A John Searle Inanity
16 August 2017
Recently, I was looking up a passage in a book The Mystery of Consciousness (Footnote: The Mystery of Consciousness by John Searle, 1997. ISBN 0-940322-06-4. pp 85–86.) by John Searle. (Footnote: See also the article on Searle’s Chinese Room.) Admittedly, the book is now 20 years old, but I could not help laughing at an argument that Searle puts forward in the book. Searle argues in the book that there is something non-computational about human consciousness. At one point, Searle argues that a completely computational process can result in a system that is incapable of description by a computational algorithm. He states:
“… there is no problem whatever in supposing that a set of relations that are non-computable at some level of description can be the result of processes that are computable at some other level.”
He bases this belief on the assignment of LPNs (vehicle license number plates that are assigned by a governmental body) to VINs(vehicle identification numbers as assigned at the vehicle factory), and states:
“Here is an example. Every registered car in California has both a vehicle identification number (VIN) and a license plate number (LPN). For registered cars there is a perfect match: for every LPN there is a VIN and vice versa, and this match continues indefinitely into the future because as new cars are manufactured each gets a VIN, and as they come in to use in California each is assigned a LPN. But there is no way to compute one from the other. To put this in mathematical jargon, if we construe each series as potentially infinite, the function from VIN to LPN is a non-computable function. But so what? Non-computability by itself is of little significance and does not imply that the processes that produce the non-computable relations must therefore be non-computable For all I know, the assignment of VINs at the car factories may be done by computer, and if it isn’t, it certainly could be. The assignment of LPNs ideally is done by one of the oldest algorithms known: first come, first served.”
This must be one of the most asinine statements by someone who has gained general recognition as a profound philosopher.
As Searle says, the assignment of LPNs could be done by computer. But of course the next VIN that will arrive in an application for a LPN is random - the computer does not know what the next VIN that will accompany an application for a LPN will be, and obviously it cannot compute that. What Searle is talking about being computable is the list of correspondences between VINs and LPNs that exists at a particular time only after all such correspondences up to that time have been assigned.
But a correspondence between a VIN and a LPN before an application for a LPN has been submitted is obviously not computable. In short, Searle is comparing chalk and cheese. His argument is a completely nonsensical absurdity. When Searle says that “Non-computability … does not imply that the processes that produce the non-computable relations must therefore be non-computable”, he is implying that a computable process can produce a non-computable relationship. This of course, is complete nonsense and Searle can provide no evidence whatsoever to support his crazy notions.
In the case of VINs and LPNs, every computative process involved (the assignment of a LPN when an application for a LPN accompanies a VIN) produces a correspondence which is quite obviously computable, given the information regarding the VIN and the date/time of VPN application and the current LPN at that given date/time. But it is equally obvious that no computer, and no computable process can predict in advance what LPN will be linked to a VIN before the assignment of the LPN has been computed. Neither can humans or human consciousness.
In short, Searle’s argument says nothing about whether a state of human consciousness might be something that is non-computable, regardless of how it arises.
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