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# The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine

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The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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Updated on: 08 Oct 2018, 06:16
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The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine manipulating blips of energy according to fathomable rules—has come to dominate neuroscience. However, one enemy of the brain-as-computer metaphor is John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content. Computers are syntactic, rather than semantic, creatures. People, on the other hand, understand meaning because they have something Searle obscurely calls the causal powers of the brain.

Yet how would a brain work if not by reducing what it learns about the world to information—some kind of code that can be transmitted from neuron to neuron? What else could meaning and content be? If the code can be cracked, a computer should be able to simulate it, at least in principle. But even if a computer could simulate the workings of the mind, Searle would claim that the machine would not really be thinking; it would just be acting as if it were. His argument proceeds thus: if a computer were used to simulate a stomach, with the stomach's churnings faithfully reproduced on a video screen, the machine would not be digesting real food. It would just be blindly manipulating the symbols that generate the visual display.

Suppose, though, that a stomach were simulated using plastic tubes, a motor to do the churning, a supply of digestive juices, and a timing mechanism. If food went in one end of the device, what came out the other end would surely be digested food. Brains, unlike stomachs, are information processors, and if one information processor were made to simulate another information processor, it is hard to see how one and not the other could be said to think. Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are made of the same element: information. The representations of the world that humans carry around in their heads are already simulations. To accept Searle's argument, one would have to deny the most fundamental notion in psychology and neuroscience: that brains work by processing information.
1) The main purpose of the passage is to

(A) propose an experiment
(B) analyze a function
(C) refute an argument
(E) simulate a process

Spoiler: :: OA
C

2) Which of the following is most consistent with Searle's reasoning as presented in the passage?

(A) Meaning and content cannot be reduced to algorithms.
(B) The process of digestion can be simulated mechanically, but not on a computer.
(C) Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are essentially similar because they are composed primarily of information.
(D) A computer can use "causal powers" similar to those of the human brain when processing information.
(E) Computer simulations of the world can achieve the complexity of the brain's representations of the world.

Spoiler: :: OA
A

3) The author of the passage would be most likely to agree with which of the following statements about the simulation of organ functions?

(A) An artificial device that achieves the functions of the stomach could be considered a valid model of the stomach.
(B) Computer simulations of the brain are best used to crack the brain's codes of meaning and content
(C) Computer simulations of the brain challenge ideas that are fundamental to psychology and neuroscience.
(D) Because the brain and the stomach both act as processors, they can best be simulated by mechanical devices.
(E) The computer's limitations in simulating digestion suggest equal limitations in computer-simulated thinking.

Spoiler: :: OA
A

4) It can be inferred that the author of the passage believes that Searle's argument is flawed by its failure to

(A) distinguish between syntactic and semantic operations
(B) explain adequately how people, unlike computers, are able to understand meaning
(C) provide concrete examples illustrating its claims about thinking
(D) understand how computers use algorithms to process information
(E) decipher the code that is transmitted from neuron to neuron in the brain

Spoiler: :: OA
B

5) From the passage, it can be inferred that the author would agree with Searle on which of the following points?

(A) Computers operate by following algorithms.
(B) The human brain can never fully understand its own functions.
(C) The comparison of the brain to a machine is overly simplistic.
(D) The most accurate models of physical processes are computer simulations.
(E) Human thought and computer-simulated thought involve similar processes of representation.

Spoiler: :: OA
A

6) Which of the following most accurately represents Searle's criticism of the brain-as-computer metaphor, as that criticism is described in the passage?

(A) The metaphor is not experimentally verifiable.
(B) The metaphor does not take into account the unique powers of the brain.
(C) The metaphor suggests that a brain's functions can be simulated as easily as those of a stomach.
(D) The metaphor suggests that a computer can simulate the workings of the mind by using the codes of neural transmission.
(E) The metaphor is unhelpful because both the brain and the computer process information.

Spoiler: :: OA
B

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Originally posted by Vercules on 28 Mar 2013, 04:04.
Last edited by hazelnut on 08 Oct 2018, 06:16, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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11 Jun 2017, 16:54
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rajatbanik wrote:
Hi I found this RC a bit difficult and I couldn't comprehend the second and the third paragraph. I would be grateful if anyone of you could explain the crux of this passage. I am lost among the details within the second and third paragraph. What did the author want to prove by using the stomach example?
Thank you.

This is indeed a tricky passage, so rather than trying to understanding every detail, make sure you first understand the purpose of each paragraph and then the purpose of the passage as a whole.

