In addition to his famous Chinese Room argument, John Searle has posed a more radical problem for views on which minds can be understood as programs. Even his wall, he claims, implements the WordStar program according to the standard definition of implementation because there is some “pattern of molecule movements” that is isomorphic to the formal structure of WordStar. Program implementation, Searle charges, is merely observer-relative and thus not an intrinsic feature of the world. I argue, first, that analogous charges involving other concepts (motion and meaning) lead to consequences no one accepts. Second, I show that Searle’s treatment of computation is incoherent, yielding the consequence that nothing computes anything: even our standard personal computers fail to run any programs on this account. I propose an alternative account, one that accords with the way engineers, programmers, and cognitive scientists use the concept of computation in their empirical work. This alternative interpretation provides the basis of a philosophical analysis of program implementation, one that may yet be suitable for a computational theory of the mind.
Special thanks to two anonymous referees for this journal who made helpful comments and to Andrew Melnyk for helpful comments on a previous draft presented at the 2011 APA Conference, Central Division. I am also very grateful to Paul Teller, Robert Cummins, Jonathan Dorsey, John Keller, and Michael Jubien for valuable discussions and commentary regarding earlier drafts of this paper.
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