The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

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The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Neri on January 24th, 2018, 10:00 am 

Epiphenomenalists hold that only matter has the power of causation. So that consciousness is given absolutely no efficacy of any kind. To put it plainly, they claim that the will cannot make anything happen--not even bodily movements.

They view consciousness as a kind of useless evolutionary anomaly that, like the froth on waves, is completely impotent and only along for the ride. They argue that although matter has indirectly caused consciousness as a collateral (epiphenomenal) product of evolution, consciousness itself can cause nothing.

For example, according to this view, if a professional assassin fully intends to kill another so that he can collect his fee and, in furtherance of that intent, shoots the other person in the head, the assassin’s conscious determination to act did not cause the death. Autonomic actions of the body were the actual cause, and the assassin was only a hapless witness to the event.

If such nonsense were allowed in the law, an assassin would be in the happy position of being both free of guilt and entitled to his fee.

Similarly, the consciousness of the nuclear physicists who worked in the Manhattan Project had no power to cause the writing of the equations that predicted the explosion of the atom bomb. Rather their hands, without conscious input and in total ignorance, wrote the equations.

Further, the minds of the technicians who assembled the bomb did not in any way cause it to be put together correctly, for their consciousness could not have directed their bodies to do anything.

Finally, when the bomb was assembled and the man who had the detonator button before him was directed to push it, his mind could not have caused his finger to do it. Rather, his central nervous system, unintelligently and of its own accord, caused his hand to push the button that resulted in the explosion of the first atomic bomb.

It necessarily follows that no human mind was responsible for dropping the bomb on Japan, for the whole business, from beginning to end, happened without any conscious intent as a cause.

As it is said in some quarters, “If you believe this, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.”

John Searle, in his own inimitable style, refuted epiphenomenalism thus:

“I want to lift my arm and the damn thing goes up.”

Indeed, one wonders how a person of any intellect could possibly entertain the preposterous notion that the mind cannot cause the body to move. Historically, the problem raised its head in the 17th Century with Rene’ Descartes.

As everyone knows, Descartes put forward the notion of substance dualism—the idea that there were two fundamentally different substances that exist in the world. He called these “extended things” and “thinking things.” Today we would call “thinking” consciousness and “extended” physical.

Because these two orders of reality were so fundamentally different, it was difficult to understand how they could possibly be related causally. In other words, if consciousness were outside of space and consequently not subject to scientific inquiry, how could it possibly influence, or be influenced by a physical world that is in space and subject to scientific inquiry? Surely, the twain could never meet.

Yet, the twain does meet in the human body. This undeniable fact gave rise to the various iterations of the so-called mind/body problem.

By way of direct experience, we have every reason to believe that the physical world can cause a mental state, and a mental state can cause bodily movements (which are events in the physical world).

Thus, if a rock falls on one’s toe (a physical event) this causes pain (a mental state). If one intends to raise his arm (a mental state) this causes the arm to rise (a physical event).

But these obvious facts cannot be accounted for by the Cartesian postulation of two essentially different orders of reality. This does not mean that all of our direct experience is wrong. Instead, it means that Cartesian dualism and its child, epiphenomenalism, are wrong.

If physical causes are responsible, however indirectly, for consciousness, those causes cannot be fundamentally different from the effect. That being the case, consciousness can cause physical effects for the same reason.

Consciousness is a perfectly natural higher-order neuronal process of the brain and is thus nothing more than a particular biological property of the human or animal brain.

This is a simple and sensible conclusion that does not require us to deny the blindingly obvious.

Still, one might object that if the will has efficacy, it must be free of the constraints of scientific causation and that would place it out of the natural realm.

However, such a conclusion only holds true if the world is causally closed—that is, if every conceivable action, no matter how insignificant, was predetermined from the beginning of time.

According to this view, it was a fully determined fact at the time of the Big Bang [assuming that there was such an event] that I would, here and now, write this rather extended post. This seems to me utterly preposterous.

The findings of modern science do not guarantee such a strict predeterminism. Accordingly, it cannot be considered a mandate of science. The world, like us, is not in a causal straightjacket. It has the power to innovate, even to create. Evolution and life itself are examples, for they run against the tide of entropy.

One may complain that there is no proof of the freedom of the will apart from our direct experience of it. But, I would ask, what better proof can we have?

Certainly, not all bodily actions are voluntary. However, the really significant fact is that we can tell the difference between voluntary and involuntary actions of the body for both may be conscious even though one is caused by consciousness and the other is not.