The main purpose of the first paragraph is to tell us that John R. Searle is an enemy (or critic) of the commonly accepted idea of the brain as an information processor.

In paragraph two, the author questions John R. Searle's position. The author then anticipates that Searle would respond to such questioning by citing the stomach example. So the purpose of the second paragraph is to explain why the author doubts Searle's position and then to describe an example that, hypothetically, Searle would use to defend himself when faced with the doubts posed by the author.

The purpose of the third paragraph is to explain why Searle's hypothetical stomach example is flawed. In other words, the author explains why Searle, when faced with the doubts posed by the author, would not be able to use the stomach example to adequately defend himself.

The final portion of the third paragraph summarizes the author's view, which is that "simulated thoughts and real thoughts are made of the same element: information" and that Searle's argument can only be accepted if one "denies the most fundamental notion in psychology and neuroscience: that brains work by processing information."

So the main purpose of the passage is to explain Searle's position and then to deny (or refute) that position.

I hope this helps!
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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21 Jul 2017, 03:20
5
1) The main purpose of the passage is to
Paragraph 2 refers to the author's point that he is clearly opposing Searle's point
A) propose an experiment
<detail - incorrect>
B) analyze a function
<detail - it doesn't cover the entire paragraph - incorrect >
C) refute an argument
<the 2nd paragraph clearly refutes Searle's point - correct>
< passage does more than explaining the contradiction - understatement - incorrect >
E) simulate a process
<detail - incorrect >

2) Which of the following is most consistent with Searle's reasoning as presented in the passage?
Searle's reasoning is presented throughout the passage, so we need to verify details of each of the answer options.
A) Meaning and content cannot be reduced to algorithms.
<line "Searle would claim that the machine would not really be thinking" proves this answer choice - correct >
B) The process of digestion can be simulated mechanically, but not on a computer.
<out of scope, as second half of the answer choice has not been mentioned - incorrect >
C) Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are essentially similar because they are composed primarily of information.
<reverse of what Searle claims - incorrect >
D) A computer can use "causal powers" similar to those of the human brain when processing information.
<reverse of choice A - incorrect >
E) Computer simulations of the world can achieve the complexity of the brain's representations of the world.
<reverse of choice A - incorrect >

3) The author of the passage would be most likely to agree with which of the following statements about the simulation of organ functions?
Inference question type - we need to refer the para-2 and 3; we need to focus on the author's point not the S's point.
A) An artificial device that achieves the functions of the stomach could be considered a valid model of the stomach.
<line - "His argument proceeds thus: if a computer were used to simulate a stomach, with the stomach's churnings faithfully reproduced on a video screen, the machine would not be digesting real food." mentions the opposite view point of the author - hence inference is what this choice says - correct >
B) Computer simulations of the brain are best used to crack the brain's codes of meaning and content
<"best" is red flag; also there is no such correlation mentioned - incorrect >
C) Computer simulations of the brain challenge ideas that are fundamental to psychology and neuroscience.
<reverse of what the author says - incorrect>
D) Because the brain and the stomach both act as processors, they can best be simulated by mechanical devices.
<"best" is red flag; also there is no such correlation mentioned - incorrect >
E) The computer's limitations in simulating digestion suggest equal limitations in computer-simulated thinking.
<opposite of what the passage says - incorrect >

4) It can be inferred that the author of the passage believes that Searle's argument is flawed by its failure to
This inference question redirects us to go back to the area where author negates the Searle's point - "But even if a computer could simulate the workings of the mind, Searle would claim that the machine would not really be thinking;.................it is hard to see how one and not the other could be said to think."
A) distinguish between syntactic and semantic operations
<no such flaw is referred; wrong connection between the points - incorrect>
B) explain adequately how people, unlike computers, are able to understand meaning
<"able to understand meaning -> is same as -> thinking" ; rewording of the idea mentioned into the passage - correct >
C) provide concrete examples illustrating its claims about thinking
<might be a true reason of the failure of the argument but it is not highlighted or referred as a flaw by the author in the passage - incorrect >
D) understand how computers use algorithms to process information
<same reasons as for option C - incorrect >
E) decipher the code that is transmitted from neuron to neuron in the brain
<out of context - incorrect >

5) From the passage, it can be inferred that the author would agree with Searle on which of the following points?
A) Computers operate by following algorithms.
B) The human brain can never fully understand its own functions.
C) The comparison of the brain to a machine is overly simplistic.
D) The most accurate models of physical processes are computer simulations.
E) Human thought and computer-simulated thought involve similar processes of representation.

