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Consciousness, mental states, intelligence are transferable and can be stored and conferred. Pregnancy is a process of conferring intelligence. The book of instructions is stored in our genetic material. We pass on this book to our off spring. The decoding and unfolding of book are what we call embryonic phases. Intelligence, therefore, can (and is) passed on (in this case, through genetic material, in other words: through hardware).
We can identify an emitter (or transmitter) of mental states and a receiver of mental states (equipped with an independent copy of a book of instructions). The receiver can be passive (as television is). In such a case we will not be justified in saying that it is "intelligent" or has a mental life. But – if it possesses codes and instructions – it could make independent use of data, process it, decide upon it, pass it on, mutate it, transform it, react to it. In latter case we will not be justified in saying that receiver does NOT possess intelligence or mental states. Again, source, trigger of mental states are irrelevant. What is relevant is to establish that receiver has a copy of intelligence or of other mental states of agent (the transmitter). If so, then it is intelligent in its own right and has a mental life of its own.
Must source be point-like, an identifiable unit? Not necessarily. A programmer is a point-like source of intelligence (in case of a computer). A parent is a point-like source of mental states (in case of his child). But other sources are conceivable.
For instance, we could think about mental states as emergent. Each part of an entity might not demonstrate them. A neurone cell in brain has no mental states of it own. But when a population of such parts crosses a quantitatively critical threshold – an epiphenomenon occurs. When many neurones are interlinked – results are mental states and intelligence. The quantitative critical mass – happens also to be an important qualitative threshold.
Imagine a Chinese Gymnasium instead of a Chinese Room. Instead of one English speaker – there is a multitude of them. Each English speaker is equivalent of a neurone. Altogether, they constitute a brain. Searle says that if one English speaker does not understand Chinese, it would be ridiculous to assume that a multitude of English speakers would. But reality shows that this is exactly what will happen. A single molecule of gas has no temperature or pressure. A mass of them – does. Where did temperature and pressure come from? Not from any single molecule – so we are forced to believe that both these qualities emerged. Temperature and pressure (in case of gas molecules), thinking (in case of neurones) – are emergent phenomena.
All we can say is that there seems to be an emergent source of mental states. As an embryo develops, it is only when it crosses a certain quantitative threshold (number of differentiated cells) – that he begins to demonstrate mental states. The source is not clear – but locus is. The residence of mental states is always known – whether source is point-like and identifiable, or diffusely emerges as an epiphenomenon.
It is because we can say very little about source of mental states – and a lot about their locus, that we developed an observer bias. It is much easier to observe mental states in their locus – because they create behaviour. By observing behaviour – we deduce existence of mental states. The alternative is solipsism (or religious panpsychism, or mere belief). The dichotomy is clear and painful: either we, as observers, cannot recognize mental states, in principle – or, we can recognize them only through their products.
Consider a comatose person. Does he have a mental life going on? Comatose people have been known to have reawakened in past. So, we know that they are alive in more than limited physiological sense. But, while still, do they have a mental life of any sort?
We cannot know. This means that in absence of observables (behaviour, communication) – we cannot be certain that mental states exist. This does not mean that mental states ARE those observables (a common fallacy). This says nothing about substance of mental states. This statement is confined to our measurements and observations and to their limitations. Yet, Chinese Room purports to say something about black box that we call "mental states". It says that we can know (prove or refute) existence of a TRUE mental state – as distinct from a simulated one. That, despite appearances, we can tell a "real" mental state apart from its copy. Confusing source of intelligence with its locus is at bottom of this thought experiment. It is conceivable to have an intelligent entity with mental states – that derives (or derived) its intelligence and mental states from a point-like source or acquired these properties in an emergent, epiphenomenal way. The identity of source and process through which mental states were acquired are irrelevant. To say that entity is not intelligent (the computer, English speaker) because it got its intelligence from outside (the programmer) – is like saying that someone is not rich because he got his millions from national lottery.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com