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Chinese Rooms and Program Portability

I argue in this article that there is a mistake in Searle's Chinese room argument that has not received sufficient attention. The mistake stems from Searle's use of the Church–Turing thesis. Searle assumes that the Church–Turing thesis licences the assumption that the Chinese room can run any program. I argue that it does not, and that this assumption is false. A number of possible objections are considered and rejected. My conclusion is that it is consistent with Searle's argument to hold onto the claim that understanding consists in the running of a program.

1.  Searle's Argument

1.1.  The Church–Turing thesis

2.  Criticism of Searle's Argument

3.  Objections and Replies

3.1.  The virtual brain machine objection

3.2.  The brain-based objection

3.3.  The syntax/physics objection

3.4.  The abstraction objection

3.5.  The ‘same conclusion’ objection

3.6.  The ‘unnecessary baggage’ objection

3.7.  The Chinese gym objection

3.8.  The syntax/semantics objection

3.9.  Turing's definition of algorithm

3.9.1.  Consequences

3.9.2.  Criticism of the defence

4.  Conclusion