China brain

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Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

Philosophy
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Major trains of thought
The good, the bad
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

The China brain (also known as the Chinese Nation or Chinese Gym) is a thought experiment which asks what would happen if each person living in China were asked to simulate the action of one neuron in the brain, using telephones or walkie-talkies to simulate the axons and dendrites that connect neurons. The experiment posits that this entity would therefore possess some form of consciousness as an emergent phenomenon, as consciousness should, without invoking dualism, be independent of the medium which it is made of and only on the patterns by which the medium can create. The "China brain" could then, in principle, be asked questions; have a personality; and, perhaps, could die if the experiment was ended.

It is often invoked to cause some discomfort when talking about artificial intelligence or consciousness. If people are able to accept that neurons can combine to form a conscious entity (which they must, because we "know" that we are conscious by definition) then why not something else? This can apply equally to a computer, such as in singularity research where computers simulate human brains within them, or to more odd objects such as people.

See also[edit]

  • Chinese room: A related thought experiment reaching an antagonistic conclusion. Philosophers have a thing about China, it seems.