For example, if our hand touches a hot surface, the hand will instantly move away from the heat. When this happens, we are conscious of two things: (1) that the hand has moved away from the heat and (2) that we did not consciously direct it to do so. In other words, we experience a difference between consciously causing a hand to move and the hand moving on its own.

Surely, our bodily actions are not always voluntary nor are they always involuntary. Our bodies are quite capable of both sorts of actions.

The internal organs do not move voluntarily although we may become aware of those movements. Thus, we do not consciously cause our bodies to digest food, but we can become aware of digestion by certain sounds and feelings.

The single most significant aspect of volition is that it is goal directed. We are not conscious of every little movement of our bodies but only of the purpose we seek to satisfy by the whole collection of those movements, many of which we take for granted. We are dimly aware of these individual movements but pay no particular attention to them.

For example, the scientist who is writing equations is barely aware if the movement of his hands and fingers or of exactly how they form the mathematical symbols that pour from his pen. His fingers and hands have been trained “automatically” to do this work, so that he need not dwell on every little movement. He concentrates instead on the meaning of the symbols and how they are being employed, for his goal is to solve the equations. This is the object of his intellect and volition. Thus, like the rest of us, the scientist’s body evinces a combination of both voluntary and autonomic actions.

Yet when the scientist was a child and was being taught to write, he had to concentrate on every little movement of his hand and fingers so that he could legibly form the letters that make up words. However, once he had learned this well, his hands obeyed the commands of his will to write a particular sentence without the necessity for him to dwell consciously on every minor movement. The writing of particular sentences was a goal consciously satisfied.

Exactly the same thing happens when a child learns to walk, or when one learns to ride a bicycle, drive a car, fly an airplane, play tennis, dance or engage in innumerable other goal directed activities.

The will likes to ponder alternatives. Therefore, it is not quick to respond in exigent circumstances. In such cases, the body has the power to override the will by taking necessary action when there is no time for pondering. Much of this is learned but some is native to the operation of the central nervous system. It is a kind of nearly instantaneous stimulus and response. However, the will retains to power to interfere with the course of the reactive response, but only if there is sufficient time.

Notice that where P=physical world, L= life, N=central nervous system/brain, A=bodily actions, C=consciousness, W=will, and G=goal, the causal chains run as follows:

(1) For Autonomic Bodily Actions

P to L to N to A

(2) For Simple Willed Bodily Actions

P to L to C to W to A

(3) For Goal Directed Bodily Actions

P to L to N to C to G to W to A

Note that P, L, N and A are always objective; G can be either subjective or objective; W is subjective as to intention but objective as to action; and C is always subjective, in that it is always spatially limited to the expanse of the head.

It should be obvious that both the voluntary and involuntary actions of the body are calculated not only to preserve us from danger but also to insure the dominance of our species. This gives both sorts of action their evolutionary value.

Thus, we may properly conclude that although involuntary action is physically caused, voluntary action is consciously caused in the sense that consciousness is responsible for the will. Indeed, one may properly say that consciousness evolved to allow the free exercise of the will, for the latter has inestimable evolutionary value.

Thus, epiphenomenalism is, in a minor sense, partially true but in a larger sense, completely wrong.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 24th, 2018, 3:38 pm 

Neri, interesting topic, but there is no "folly" in epiphenomenalism. I'm limited on time, and will be out of touch for the next day or two, and will finish my commenting/questioning then.

Some initial/quick comments/questions:

Neri wrote:For example, according to this view, if a professional assassin fully intends to kill another so that he can collect his fee and, in furtherance of that intent, shoots the other person in the head, the assassin’s conscious determination to act did not cause the death. Autonomic actions of the body were the actual cause, and the assassin was only a hapless witness to the event.

If such nonsense were allowed in the law, an assassin would be in the happy position of being both free of guilt and entitled to his fee.

This just seems to be a (non-rational) "appeal-to-emotion" here.

In essence, you are appealing to the awfulness of being a "hapless witness" (and the "nonsense" of such!). How awful and silly that would be to be an epiphenomenalist! Therefore one should not believe in such "nonsense".

There is no rational substance to this argument.


Neri wrote:Similarly, the consciousness of the nuclear physicists who worked in the Manhattan Project had no power to cause the writing of the equations that predicted the explosion of the atom bomb. Rather their hands, without conscious input and in total ignorance, wrote the equations.

