Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Solution To Searles Chinese Room

The Chinese Room Thought Experiment from Wikipedia

In my mind I'm not really qualified to be taken seriously about this, but I do have strong feelings about why Searles conclusion is wrong. I have not looked into criticisms of this very much except that Searles Chinese Room suffers from the "Homunculus Fallacy" in that it includes the problem it is trying to solve, or that the analogy is flawed. I also realized later in the day, after posting this, that it solves the mind-body problem.

In a nutshell the Chinese Room thought experiment was intended to express doubt about whether a machine could ever have understanding. It goes like this. John Searle is in a room with instructions that when someone passes in phrases in Chinese, he is to use his references to look up the corresponding reply and pass it out. His argument is that as long as he knows how to match the two phrases, he doesn't have to understand Chinese. A machine using a program doesn't have to understand chinese either.

I agree, but I also think that the analogy is flawed in that it doesn't go far enough. He's missing the representation of the link between the two phrases. His man is the link but the man needs to be broken down further into the individual actions that are involved. It needs to solve the problem of where do the rules come from that lead to the result of "Understanding"

My point is that if we make a list of the two sets of phrases, we can draw lines between them to connect them. These represent the rules. We don't really understand them but we can see the correlation. But how did the lines get there?

If we took each phrase and had visual representations of every nuance of each phrase, then we could mechanically look for similarities between the phrases and match them up. We might make mistakes, wrong inferences, but so does the mind. Consider the pictures individual properties of the representation of the phrase. But then where would the pictures come from?

We have to find a natural algorithm for the simple rules.

How this relates to the brain is that since the brain represents the world using an electrochemical storage and retrieval mechanism, and it stores this information all over the brain in no specific place, it must have pointers or some method analogous to computer hard drive technology of knowing where the next bit is and where the previous bit was. Electrons naturally travel from one potential to another, so there probably is an equivalent mechanism that relates to chemicals. When the brain gets input, it starts processing information, storing and retrieving information, making associations, presumably using a simple physical algorithm made up of chemical or electrical properties such as properties of attraction or similarities. Since the brain is a system of processes, these simpler systems would work together using this simple algorithm starting from the neuron and the smallest piece of information to make more complex representations by looking for similarities and associations to memories from experience. In this way, we result in the more complex illusion of consciousness. To test this all we need to do is to look at interactively less capable minds starting with humans and working our way back through species. The first step in this experiment should be a field trip to the local bar.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

In A Discussion, It Often Boils Down To Values

In a discussion, when the parties are at an impasse, many times it boils
down to what either party thinks is important or what values they hold.
For example, Julie writes what she thinks is perfect paper and presents
it to her teacher. Her teacher agrees that it is one of the best papers
she has ever seen with regards to content but cannot justify any grade
better than average because of the grammatical errors. In this case, no
doubt the content is important, but the lack of grammatical integrity is
important to the teacher and the University. Their discussion is at an
impasse because Julie places a higher importance on content while the
teacher necessarily must place a higher importance on grammar.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rules for Critical Discussion

Rules for Critical Discussion
by Frans Van Eemeren & Rob Grootendorst,
taken from "Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation" by Douglas Walton,
Cambridge University Press, 2006.

1. Parties must not prevent each other from advancing or casting doubt on each
others viewpoints.

2. Whoever advances a viewpoint is obliged to defend it if asked to do so.

3. An attack on a viewpoint must represent the viewpoint that has really been
advanced by the protagonist.

4. A viewpoint may be defended or attacked only by advancing argumentation
that is relevant to that viewpoint.

5. A person can be held responsible for the unstated premises he leaves implicit
in his argument.

6. A viewpoint is regarded as conclusively defended only if the defense takes
place by means of argumentation based on premises accepted by the other party,
and it meets the requirements of Rule 8.

7. A viewpoint is regarded as conclusively defended only if the defense takes
place by means of arguments in which an argumentation scheme is correctly

8. A viewpoint is regarded as conclusively defended only if supported by a chain
of argumentation meeting the requirements of rules 6 and 7 and if the unstated
premises in the chain of argumentation are accepted by the other party.

9. A failed defense must result in the proponent withdrawing her thesis and a
successful defense must result in the respondent withdrawing his doubt about
the proponents thesis.

10. Formulations of questions and arguments must not be obscure, excessively
vague, or confusingly ambiguous and must be interpreted as accurately as

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

How is a Bird Like an Argument?

They both need grounds to rest on. I made that up. It is an attack on
the slippery slope, and the stinky piles of rhetoric. Kind of poetic I
think. I envision certain theistic arguments as like a bird that flies
around but has no place to rest because there are no grounds to support

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Getting Started in Informal Logic

This is actually a response to an email from a commenter.

To get you started, here is a free course in beginning logic from Rick Grush of University of California

Here is the free LSAT podcast which, believe it or not, covers what you are interested in. It is the Law School Admissions Test, but it covers informal logic and argumentation. Its a great resource for this kind of thing.