The correct answer option for this question is A - as provided by various forums.
I was not able to find the clear reason to reject the answer choice E - in this passage, so need your help - how to reject E and select A?
In the passage, I can see the line "John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers Simply follow algorithms," but where does the author agrees with this point?

6) Which of the following most accurately represents Searle's criticism of the brain-as-computer metaphor, as that criticism is described in the passage?
Question type seems - "why does Searle think that brain is not a computer?" Answer seems directly quoted in the line "However, one enemy of the brain-as-computer metaphor is John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content."
A) The metaphor is not experimentally verifiable.
<out of scope - incorrect >
B) The metaphor does not take into account the unique powers of the brain.
<paraphrase of the line mentioned above - correct >
C) The metaphor suggests that a brain's functions can be simulated as easily as those of a stomach.
<two far distant points are being correlated un-necessarily - incorrect >
D) The metaphor suggests that a computer can simulate the workings of the mind by using the codes of neural transmission.
<too much misaligned ; far-fetched inference - incorrect >
E) The metaphor is unhelpful because both the brain and the computer process information.
<not even related to what question asks - incorrect >

What do you say about the reasons that I have mentioned to reject answer options? And do you see a pattern of wrong answer options anywhere - please let me know.

Regards,
Akash
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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21 May 2013, 06:33
Vercules,
For the 1st question i chose the option as D. Here Two contradictory statements are being discusssed and that is the reason why i chose that option.Can you please explain the correct answer
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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23 May 2013, 05:28
skamal7 wrote:
Vercules,
For the 1st question i chose the option as D. Here Two contradictory statements are being discusssed and that is the reason why i chose that option.Can you please explain the correct answer

Hi,

The first paragraph introduces an argument by Searl and the second & Third paragraph refutes this argument.

If you go through last line of third paragraph, you can confirm this.

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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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24 May 2013, 09:03
vercules ur GMAT score is pretty impressive bro. i wanted to know whether the GMAT test prep score can be considered close to the actual GMAT score?
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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24 May 2013, 09:17
mohnish104 wrote:
vercules ur GMAT score is pretty impressive bro. i wanted to know whether the GMAT test prep score can be considered close to the actual GMAT score?

Thanks mohnish,

Yes, the GMAT Prep tests are the most accurate indicators of you preparedness for GMAT. The score on GMAT prep can be considered close to the actual GMAT. However, you should consider +- 20 points error to the score. Say you score 700 on the GMAT prep test, then with the same conditions you will score 680 - 720 on the actual GMAT. I will also say that it is the best way to determine your weaknesses on the GMAT. You should take 3-4 attempts on each GMAT Prep test to see all the questions, mostly the harder ones.

Hope this helps,
Vercules
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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27 May 2013, 04:38
1
Vercules wrote:
The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine manipulating blips of energy according to fathomable rules—has come to dominate neuroscience. However, one enemy of the brain-as-computer metaphor is John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content. Computers are syntactic, rather than semantic, creatures. People, on the other hand, understand meaning because they have something Searle obscurely calls the causal powers of the brain.

Yet how would a brain work if not by reducing what it learns about the world to information—some kind of code that can be transmitted from neuron to neuron? What else could meaning and content be? If the code can be cracked, a computer should be able to simulate it, at least in principle. But even if a computer could simulate the workings of the mind, Searle would claim that the machine would not really be thinking; it would just be acting as if it were. His argument proceeds thus: if a computer were used to simulate a stomach, with the stomach's churnings faithfully reproduced on a video screen, the machine would not be digesting real food. It would just be blindly manipulating the symbols that generate the visual display.

Suppose, though, that a stomach were simulated using plastic tubes, a motor to do the churning, a supply of digestive juices, and a timing mechanism. If food went in one end of the device, what came out the other end would surely be digested food. Brains, unlike stomachs, are information processors, and if one information processor were made to simulate another information processor, it is hard to see how one and not the other could be said to think. Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are made of the same element: information. The representations of the world that humans carry around in their heads are already simulations. To accept Searle's argument, one would have to deny the most fundamental notion in psychology and neuroscience: that brains work by processing information.

6) Which of the following most accurately represents Searle's criticism of the brain-as-computer metaphor, as that criticism is described in the passage?
A) The metaphor is not experimentally verifiable.
B) The metaphor does not take into account the unique powers of the brain.
C) The metaphor suggests that a brain's functions can be simulated as easily as those of a stomach.
D) The metaphor suggests that a computer can simulate the workings of the mind by using the codes of neural transmission.
E) The metaphor is unhelpful because both the brain and the computer process information.

