12.0601 behaviour in the room

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 1 May 1999 08:21:19 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 601.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> (26)
Subject: Re: 12.0599 behaviour & everything else

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (33)
Subject: text, rooms, brooms

[3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (27)
Subject: Chinese Room parable

Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 07:38:25 +0100
From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
Subject: Re: 12.0599 behaviour & everything else


I submitted your e-mail to my Chinese room bot. This is what came out:


The Chinese Room-Text:
None the wiser, not less wise
For pondering it.

What words signify
On a spring day, depends on
The order of spring.

Whether we expect
Question, or only answer,
Questions our answer.


I can't tell whether it's "conscious" or not.


(BTW, for those of us whose memory is hazy, or locked in a room: could
you relate to us the parable, or at least a version for purposes of this

Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 07:38:41 +0100
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: text, rooms, brooms


Very interesting move to place Searle's Chinese Room parable alongside
the poem-as-room considerations. But in mapping the analogy onto
text analysis concerns would not the Chinese Room be the computer?
Unless there is a whole string of black boxes: human reader, computer, poem.

You seem to invite a consideration of a poem as machine and want to
maintain the analogy with a building.

It is easy to move between architectural and vehicular metaphors for
text (any semiotic artefact, not just verbal constructions) [I recall
this point being brought forward in discussion following a paper prepared by
Kathyrn Sutherland at the 1997 Computing the Edition symposium. By the
way, are there plans to publish some record of the proceedings?]

I do not want to rehash the ground covered by contemporary architecture
theory (see Kenneth Frampton et al eds., _Technology, Place and
Architecture: The Jerusalem Seminar_ or Stephen Graham's
_Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Spaces_).

I do want to signal one of the narrative syntagms which the triad

machine poem building

offers. Poems can build machines.

Actually I want to stop before the beast of regression stretches out
the series of black boxes into machines making machines and just
suggest that this opening out of the infinite links the quotidien
with the sacred: the poetic temple need not be a cathedral --- temples
fall into ruins and cathedrals are often unfinished projects. It may
be a challenge to think of temples and cathedrals as machines (they
seem to work whether they are completed or restored). The etymologies
of "machine", "poem" and "building" can help redistriebute the challenge.

If behaviour is indeed the proper beginning, then machines, poems and
buildings can be said to permit, to make, to dwell. The tough
questions: where do poems dwell? what do buildings make? what is the
where and when that machines permit? Toughest question: why?


*Some dwell in the making of permission; others, through.

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:18:50 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: Chinese Room parable

At Wendell's request, I will do my best fairly to paraphrase Searle's parable. For the original articulation, see Searle, J. R. (1980). Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3, 414-424.

Suppose that in a windowless room sits a person who is entirely ignorant, let us say, of Chinese, though he or she is otherwise quite intelligent and clever. Outside the room is another person who is perfectly literate in Chinese but has no idea who or what is inside the room. Communication between the two is only by a slot in a wall of the room. Questions in Chinese are passed through this slot, answers come back. If the answers are intelligible to the person on the outside of the room, can we say that the person in the room "understands" Chinese? Clearly, Searle says, the answer is no.

For those who prefer the Web, and a great deal more discussion of the parable, see what a desultory search turns up -- e.g.

<http://www.ptproject.ilstu.edu/chinovrv.htm>; the bibliography given at <http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~philos/papers/chalmers.biblio.4.html> and the encyclopedia entries at <http://www.epistemelinks.com/Topi/MindTopi.htm> and <http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/chineser.htm>; and also <http://sun1.iusb.edu/~lzynda/searle.html>, <http://ling.ucsc.edu/~chalmers/papers/computation.html>, <http://act.psy.cmu.edu/personal/ja/misapplied.html>. And I cannot resist giving you <http://dangermouse.uark.edu/searle/>.

Yours, WM

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