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There’s a bit in Virtue’s Last Reward where you’re just about to escape from a puzzle room when you’re interrupted by a friendly Cockney robot, who talks to you about The Chinese Room, and then explodes and is never mentioned again.
This is one of the most fascinating scenes in a game already full of interesting ideas and in this Two Minute Game Crit, starring me, Stephen Beirne, I’d like to discuss why.
So what is The Chinese Room? The Chinese Room is a thought experiment presented by John Searle to refute the idea that computers can have a mind the same way people do.
Imagine there’s a woman locked in a room. Every now and again somebody slips a note in Chinese through a slot in the door. Your wan can’t read Chinese but conveniently she has a book of Chinese phrases, so she writes down what looks like a response and slips it back through the door. As far as the person on the outside is aware here’s a system which understands Chinese, even though neither the room as a metaphorical robot nor the woman inside it have any clue what’s going on.
The point Searle makes is there’s a difference between actually having a mind which understands something and merely simulating having one.
But Cockney Robot Friend draws a different conclusion. He says a computer being programmed is the same as a person being socialized. A mind, like knowledge of Chinese, isn’t a hard fast thing that people “actually” have or don’t have. Rather it’s a matter of perception.
This lines up with Virtue’s Last Reward’s thing where reality is literally defined by the ideas of people and where people are vessels filled by ideas from their surroundings and communities. If a group of people is traitorous, the world seems harsh and hopeless.
Whereas for Searle consciousness is intrinsic, in Virtue’s Last Reward consciousness is extrinstic and transitive, shared between people. We can only say someone understands Chinese because there are others who agree she understands Chinese. Individually people are unknowable but together they form a pattern of semantics.
If this seems weird consider it another way:
If you take a puzzle or a mystery novel and isolate just one single clue, you’ll never figure out its relevance. But by putting it together with all the other clues and examining the whole you get the truth.
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