Spoiler: :: OA
B

Can someone help explain this one? I was stuck between A and E
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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27 May 2013, 09:28
1
Hi,

The crucial sentence is this

since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content

Which suggests that the brain has something that the computer doesn't - that suggests that B.

The other 2, whilst they might be plausible, are not referenced in the passage, which is required for this question.

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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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08 Jul 2014, 23:53
skamal7 wrote:
Vercules,
For the 1st question i chose the option as D. Here Two contradictory statements are being discusssed and that is the reason why i chose that option.Can you please explain the correct answer

I have the same question as he has. Can anyone please explain why in the first question, D is not the correct choice. For me, OA explanation is not persuasive. Thank you so much!
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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11 Oct 2014, 00:12
13min got 4th Q wrong.
I selected E.
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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06 May 2015, 01:47
1
LucyDang wrote:
I have the same question as he has. Can anyone please explain why in the first question, D is not the correct choice. For me, OA explanation is not persuasive. Thank you so much!

D says: "explain a contradiction". I feel "contradiction" in the context of GMAT is something different and I am just trying to draw information from "which of the following explains the contradiction" questions in critical reason. So, I feel that in GMAT terms, "contradiction" would be something like:

When there are lot of natural resources available in a country, that country is rich. However, in Sanzania, despite the presence of phenomenal natural resources, most of the people are below the poverty line.

I think the above is a contradiction.

In this passage, there is nothing of the sort. The second line of the passage itself has a statement from John R. Searle, who argues against brain functioning as an information processor.

Thereafter, the "entire" passage is giving reasons to refute this argument. Hence, I think C is the right answer.
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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06 May 2015, 01:54
PiyushK wrote:
13min got 4th Q wrong.
I selected E.

Basically the thrust of the argument is on proving Searle incorrect:)

Searle says that computers simply follow algorithms, and cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content.

But the argument argues that at some level, brains of people must be doing the same thing (as the computer): reducing what it (brain) learns about the world to information.

According to the argument, it is just a matter of that code being "cracked".
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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29 Jun 2015, 23:20
6:52 mins
and i just had problem with question 1
why D is not coorect?
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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16 Aug 2015, 08:05
Time taken 11 mins.
2) Which of the following is most consistent with Searle's reasoning as presented in the passage?
A) Meaning and content cannot be reduced to algorithms.
>>However, one enemy of the brain-as-computer metaphor is John R. Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content.
B) The process of digestion can be simulated mechanically, but not on a computer.
C) Simulated thoughts and real thoughts are essentially similar because they are composed primarily of information.
D) A computer can use "causal powers" similar to those of the human brain when processing information.
E) Computer simulations of the world can achieve the complexity of the brain's representations of the world.

4) It can be inferred that the author of the passage believes that Searle's argument is flawed by its failure to
A) distinguish between syntactic and semantic operations
B) explain adequately how people, unlike computers, are able to understand meaning
>>Searle, a philosopher who argues that since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content.
..............
Yet how would a brain work if not by reducing what it learns about the world to information—some kind of code that can be transmitted from neuron to neuron? What else could meaning and content be?
C) provide concrete examples illustrating its claims about thinking
D) understand how computers use algorithms to process information
E) decipher the code that is transmitted from neuron to neuron in the brain
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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21 Oct 2016, 03:18
Fifth question is something I am still not very clear . How Answer Option A is correct ?
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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22 Oct 2016, 09:56
gmat4varun wrote:
Fifth question is something I am still not very clear . How Answer Option A is correct ?

A is correct because of following lines :

"since computers Simply follow algorithms, they cannot deal with important aspects of human thought such as meaning and content. "

Here Searl has used the reasoning behind his claim. This reasoning is something that the author also believes, then only Searl was able to make his claim.
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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08 Jun 2017, 04:37
Hi I found this RC a bit difficult and I couldn't comprehend the second and the third paragraph. I would be grateful if anyone of you could explain the crux of this passage. I am lost among the details within the second and third paragraph. What did the author want to prove by using the stomach example?
Thank you.
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28 Jun 2017, 23:19

I apologize for a late reply. I hope you conduct a webinar on how to Read an RC .
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine  [#permalink]

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21 Jul 2017, 03:35

Regards,
Akash
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Re: The idea of the brain as an information processor—a machine   [#permalink] 21 Jul 2017, 03:35

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