How to debate lecture series from the university of vermont

A good place to start poking around in the World of Critical thinking which is ultimately what all this about.

And there's always wikipedia to look stuff up.

I suggest you get the following books used from amazon.
To start with
- "fundamentals of critical argumentation" from Douglas Walton. It covers the formal parts of logic that you need for the informal logic that you are interested in.
- Stephen Toulmins "Introduction to Reasoning", it gives a more detailed treatment of the structure of arguments, and the different types or reasoning inherent in different disciplines.
- Johnson and Blairs "Logical Self-Defense", gets into critical thinking and argumentation and how it is applied in the real world, give you hints to avoid advertising marketing persuasion
- Informal Logic by douglas walton (again) it gets deeper into the concepts covered in the 'fundamentals of critical argumentation'
- The Art of Deception, is a classic book written from the perspective of 'the bad guy' showing you fallacies and how they are used in argumentation to try to take advantage of you.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patricks Day! Leprechauns Exist!

This is a short discussion about argument fundamentals using an example of a debate about the existence of Leprechauns inspired by the Loftus-Wood debate and St. Patricks day. Its also relevant to blog discussions.

Arguments consist of premises and conclusions. They can also be linked, where conclusions of individual arguments make up the premises of a 'global' argument. Some of the 'local' arguments that can make up a 'global' argument are arguments from Sign, Analogy and Cause just to name a few. Each of these have strategies associated with them that can be used to challenge them effectively, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion. For more information on these concepts, check the references section of this document.

Step one in a critical discussion is to agree to principles of behavior before you start. I recommend something like van Eemeren and Grootendorsts "Rules for a Critical Discussion". They say things like 'remember you may be wrong', 'don't use personal attacks', 'stay relevant' etc. If the one participant uses a personal attack or tries to avoid answering the question and goes off on a tangent, a charge of lack of relevance is warranted. Stay focused to avoid being distracted by these diversionary tactics.
Step two is to agree on the premises of the discussion. If the existence of Leprechauns entails evidence, then that is one place to start. You can both begin to present your evidence. And remember, there is no shame in being wrong. It's character building.

Are Leprechauns plausible, is an easier position to argue from either viewpoint because it entails using defeasible reasoning to argue whether it is likely or not that Leprechauns exist. Arguing about the fact of their existence is more difficult from the point of view of the principle of Burden of Proof. If a proponent says that something exists, and the respondents says something like 'show me the body', the proponent can always say that not all possibilities of discoveries have been exhausted. This has the weight of presumption in its favor because of the efficacy of the scientific method in fields such as the sciences (medicine, physics etc.) law and technical maintenance (electronics, automobile etc) and others not listed. The scientific method presumably works for these fields and showing that it doesn't will be a struggle for the respondent. Proponents and respondents must always be open to new information to avoid holding untenable conclusions.

The most tenable viewpoint is that because of the preponderance of evidence (positive or negative), Leprechauns either are likely or not likely to exist. There is a valid reason to doubt that because of the preponderance of negative evidence Leprechauns are not likely to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. The respondent, however, cannot show that that they do not exist because the respondents definition of reasonable doubt will not be the same as the proponent believer. There is a popular phrase that goes "You can't prove a negative". This is counterintuitive but logically it depends on your requirement and acceptance of evidence.

When involved in a discussion about whether or not Leprechauns exist, the strongest arguments for the respondent in a discussion like this will come from the principle of "Negative Evidence" and "Negative Proof". One reason for this is because it will account for the 'moving goalpost' type of arguments typically found in this type of critical discussion. If the proponent tries to use equivocation (changing a previously stipulated definition or properties) or demand more evidence than is reasonable (impossible precision), the respondent can show that since they both agree that the existence of Leprechauns entails evidence, that there is no evidence where there should be or of the type there should be and therefore the preponderance of Negative Evidence (lack of evidence or evidence that suggests another cause) makes their existence reasonably implausible. In order to get around this the proponent must claim that evidence is not relevant (as in the case of faith), in which case there can be no discussion and they have disqualified themselves by getting caught in a contradiction or somehow try to disqualify the negative evidence somehow, possibly by equivocation. Good luck with this argument in a community of Leprechaun believers, especially if their local economy or their well-being depends on it.

What follows is an analysis of the argument of the proponent. The argument is laid out using the Toulman argument model where the validity of the conclusion is supported by the premises and the premises are supported by the warrant of data. The warrant is like a the bridge between the data and the premise. Each of the properties of the support for the conclusion are labeled with a 'P' a 'W' and a 'D'.

The proponent says that Leprechauns exists and the respondent has doubt about this claim.

The proponent says that Leprechauns exist because there exists a valid presumption
P: There are documented cases in the past of Leprechaun sightings.
W: That the documents are reliable testimony and necessary if not sufficient to support the conclusion
D: newspaper article that John smith saw a Leprechaun on such and such day
D: newspaper article that Jill brown saw the evidence of Leprechaun visitation in her house.
Argument from Tradition, more or less.

