Reflections in a Chessboard

“Consider the Chinese Room, or better still consider Deep Blue, the chess machine. Nobody claims that Deep Blue has consciousness, but it has intelligence in the very narrow sense of playing excellent chess.”

And Grandfather Clock has intelligence in the very narrow sense of being able to count the minutes and hours correctly, adding up the sums in its head, and telling me the correct time, by deciding to play the chimes hanging in his case. Oddly, Grandfather Clock always decides just exactly on the hour and half-hour to ring the correct chimes. I am astonished at how accurately Grandfather Clock’s sense of timing is, how tirelessly he attends to his task, and how he never loses count or mistakes the number of minutes in an hour. No doubt Grandfather Clock is helped in the tireless precision of his thinking process by the wheels and gears that make up his brain. Nonetheless, we all must commend Grandfather Clock for his diligence and uncomplaining attention to detail. He is as patient and devout as a Beefeater Guard who stands before Buckingham Palace, and, like them, he never stirs from the spot where he has decided to stand.

I am kidding, of course. Grandfather Clock is a machine.

It does not have any intentions, diligence, ability to count, ability to add numbers up to 60, or any other mental operations of any kind. It is not even alive. It is a machine. Deep Blue is also a machine.

If you took the time to write down every possible combination of chessman positions on a fat deck of cards, and a chessmaster took the time, for each and every possible location of chessman, to write down what he thought was the best move on the back of the card, you could pretend to play a game by setting up the board, finding the card that represented an opening, making a response, and finding the card representing the new position of the chessmen, and looking on the back of that card to see what the chessmaster thought the best response would be in that situation.

However, the deck of cards would not be playing chess. The deck of cards would not have any intention, any awareness of the chessmen or any idea of the relation between the chessmen and what they symbolically represent, or what moves or victory conditions the game entailed. The deck of cards would not be aware of the game at all. Its a deck of cards.

The deck of cards cannot win by concentrating better of by thinking of an new strategy or by correctly weighing the options open to it or by correctly guessing which pieces you are willing to sacrifice. It cannot concentrate or think or weigh options or guess.

The deck of cards, in this thought experiment, were all written out beforehand by a chessmaster. The chessmaster can think, because he is a human being with a rational soul, and an ability to make up things that do not exist in real life, such as the rules to games.

If you asked Deep Blue to play Chancellor Chess, or to abide by a house rule that forbids en passant capture of pawns that moved twice on their first move, you would not get an answer, because you cannot ask Deep Blue to change the rules. Likewise you cannot ask a deck of cards to change the rules. These things do not understand what “rules” are or why we have rules in games. They do not understand what a game is, because they are not alive and do not think.

The word “intelligence” is being used here in what is actually merely a misleading metaphor. The intelligence of Deep Blue is in the programmer of Deep Blue, who was not someone unaware of the rules of chess.

It is as if we said a red and stormy sunset was an “angry” sunset and as if next, without realizing it is a metaphor, we sat and talked quite seriously about whether the Man in the Moon had offended the sunset to make him angry, or whether merely an upset stomach or colic had angered the sunset.

The error here is the informal fallacy called ambiguity: merely using a word that has two meanings as if it had one meaning. The intelligence (meaning 1) displayed by a clockwork, a deck of chessmove cards with instructions on them, or a computer program, is the intelligence (meaning 2) of the watchmaker, chassmaster or programmer.

Also, there is a formal error in logic here, called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. The syllogism “(1) Men’s thoughts can be described in terms of complex decisions or formalization (2) Computer program logic can be described in terms of complex decisions or or formalization therefore (3) Men’s thought are computer program logic.” suffers the same error as the syllogism, “(1) Englishmen are men (2) Frenchmen are men therefore (3) Englishmen are Frenchmen.”

A more pointed example is “(1) Lincoln at Gettysburg recited a speech (2) My phonograph record recited a speech therefore (3) Lincoln at Gettysburg is the same as a photograph record.”

The whole materialist argument is based on a mildly surrealistic premise that the only thing we know about anything are its empirical properties, and that ergo any non-empirical properties causing those empirical properties must ergo be the same in every way. I call it surreal because we are dealing with a case where the chain of cause and effect is known to be different. As if someone were to argue that, because my wife loves me, my wife’s image in the looking glass must also love me, on the grounds that she has the same look and smile and expression in her eyes. However, the smile of the image in the glass is caused by photons bouncing off the wife, not by any affection or admiration or lust or devotion on the part of the looking glass. It’s glass. Not only is it not loving, it is not even alive. The smile on the real wife is caused by the wife’s soul, or the great god Cupid, or her bad judgment or however you want to say it. The glass is not even really smiling because it is an image of a smile, not a smile.

Likewise here. Clocks do not know math, and do not know the number line, and do not count numbers and match them to passing minutes and hours. Clockmakers know how to count. Clockmakers make a machine that reflects this the way a looking glass reflects an image. We only say a clock “tells” time because we, the intelligent beings, tell time using the clock as an instrument, and it is no more than a convenient shorthand of speak to attribute to the tool the mental operations we perform using the tool.