Further, the minds of the technicians who assembled the bomb did not in any way cause it to be put together correctly, for their consciousness could not have directed their bodies to do anything.

Finally, when the bomb was assembled and the man who had the detonator button before him was directed to push it, his mind could not have caused his finger to do it. Rather, his central nervous system, unintelligently and of its own accord, caused his hand to push the button that resulted in the explosion of the first atomic bomb.

It necessarily follows that no human mind was responsible for dropping the bomb on Japan, for the whole business, from beginning to end, happened without any conscious intent as a cause.

As it is said in some quarters, “If you believe this, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.”

Again, this is just more of the "appeal-to-emotion" stuff, that lacks any rational substance.


Neri wrote:John Searle, in his own inimitable style, refuted epiphenomenalism thus:

“I want to lift my arm and the damn thing goes up.”

So how does this refute epiphenomenalism???

At what point does Searle actually use his mind/thoughts to mentally (consciously) cause and power his arm to lift?

And what exactly did he 'consciously cause'? ...did he consciously cause the "want", ...or did he consciously cause the "lifting" itself, ...or both?

Searle, like many of us, have been tricked/conned into believing (via a lifetime of cultural brainwashings) that he can 'consciously cause' things to happen, including the lifting of his own bodily arm.

When in reality, Searle only just experienced the 'urge/want' to lift his arm, and then subsequently experienced the 'movement' of his arm. And because of these experiences, he falsely assumed "Gee that MUST have been 'me', the 'conscious me', that lifted my arm, therefore, Hark, I have the power of conscious causation!" ...Searle makes this claim (false assumption) even though he never actually experienced the 'causation' itself (as that is logically impossible in itself).

Searle, like all of us, are too busy consciously 'experiencing' stuff (moment-by-moment-by-moment-by-moment…) to ever be able to consciously 'cause' anything. There is never a break in the constant bombardment of 'effects' (experiences) to do anything other than experience effects. In fact, as experiential beings, all we can ever do is just 'experience' stuff (...and never ever 'cause' stuff)!

****

One last parting shot -- there are at least 3-4 logical proofs against mental causation (though only 1 is needed to disprove). One of the most straightforward and simplest is the CTD argument. If CTD exists, then mental causation does not.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby wolfhnd on January 25th, 2018, 4:39 am 

Folly sounds like fighting words :-)

When I don't have a headache I will try to decipher this thread.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 25th, 2018, 9:15 am 

Neri wrote:Indeed, one wonders how a person of any intellect could possibly entertain the preposterous notion that the mind cannot cause the body to move.

This seems to have a condescending tone to it. -- Neri, I suspect you are letting your emotions, instead of logic, dictate your truths.

If one with "intellect" uses a bit of 'logic', (instead of emotionally defending one's own pre-set biases), then one can 'easily' accept the "preposterous notion" that the mind does NOT move the body about.

Contrary to popular indoctrination (belief), it is simply not logically possible to consciously move our bodies about, ...no matter how hard we experience the stomping of our foot to the ground! :-)

Unfortunately, we don't/can't consciously move our bodies about -- we are only be conscious of our bodies moving about.

Emotional biases often get in the way of seeing logical truths.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby mitchellmckain on January 25th, 2018, 10:24 pm 

Seems to me that a lot of these philosophical battles are a product of oversimplification. Perhaps I can illustrate some of the complexity with the following presentation of my own position.

1. mind-body substance monist The mind and body are made of the same stuff -- the mind being just as much a physical thing as the body.
2. mind-body causality approximate monist The actions mind and body are for the most part a product of the laws of nature which govern all things physical. The term "approximate" is used because there are emergent behaviors which do not come from the either the composing substance or the bare laws of nature, but are a product of self-organization which is common phenomenon of the physical universe.
3. mind-body organism dualist The mind and body, however interdependent they may be, are two different living organisms with their own desires and means of passing an inheritance to the next generation.
4. physical-spiritual substance monist The physical and spiritual are composed of the same basic stuff.
5. physical-spiritual form dualist The physical and spiritual are different forms of the same stuff, governed by very different principles or laws of action.
6. physical-spiritual causality approximate epiphenomenalist The cause and effect relationship is almost entirely from the physical to the spiritual. The objective evidence cannot support any obvious causality going in the other direction. It is not entirely disallowed because the physical laws of nature are not causally closed. However, measurable, demonstrable, repeatable patterns of causality in the other direction must be excluded. This does not exclude the spiritual from being the ultimate first cause of many things physical, for such things need not be demonstrable or repeatable -- though it does exclude them from the possibility of objective evidence.

