Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Continuing Commentary
Commentary on John Searle (1980). Minds, Brains, and Program. BBS 3(3):417–57

The Chinese room is a trick

Peter Kugel a1
a1 Computer Science Department, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3808


To convince us that computers cannot have mental states, Searle (1980) imagines a “Chinese room” that simulates a computer that “speaks” Chinese and asks us to find the understanding in the room. It's a trick. There is no understanding in the room, not because computers can't have it, but because the room's computer-simulation is defective. Fix it and understanding appears. Abracadabra!