Likewise, Deep Blue does not play chess or wins games any more that he feels satisfaction over games well played or broods over mistakes he made. He is not a he.

Deep Blue is an image, a complex one, but no different than a clock. We only say that Deep Blue “plays chess” as a convenient shorthand of speech because we, the intelligent beings that play chess, managed to write down chess moves and groups of chess moves in a hierarchy, so that we, using the machine as a tool, can look up what move might beat the move we just made. Deep Blue is not “doing” anything. The chessplayer is looking up a move in Deep Blue’s database much as if he were looking up a move written on a page in a book in a library, but he is using Deep Blue as a mechanism to look up the move.

Another example:

f it should turn out that the live speaker I thought was Mr. Lincoln is a Disneyland automaton after all, this does not lead logically to the conclusion that I am also a automaton: it leads to the conclusion that the real Mr. Lincoln, a living soul, wrote a speech, and that a real Mr. Disney, another living soul, figured out how to combine a phonograph record with a clockwork manikin to create an image—and this image is as false an illusion as shadows in a looking glass.

It would be surreality more surreal if anyone were to propose the argument that because we cannot tell the difference, using only our eyes, between a wife that loves us and a looking glass that loves us, therefore our wives are merely looking glasses, perhaps more complicated, but otherwise nothing different from flat reflections in a surface.

Likewise here, there is more than a little surreality in the argument is that since we intelligent beings can (after much painful thought and careful work) embody a reflection of our intelligence in a clockwork, ergo all intelligence is clockwork, including our own, therefore painful thought and careful work do not actually exist.

And when you point out that clockworks do not think and are not alive, and do not have any personal selfhood and do not have any point of view or any ability to make decisions or any subjective sensation and cannot feel pain or feel desire or feel the impulse to act, the answer you get back is …

Well, I don’t know what answer you get back. No radical materialist with whom I have ever spoken as given an answer. I ask the question, and they change the subject, and act as if I have asked nothing. It is kind of eerie.

Since this point is often lost, allow me to dwell on it for a moment:

The argument for radical materialism is based on the unreal premise that, because our ear cannot tell the difference between a living speaker and a good recording, therefore living speakers are nothing but recordings. Living speakers have grooves in their brain similar to the needle grooves in a phonograph, and something like a phonograph needle sends a nerve impulse to muscles in the throat, which makes the words come out.

Well, yes, as far as the ear is concerned, you cannot tell the difference between a phonograph record and a live speaker, if you are a moron or a philosopher deliberately ignoring all the surrounding facts. Because in addition to the ear, I am also aware of the fact that when I talk I am making up the words I say and deciding what words to use; and when a phonograph record is being recorded, that process of thought is also present in the speaker making the recording, not in the record disk. The words of a live speaker are like the smile of the wife: it happens because she wants to smile. This is the immediate cause. The words from a phonographic recording are like the smile of an image in a mirror: it happens because photons reflect off a surface evenly enough to create an illusionary image or shadow in the eye. The smile of the wife is the remote cause, the reflection from the glass is the immediate cause. An argument that says, “As far as your eye is concerned, you cannot tell the difference between an image in a looking glass and a real woman, therefore women are images in mirrors” is not just bizarre, it also makes formal and informal logical errors, including the error of not making any distinction between immediate and ultimate causes.

Drawing this analogy back to the case at hand, what we have here is the argument that Deep Blue is “intelligent” in the limited sense that it can play chess well enough to beat a chessmaster. But of course the programmers and chessmasters who gathered the tens of thousands of man-hours of experience with chess written into the various electronic files of the machine like a library of chessgames are ignored with the same blithe indifference that the real woman creating or causing the image is ignored in the argument that mirrors are as real to your eye as reality.

For those of you who like letters, let us call the non-empirical but ultimate cause of a deliberate act the letter “A”, and let us call an instrument that can reflect or mimic such acts (including a clockwork, a deck of chessmove cards, a mirror, or a computer) the letter “B”, and let us call the end result we see with the eye or hear with the ear (including a faithful report of the time, a smile of love, or a chess move) the letter “C”.

In one case A causes B causes C, where “B” here is something that reflects. B is our Grandfather Clock, our looking glass, our Deep Blue. In the other case A causes C, where “A” is the watchmaker, the wife, the chessmaster. In both cases, “C” is some material thing we can perceive with our senses, eyes and ears. In both cases, “A” is something we cannot perceive with our senses, the thoughts in our consciousnesses.

We have two cases, one where a living soul does something immediately, and one where a living soul uses an instrument to do something mediately.

An example of immediate acts includes me speaking my dying words aloud to someone in earshot, and I tell him what I want done with my property after I die; an example of a mediate act is when I use an instrument or medium as an intermediary, such as when I write the same words in a letter or a Last Will and Testament, and a person outside earshot later reads them. Speaking aloud is A causes C. Writing a will is A causes B causes C. “A” is my intention, where “B” is the piece of paper on which the will is written, and “C” is when my words are understood.

