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Next: Objection 9 Up: Dialectic Previous: Objection 7

Objection 8

The next objection is based on an analogy: ``Look, a chess game is nothing but a sequence of moves of the pieces in accord with the rules of chess. No one would claim that the ontological status of chess games is particularly mysterious. The sequence of moves in any chess game is reversible: there exists a sequence which consists in exactly the same positions on the board but in opposite order. The backward sequence is not, of course, a chess game. The `initial' position is not the legal initial position for chess, and some pieces, e.g., pawns, will move in a way not legally permissible. So the chess game cannot be reversed, in the following sense: the reverse sequence of positions is not a legal chess game. Does one want to use Leibniz's Law to conclude that a particular chess game is not identical to the sequence of moves in it, because the one is reversible and the other isn't? I wouldn't want to conclude this, but in any case it doesn't matter. In whatever sense one cares about it, the chess game is nothing over and above the sequence of moves: if similarly consciousness were nothing over and above a computation, then the defenders of Strong AI win."

The analogy offered here is clever, and if we were to accept it and its implied purely syntactical view of chess, then our master argument would probably be threatened. But if we remember that chess is a sequence of moves made amid rules, intentions, beliefs, plans, goals, and so on, there is no reason to accept an analogy which ab initio commits us to a reductionist view of consciousness. In fact, the objection, upon reflection, can be exposed as fundamentally flawed -- because it's easy enough to show, courtesy of a thought-experiment, that what the discussant takes to be absurd (a chess game is something over and above a sequence of board configurations) is true: Begin by fixing some legal sequence S of chess moves from the required initial situation to one in which the white king is checkmated. Suppose that this sequence is one which has never been actualized in the past. Now imagine a chess board lying on the surface of an uninhabited planet, with chess pieces beside it.gif Next imagine that, as a wild coincidence would have it, the lifeless winds blowing over the surface of this planet happen to jumble the chess pieces over an interval of time in such a way that S is actualized. Has a chess game taken place on this planet? It would seem not. (If a game took place, who won and who lost?) But then the key premise in Objection 8 (viz., a chess game is nothing over and above a sequence of moves) is in grave doubt, and hence Objection 7 evaporates.gif


next up previous
Next: Objection 9 Up: Dialectic Previous: Objection 7

Selmer Bringsjord
Fri Sep 6 11:58:56 EDT 1996