a much more discriminating scientific hypothesis: about which such causal properties are important in mind-like processes - namely computation-supporting properties. So, what Searle mistakenly sees as a difference in kind is really one of specific detail. The difference is important because what might appear to Searle as careless inattention to vital features is actually a deliberate - and probably beneficial - scientific strategy! For, as Putnam points out:
What is our intellectual form? is the question, not what the matter is. Small effects may have to be explained in terms of the actual physics of the brain. But when are not even at the level of an idealized description of the functional organization of the brain, to talk about the importance of small perturbations seems decidedly premature. Now, many strong AI enthusiasts go on the postulate that functional organization is the only such dependency, and it is this bold assumption that leads directly to the conclusion Searle seems to dislike so; that nonorganic machines may have the same kinds of experience as people do. That seems fine with me. I just can't see why Searle is so opposed to the idea that a really big pile of junk might have feelings like ours. He proposes no evidence whatever against it, he merely tries to portray it as absurd to imagine machines, with minds like ours intentions and all - made from stones and paper instead of electrons and atoms. But I remain left to wonder how Searle, divested of despised dualism and operationalism, proposes to distinguish the authentic intentions of carbon compounds from their behaviorally identical but mentally counterfeit imitations.
- I feel that I have dealt with the arguments about Chinese, and those about substantiality. Yet a feeling remains that there is something deeply wrong with all such discussions (as this one) of other minds; nothing ever seems to get settled in them. From the finest minds, on all sides, emerge thoughts and methods of low quality and little power. Surely this stems from a burden of traditional ideas inadequate to this tremendously difficult enterprise. Even our logic may be suspect. Thus, I could even agree with Searle that modern computational ideas are of little worth here - if, with him, I could agree to judge those ideas by their coherence and consistency with earlier constructions in philosophy. However, once one suspects that there are other bad apples in the logistic barrel, rigorous consistency becomes much too fragile a standard - and we must humbly turn to what evidence we can gather. So, because this is still a formative period for our ideas about mind, I suggest that we must remain especially sensitive to the empirical power that each new idea may give us to pursue the subject further. And, as Searle nowhere denies, computationalism is the principal source of the new machines and programs that have produced for us the first imitations, however limited and shabby, of mind-like activity.
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