Hayes, P, Harnad, Stevan, Perlis, D and Block, N
Virtual Symposium on Virtual Mind
Minds and Machines, 2, (3), .
When certain formal symbol systems (e.g., computer programs) are implemented as dynamic physical symbol systems (e.g., when they are run on a computer) their activity can be interpreted at higher levels (e.g., binary code can be interpreted as LISP, LISP code can be interpreted as English, and English can be interpreted as a meaningful conversation). These higher levels of interpretability are called "virtual" systems. If such a virtual system is interpretable as if it had a mind, is such a "virtual mind" real? This is the question addressed in this "virtual" symposium, originally conducted electronically among four cognitive scientists: Donald Perlis, a computer scientist, argues that according to the computationalist thesis, virtual minds are real and hence Searle's Chinese Room Argument fails, because if Searle memorized and executed a program that could pass the Turing Test in Chinese he would have a second, virtual, Chinese-understanding mind of which he was unaware (as in multiple personality). Stevan Harnad, a psychologist, argues that Searle's Argument is valid, virtual minds are just hermeneutic overinterpretations, and symbols must be grounded in the real world of objects, not just the virtual world of interpretations. Computer scientist Patrick Hayes argues that Searle's Argument fails, but because Searle does not really implement the program: A real implementation must not be homuncular but mindless and mechanical, like a computer. Only then can it give rise to a mind at the virtual level. Philosopher Ned Block suggests that there is no reason a mindful implementation would not be a real one.
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