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Artistic temperament

In the 1980s Searle mounted a challenge to strong AI. Searle’s objections were based on the observation that the operation of a computer program consists of the manipulation of certain symbols according to rules that refer only to the symbols’ formal or syntactic properties and not to their semantic ones. In his so-called “Chinese-room argument,” Searle attempted to show that there is more to thinking than this kind of rule-governed manipulation of symbols. The argument involves a situation in which a person who does not understand Chinese is locked in a room. He is handed written questions in Chinese, to which he must provide written Chinese answers. With the aid of a computer program or a rule book that matches questions in Chinese with appropriate Chinese answers, the person could simulate the behaviour of a person who understands Chinese. Thus, a Turing test would count such a person as understanding Chinese. But by hypothesis, he does not have that understanding. Hence, understanding Chinese does not consist merely in the ability to manipulate Chinese symbols. What the functionalist theory leaves out and cannot account for, according to Searle, are the semantic properties of the Chinese symbols, which are what the Chinese speaker understands. In a similar way, the Turing-functionalist definition of thinking as the manipulation of symbols according to syntactic rules is deficient because it leaves out the symbols’ semantic properties.

A more general objection to functionalism involves what is called the “inverted spectrum.” It is entirely conceivable, according to this objection, that two humans could possess inverted color spectra without knowing it. The two may use the word red, for example, in exactly the same way, and yet the color sensations they experience when they see red things may be different. Because the sensations of the two people play the same causal role for each, however, functionalism is committed to the claim that the sensations are the same