The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine manipulating blips of energy according to fathomable rules—has come to dominate neuroscience. However, one enemy of the brain-as-computer metaphor is John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content. Computers are syntactic, rather than semantic, creatures. People, on the other hand, understand meaning because they have something Searle obscurely calls the causal powers of the brain.
Yet how would a brain work if not by reducing what it learns about the world to information—some kind of code that can be transmitted from neuron to neuron? What else could meaning and content be? If the code can be cracked, a computer should be able to simulate it, at least in principle. But even if a computer could simulate the workings of the mind, Searle would claim that the machine would not really be thinking; it would just be acting as if it were. His argument proceeds thus: if a computer were used to simulate a stomach, with the stomach’s churnings faithfully reproduced on a video screen, the machine would not be digesting real food. It would just be blindly manipulating the symbols that generate the visual display.
Suppose, though, that a stomach were simulated using plastic tubes, a motor to do the churning, a supply of digestive juices, and a timing mechanism. If food went in one end of the device, what came out the other end would surely be digested food. Brains, unlike stomachs, are information processors, and if one information processor were made to simulate another information processor, it is hard to see how one and not the other could be said to think. Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are made of the same element: information. The representations of the world that humans carry around in their heads are already simulations. To accept Searle’s argument, one would have to deny the most fundamental notion in psychology and neuroscience: that brains work by processing information.
The author of the passage would be most likely to agree with which of the following statements about the simulation of organ functions?
<p>(A) An artificial device that achieves the functions of the stomach could be considered a valid model of the stomach.<br/>(B) Computer simulations of the brain are best used to crack the brain’s codes of meaning and content.<br/>(C) Computer simulations of the brain challenge ideas that are fundamental to psychology and neuroscience.<br/>(D) Because the brain and the stomach both act as processors, they can best be simulated by mechanical devices.<br/>(E) The computer’s limitations in simulating digestion suggest equal limitations in computer-simulated thinking.</p>
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