One consequence of the reasons for the above position is that many see no reason to believe that the spiritual even exists -- in which case the last three of these are likely to be ignored as meaningless. But without them an understanding of my position would be incomplete. For although I can be described as a physicalist with regards to the mind-body problem alone, this would be misleading without qualification of some kind. The spiritual is also important for understanding a lot of the conflicts, for the spiritual is often equated with the mind in the thinking of many philosophers, and thus is one of the oversimplifications I was talking about.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby mitchellmckain on January 25th, 2018, 11:59 pm 

With the above out of the way, I will respond more directly to the OP.

Neri » January 24th, 2018, 9:00 am wrote:Epiphenomenalists hold that only matter has the power of causation. So that consciousness is given absolutely no efficacy of any kind. To put it plainly, they claim that the will cannot make anything happen--not even bodily movements.

They view consciousness as a kind of useless evolutionary anomaly that, like the froth on waves, is completely impotent and only along for the ride. They argue that although matter has indirectly caused consciousness as a collateral (epiphenomenal) product of evolution, consciousness itself can cause nothing.

In Neri's analysis we are dealing with very different categories: matter versus consciousness. I would suppose that the point is to contrast natural law with the human motivations, which I suppose can be considered to roughly correlate with body and mind as it is ultimately understood by many addressing the mind-body problem. It certainly seems to agree with the how Wikipedia and the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy describe "epiphenomenalism."

On the face of it this position seems absurd and I suppose it is the CTD (conscious time delay) which has lately lead to a resurgence of this idea. Historically it probably derives from the status of science before the twentieth century (i.e. before quantum physics and chaotic dynamics), when the discoveries of physics seemed very much in support of a deterministic reductionist materialism. It was a time when Descarte's demon was triumphant, so to speak, for there was little room in the scientific world view for any compatibility with spiritual beliefs other than the Deistic idea of a god which merely set things in motion.

So how does Neri combat this absurdity?

First there appears to be an appeal to responsibility in the examples of assassin, nuclear physicist, and others employing nuclear weapons. Second there is an appeal to the basic human experience. This is followed by an indictment of Descartes' dualism and the traditional mind-body problem. I cannot disagree with his conclusion that if we must choose between Descartes dualism and our basic human experience then we must reject the former as incorrect. Epiphenomenalism Neri declares is ultimately derived from the same faulty division of mind and body into different orders of reality.

If physical causes are responsible, however indirectly, for consciousness, those causes cannot be fundamentally different from the effect. That being the case, consciousness can cause physical effects for the same reason.

This is the basic logic of the physicalist solution to the mind-body problem.

But that doesn't mean we have to accept this conclusion which goes quite a bit beyond that solution.
Consciousness is a perfectly natural higher-order neuronal process of the brain and is thus nothing more than a particular biological property of the human or animal brain.

Others like myself, don't see such good reasons to distinguish human conscious from that of the simplest organisms except as a quantitative matter of degree. Nor is it necessary to reduce the human mind to a function of the brain for there are considerable reasons for making distinctions, though we can grant that many of the things often attributed to the mind are indeed functions of the brain.

Neri » January 24th, 2018, 9:00 am wrote:Still, one might object that if the will has efficacy, it must be free of the constraints of scientific causation and that would place it out of the natural realm.

However, such a conclusion only holds true if the world is causally closed—that is, if every conceivable action, no matter how insignificant, was predetermined from the beginning of time.

According to this view, it was a fully determined fact at the time of the Big Bang [assuming that there was such an event] that I would, here and now, write this rather extended post. This seems to me utterly preposterous.

The findings of modern science do not guarantee such a strict predeterminism. Accordingly, it cannot be considered a mandate of science. The world, like us, is not in a causal straightjacket. It has the power to innovate, even to create. Evolution and life itself are examples, for they run against the tide of entropy.

One may complain that there is no proof of the freedom of the will apart from our direct experience of it. But, I would ask, what better proof can we have?

Indeed! I quite agree.

Neri's final argument is science which clearly distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary actions.

Neri » January 24th, 2018, 9:00 am wrote:Thus, we may properly conclude that although involuntary action is physically caused, voluntary action is consciously caused in the sense that consciousness is responsible for the will. Indeed, one may properly say that consciousness evolved to allow the free exercise of the will, for the latter has inestimable evolutionary value.

