The Systems Reply


When John Searle was visiting Berkeley, one bright skeptic posed the following reply. He or she suggested that, while the man inside the room himself does not understand Chinese, and therefore the interaction occurring between the Chinese speaker and the room, there is a system of understanding present. If you consider the man and the room and the book together as a complete system, this system exhibits comprehension and thinking.

John responds: "My response to the systems theory is quite simple: Let the individual internalize all of these elements of the system. He memorizes the rules in the ledger and the data banks of Chinese symbols, and he does all the calculations in his head. The individual then incorporates the entire system. There isn't anything at all to the system that he does not encompass. We can even get rid of the room and suppose he works outdoors. All the same, he understands nothing of the Chinese, and a fortiori neither does the system, because there isn't anything in the system that isn't in him. If he doesn't understand, then there is no way the system could understand because the system is just a part of him... Actually I feel somewhat embarrassed to give even this answer to the system theory because the theory seems to me so implausible to start with..." [1]

But this isn't the end of the story, either. There are of course other replies to CRA, and in particular I respond to all the above thoughts via the proposed perspective of this site.