The argument of the radical materialist boils down to the empirical proposition that we must abide by the rule which says we are not to speculate about things our sense cannot grasp: we are not allowed to say that “A” causes anything, because things like thoughts and intentions have no size nor shape nor weight, therefore we must pretend to take no notice of them.

The first mistake of the radical materialist is that what empiricism ignores does not exist. “A” does not exist.

The second mistake is to conflate mediate and intermediate causation: the first case (A causes B causes C) is treated as the second case (B causes C).

The third mistake is merely the fallacy of the undistributed middle. (1) A causes C (2) B causes C therefore (3) A is B.

I am not sure if it counts as a separate mistake to reintroduce “A” into the discussion after we strict empiricists all agreed not to make any speculations about thoughts or intentions or anything else we could not see nor touch.

The radical materialist misinterprets the first case, and treats it as if B were the sufficient and sole and ultimate cause of C. He then makes the fallacy of the excluded middle: (1) B causes C (2) A causes C therefore (c) A is B.

For those of you who don’t like letters, let me rephrase the paragraphs above.

The argument of the radical materialist boils down to this: Since the only thing we can really know about a woman’s smile or the Gettysburg Address is what we see with our eye and hear with our ear, and since we cannot tell the difference between a mirror and a wife, or between Lincoln alive and Lincoln on a phonograph (if you will forgive the anachronism) therefore we must treat images as if they are reality, and therefore images are reality; therefore we must treat proximate causes as if they are remote causes, therefore there are no remote causes.

The argument forgets one thing. Since I know what it is like from my point of view when I smile, and since I know what it is like from my point of view when I make a speech or make a chessmove, and since other people are real, live people and not manikins or images in a mirror, therefore I know that other people make speeches and smile smiles and make chessmoves for the same reasons I do.

Since in my case, me being aware of my own consciousness,  I have the privileged information of knowing that A causes B causes C: in a case where, limited by my senses, all I see of other people is that B causes C, I am forced to assume that there is some cause A present there as well.

Suppose I am in a cellblock. I can see the prisoner’s feeding trays slid by the guard into a slot in the solid cell doors, and emerge later with the food gone. The only cell I can see into, however, is mine. I know I eat my food; but I do not know if the other prisoners are eating their food or dumping it on the floor. Indeed, I do not even know whether the prisoner in the cell at the end of the row has not made a cunning automatic machinery out of the slats of his cot and strips torn from his striped uniform that takes the proffered tray from the slot and dumps the food on the floor, and returns the tray to the guard.

Let us further suppose that I am a criminal mastermind able to make such an automatic machine myself, so I know that it is possible to dump the tray on the floor and return it clean through the slot without eating the food.

But I do know that since I eat my food (“A”) that I am the cause of the empty tray returned through the slot in the door (“C”). I also know that it is possible for some intermediate cause (“B”) such as a cunning automatic machine made out of cot slats to return the clean tray through the slot to the guard without eating.

It is feasible, in this situation, for me to conclude that therefore my brain is a cunning automatic machine made of cot slats? Is it feasible for me to conclude that eating the food is the same as dumping it on the floor?  It is feasible for me to conclude that eating the food is an epiphenomenon or an illusion and that the real reality, the only reality, is that my brain is a machine made of cot slats and that I never actually ate any food?

I would say that is not a feasible conclusion. If so, why should this unfeasible and frankly absurd argument somehow become worthy of consideration if instead of clean trays, we talk about chessmoves, and instead of eating, we talk about pondering and devising chessmoves based on a knowledge of the rules of chess, and if instead of a cunning machine made of cot slats, we talk about Deep Blue?

Admittedly, I can be fooled into thinking Lex Luthor is still in the cell next to mine, merely because I see his clean tray being returned through the slot in the door after mess time. Maybe he is in the cell and ate his food, or maybe he escaped, leaving behind a cunning machine made of cot slats to fool the guard. But the mere fact that I can be fooled is no grounds for me to conclude that Lex Luthor’s brain is the same as a machine that he makes. If conclude Lex is still in his cell when he is fled, my conclusion is what we call a mistake. I am wrong. My inability not to be fooled into mistaking people from machinery does not mean people are machinery. My inability to peer into the other cells in the cell block does not mean all other cells have always been and must always be empty, occupied by machinery, not inmates.

I submit the logical conclusion is this. If I see an empty tray being return through the cell door slot after mess time (1) the next cell either has an inmate eating the tray of food or a cunning machine made of cot slats dumping the tray on the floor (2) if there is a cunning machine made of cot slats, it was made by an inmate who has since escaped.

Likewise, if I see an image in a mirror, or a chessmove written on a card deck of instructions, or hear a clock chime the time, or see a computer react to a command by looking up a chessmove and presenting it to me on an electronic screen, all these things are intelligent actions but not intelligent actors. They are not actions at all, but reflections, reactions. They react intelligently due to the intelligence of the wife, the chessmaster, or the watchmaker, and this intelligence is the unseen ultimate cause of the intelligent actions I see.