I’ve been posting questions on philosophy.stackexchange.com about the Chinese room. The replies have been great. One of my questions was:
A comment by Phil_132 suggested replacing the program with wiring. (The Chinese room is supposed to be an electronic computer trying to be a mind.) A symbolic program is actually mainly a convenience for humans. A symbolic program makes changing the sequence of simple operations of the machine very easy. But much or most and in some cases all of a symbolic program can be replaced by wiring. (But then a soldering iron or equivalent is needed if the sequence of simple operations is to be changed.) My response to Phil_132’s comment was (with typos corrected):
OK, for Phil_132: I’m not sure I understand all the points, but this is what I think’s going on in the Chinese Room. There are two separate symbol-processing systems: (1) the system that processes the Chinese symbols that enter the room from outside, and (2) the system that processes the symbols that compose the program. The room also has a set of basic operations (like the Turing machine’s Scan, Print, Erase, Left and Right). In an actual computer, these are built into the hardware. In the Chinese room, they come from Searle understanding what the program symbols mean.
Program symbols define the sequence of these simple operations once the program begins to execute. The simple operations then manipulate the Chinese symbols (and do other things). The program can be replaced by wiring. In this case the sequence of simple operations are not defined by program symbols, but by the wiring.
But the “program-as-wiring” still has to be able to treat different Chinese input symbols in different ways. So how is it going to do this? Somehow the shapes of all possible Chinese symbols have to be built into the wiring. But the only way to do this is for the wiring to somehow contain examples of Chinese symbols (which examples can then be matched by the wiring against the symbols that come into the room from outside).
So the wiring has to contain symbols. Even though the simple operations can be executed by wiring instead of program symbols, there must still be literals, there must still be examples of all possible Chinese symbols, that the simple operations can use to match against the actual Chinese ones that arrive as input.
This matching process conducted by the wiring is purely formal because all it does is compare the shapes of the pre-existing example Chinese symbols to the shapes of the ones that enter the room as input. “Getting rid of the program” only gets rid of the program symbols that trigger simple operations. It doesn’t get rid of the literals contained in the program. So for the program line: IF INPUT = “A” THEN GO DO SOMETHING, getting rid of the program gets rid of: IF INPUT = “” THEN GO DO SOMETHING, but it doesn’t get rid of A.