Thus, epiphenomenalism is, in a minor sense, partially true but in a larger sense, completely wrong.

I don't know if this helps or not in dealing with the CTD issue. My own argument was to draw analogies with the how the computer screen follows after physical events in the processor but does not therefore mean that it has no impact on events because there is a human operator who reads what is on the screen and uses input devices as a result. Likewise, it is foolish ignore the fact that what is presented to our conscious mind can likewise motivate responses which follow from such awareness.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 26th, 2018, 4:11 pm 

mitchellmckain wrote:My own argument was to draw analogies with the how the computer screen follows after physical events in the processor but does not therefore mean that it has no impact on events because there is a human operator who reads what is on the screen and uses input devices as a result. Likewise, it is foolish ignore the fact that what is presented to our conscious mind can likewise motivate responses which follow from such awareness.

Hi Mitch, to use this analogy, you need to be consistent with the terms. If "display screen" represents "consciousness", then you need to hold this throughout, and not switch to something else (i.e. "a human operator who reads what is on the screen and uses input devices") other than the "display screen" itself.

Using your computer analogy --

Computer: The content on the display screen follows (is after), and is determined by, the events (processing) within the physical computer.

Human: The content of one's consciousness follows (is after), and is determined by, the events (experiences/bodily reactions) within the physical body.

Computer: The display screen has no ability to change what is on its display screen.

Human: Consciousness has no ability to change what it is conscious of.

The End.

**********
Note: CTD is the "final nail in the coffin" of mental-causation/conscious-causation/free-will/conscious-control, ...let's all bow our heads, and let these myths finally rest in peace.

...can I get an Amen?
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Neri on January 26th, 2018, 5:09 pm 

Mitch,

Thank you for your comments. I think, in general, that you have an excellent grasp of the issues.

However, I should like to disabuse certain individuals of the notion that any delay from an event to its perception has anything to do with epiphenomenalism. It was certainly better thought out than that and actually arose as a consequence of Cartesian dualism (in the way I previously explained).

It is true that some epiphenomenalists have claimed that the Libet Experiment is evidence of the soundness of their position. However, that experiment had nothing to do with perceptual delays. [See the thread on this subject in 2013]

Libet showed that a “readiness reaction” (hereafter “RR”) that occurs independently of a conscious decision to act can sometimes determine a particular action. Of course, when this happens, the action is autonomic and not voluntary.

From this, certain epiphenomenalists have jumped to the conclusion that the RR invariably determines all bodily action and that consequently all voluntary action is illusory.

However, Libet himself disagrees with this contention. In fact, he demonstrated that the will has the power to override (“veto,” as he put it) the inclinations of the RR. In other words, whenever the will is asserted, the RR obediently defers.

The RR can be understood as a kind of preparation for accelerated action in exigent circumstances. It is like a coiled spring ready to snap unless overridden by the will. As such, it is just another example of the human body’s ability to act both voluntarily and involuntarily. The evolutionary value of the RR lies in the fact that it can cause reflexive action when there is insufficient time for the application of the will.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 26th, 2018, 6:52 pm 

If, as Libet claims, one does not have the power to 'decide', then one also does not have the power to 'decide' to "veto".
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby mitchellmckain on January 26th, 2018, 9:44 pm 

RJG » January 26th, 2018, 3:11 pm wrote:Using your computer analogy --

Computer: The content on the display screen follows (is after), and is determined by, the events (processing) within the physical computer.

Human: The content of one's consciousness follows (is after), and is determined by, the events (experiences/bodily reactions) within the physical body.

Computer: The display screen has no ability to change what is on its display screen.

Human: Consciousness has no ability to change what it is conscious of.

The End.

**********
Note: CTD is the "final nail in the coffin" of mental-causation/conscious-causation/free-will/conscious-control, ...let's all bow our heads, and let these myths finally rest in peace.

...can I get an Amen?

How can you get an amen for such an obviously flawed presentation, which my explanation already addressed but which you continue to ignore in a way that can only be described as willful blindness.

Computer: You leave out the human operator which does exist. The fact is that the display screen makes a huge difference because what happens with the computer depends a great deal on the operation of the display screen. No display and the person sees nothing and cannot input anything much, thus what the computer does depends heavily upon the display screen via the human operator.

