I’ve been interested the mind, computing, brains, and computers ever since my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins back in the mid-1960s. To that end I’ve educated myself about computation, and computers as well, and psychology of various kinds, neuroscience, literature, music, and the arts. I’ve also looked into philosophical issues on these matters. I’m unimpressed.
I suppose that John Searle’s Chinese Room argument is as well known in this business as any one line of argument is. I’ve read it, in several versions, and arguments against it. I find the arguments on both sides uninteresting. I’ve read a bit of Dreyfus, some Dennett, and somewhere along the way some others as well. I’m unimpressed.
Do I think that the mind is a (digital) computer? No, I don’t. But I do believe that using computation as a conceptual vehicle for thinking about the mind has taught us a lot, and will continue to do so. And the same with brains and computers. But the philosophers aren’t in that game and their arguments don’t contribute to it, one way or any other.
Their arguments seem to be about whether or not the game is worth playing. But how could they know if they don’t know and don’t care about how the game is played? Let us imagine, for example, that one day machine translation will be good enough for legal documents. Who cares whether or not those computers have minds or whether they’re really thinking? Well, I suppose it might matter in issues of liability. If a computer should make a mistake in translation, as human translators sometimes do, then perhaps the computer would be held liable if it is deemed to have a mind, otherwise its owner would be held liable. But beyond that?
Just what have these philosophers been arguing about for the last five or six decades?
Perhaps they are tracing the outer edge, the boundary, of a certain era of thought, an épistémè, to use Foucault’s term. Is that épistémè the long 19th century, or mid-20th century? I don’t know.
Now, I suppose those arguing that, no, the mind/brain is nothing like a computer, are also arguing that any research along those lines, whether in artificial intelligence, or some varity of psychology or linguistics, is so misguided that it cannot possibly be of any value. And in that case ALL such research must be stopped immediately. But that’s a VERY hard line to take given that such reseach has alrady produced much that is of value, both in practical technology and theoretical understanding. Still, if THAT’s what they’re arguing, then I suppose that those philosophers arguing the opposite line, that the mind is a computer etc., they’re trying to make room for research. Still, it seems like a wast.
And I don’t think that’s what’s going on. It’s something else.
But I’d like to think that whatever it is, it’s coming to an end. Those arguments are a waste of brain power.