P: There exists a cultural belief that Leprechauns exist.
W: All these people wouldn't believe if it weren't true. They can't all be wrong.
D: Collectively all these people have reasons to believe
D: A lot of people believe that fire burns, and in fact it does
Argument from Popularity.

P: We can see the effects of leprechauns in our environment
W: If Leprechauns exist, we should see their effects since we presuppose they are doing things
D: Unexplained things happen all the time, especially things that have been determined to be characteristic of Leprachauns
Argument from Cause.

P: There exists an artifact of a Leprechaun pipe
W: Leprechauns are known to smoke pipes
D: the artifact is in the museum
Argument from Sign.

P: There is independent evidence of leprechaun like beings in other cultures, even if descriptions vary.
W: Since there is independent evidence in other cultures, it creates a presumption that supports the evidence in this one.
D: In the Appalachians there beliefs in magical beings that live in the mountains
D: In Nordic cultures, there are beliefs in magical beings called Trolls.
Argument from Precedence.

P: Leprechauns are like foxes, quick and can hide easily
W: Leprechauns are clever and hard to catch.
D: Foxes are considered to be clever and hard to catch.
Argument from Analogy, inherently weak and easy to refute.

P: Leprechauns are supernatural beings making them difficult to find
W: Leprechauns would use their powers to their advantage.
D: The supernatural factors exist because no one has proved that they don't
Argument from Ignorance.

P: Leprechauns are supernatural beings making them difficult to understand
W: Because of their supernatural abilities it makes their world view impossible for us to understand because we cannot possibly share their perspective because we are not supernatural.
D: Supernatural factors exist because no one has absolutely refuted evidence suggesting that they do.
Argument from Ignorance

Laid out like this, it is easy to see where to start with the argument. In a face-to-face discussion with people that are not familiar with structured discussion, it is much harder. The warrant and the data are rarely presented without a request, but to challenge the argument effectively, they must be revealed. The concept of the "unstated premise" is similar to the warrant, and you must look for these as well. It usually constitutes figuring out what is inferred, or what factors a statement depends on but has not been addresses so far.

The respondent should challenge the conclusion by rebutting the premises of the proponent using critical questioning according the strategy most effective for the type of argument that is being refuted. In the process of rebutting the premises of the proponent, it is usually necessary to challenge the warrant and the data. Sometimes the warrant is valid but the evidence is not. The respondent should avoid making claims where possible for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it is preferable to shift the burden of proof to the other party. Many logical fallacies do this very effectively. The second reason is that whoever asks the questions is in control of the discussion.

The respondent should try to get the proponent to commit to statements that support the respondents conclusion. In doing so, the respondent can get the proponent to make contradictory claims, it which case the proponent must retract or commit to an untenable conclusion. For example, getting the proponent to commit to the premise that in the case of four witnesses of a robbery, there will be four conflicting stories that agree to some degree. The respondent can use this to point out that testimonial evidence is weak compared to other forms and an example of this is the "telephone game" that children play. Another example is to get the proponent to admit that in cases where there was a strong presumption in favor of the supernatural, it was later proven that there were natural causes. Such is the case with schizophrenia and Germ theory.

Toulman, Stephen. 2003. The Uses of Argument. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press

Walton, Douglas N. 1995. Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning. Lawrence Erlbaum

Walton, Douglas N. 2005. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation. Cambridge University Press.

Damer, T. Edward. 2004. Attacking Faulty Reasoning. 5th ed. Wadsworth Publishing

Freeley, Austin J. 1993. Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making 8th ed. Wadsworth Publishing Company

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


  1. Behavior or attitude that is boldly arrogant or offensive; effrontery.
  2. The act of presuming or accepting as true.
  3. Acceptance or belief based on reasonable evidence; assumption or supposition.
  4. A condition or basis for accepting or presuming.
  5. Law. A conclusion derived from a particular set of facts based on law, rather than probable reasoning.
"presumption." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 07 Mar. 2007.

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  1. A basic truth, law, or assumption: the principles of democracy.
    1. A rule or standard, especially of good behavior: a man of principle.
    2. The collectivity of moral or ethical standards or judgments: a decision based on principle rather than expediency.
  2. A fixed or predetermined policy or mode of action.
  3. A basic or essential quality or element determining intrinsic nature or characteristic behavior: the principle of self-preservation.
  4. A rule or law concerning the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes: the principle of jet propulsion.
  5. Chemistry. One of the elements that compose a substance, especially one that gives some special quality or effect.
  6. A basic source. See Usage Note at principal.
"principle." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 07 Mar. 2007.

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Seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable; credible: a plausible excuse.

"plausible." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 07 Mar. 2007.

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Informal Logic

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Informal Logic
Wikipedia, Informal Logic

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Defeasible Reasoning

The relationship of support between premises and conclusion is a tentative one, potentially defeated by additional information.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Defeasible Reasoning
Wikipedia, Defeasible Reasoning

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Explanations are not arguments

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