Human: Like the above example, human consciousness is more than a display screen. If consciousness consists of presenting information, then to what is it presenting that information? The information is presented to something which responds to the information with actions that alters himself and the world, and thus alters what the human awareness presents them afterwards. As both Neri and myself have repeatedly explained the very origin of consciousness in evolution requires this for the purpose of survival, so your argument makes no sense whatsoever.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Dave_C on January 26th, 2018, 11:45 pm 

I think Neri and I hold many of the same views. Jaegwon Kim (a reductionist) has spent his career arguing what he calls the “exclusion principal” among others. Basically, the mind is understood to supervene on the brain and emerge from the brain’s wealth of interactions. He draws a picture like this:
Image

The example here is that pain supervenes on (and emerges from) some neural state. That pain results in “wincing” which supervenes on (and emerges from) some muscle contractions. We could of course, point out that the muscle contractions result from a secondary neural state which causes the muscle contractions. That might be a bit more clear to some. From a colloquial view, we might suggest the mental state of pain causes the wincing, or the neural state causes the muscle contractions. So the question Kim asks is, are the muscle reactions caused by the pain or the neural state? The computationalist might say both since they are one in the same, but now Kim points out that muscle contractions can’t be caused by both, that would be over-determination. They are either caused by one or the other, and that the true cause is the more fundamental one, the one at the level of neurons and muscle cells. If these physical interactions take place, then the higher level phenomena (pain and wincing) will take place regardless of these higher emergent levels since these higher levels will always be dictated by and depend on, the lower level causes.

Kim's intention is to highlight the problem and I think his explanations help shed some light on why epiphenomenalism is such a problem. The oldest reference to epiphenomenalism I’m aware of is by Shoemaker (1975) ‘Functionalism and Qualia’. In his book, “A Place for Consciousness”, Gregg Rosenberg quotes Shoemaker and goes on to address what Gregg calls, “The Paradoxes of Epiphenomenalism”
(Quoting Shoemaker) “To hold that it is logically possible (or worse, nomologically possible) that a state lacking qualitative character should be functionally identical to a state having qualitative character is to make qualitative character irrelevant both to what we can take ourselves to know in knowing about the mental states of others, and also to what we can take ourselves to know in knowing about our mental states.”

Shoemaker is worried that, … the relations between brain states and conscious states will be accidental in that the qualia involved in consciousness would make no contribution to determining our brain states. Because our brain states drive our behavior, including our knowledge claims, it seems that qualia would be irrelevant to what we could or could not claim to know.


Others have written about this same paradox including Chalmers (book, “The Conscious Mind”) and the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy which states:
The most powerful reason for rejecting epiphenomenalism is the view that it is incompatible with knowledge of our own minds — and thus, incompatible with knowing that epiphenomenalism is true.

The argument that is given to support the destructive claims is that (i) knowledge of one's mental events requires that these events cause one's knowledge, but (ii) epiphenomenalism denies physical effects of mental events. So, either we cannot know our own mental events, or our knowledge of them cannot be what is causing the plainly physical event of our saying something about our mental events. Thus, suppose S is an epiphenomenalist, and that S utters “I am in terrible pain.” S is committed to the view that the pain does not cause the utterance. But then, it seems, S would be making the same utterance whether or not a pain were occurring. If this is so, then S's testimonies about S's own pains are worthless — both to us and to S. They cannot be taken to represent any knowledge about pains on S's part (if S's epiphenomenalist view is true). In fact, on an epiphenomenalist view, all the arguments for epiphenomenalism and rebuttals to counterarguments we have reviewed might be given even if we were all zombies — i.e., even if we were all possessed of physical causes of our utterances and completely devoid of any mental life whatsoever.


https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epip ... sm/#SelStu

So if qualia (or higher order, emergent phenomenal states) are epiphenomenal, then we are not making any claims about those qualia when we say that we are. Further, given epiphenomenalism, we have no ability to say anything about our phenomenal states.

Regarding conscious time delay (CTD), one needs to show papers that argue that CTD results in epiphenomenalism and those papers need to address the issue of consciousness being a ‘programmer’ of the brain. If CTD simply contends that since our conscious experience is not immediate and therfore is not part of the causal chain, then we’re missing the potential for consciousness to influence future events when it ‘programs’ the brain to act in a certain way. If we simply claim that CTD shows that the causal chain in neurons is not dependent on phenomenal states because phenomenal states don’t occur till some small dt after those neurons change state, then the Mars Rover is not being controlled by anyone on Earth because there is a time delay between Mars and Earth - so what the Rover does is not dependent on anyone on Earth.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 26th, 2018, 11:49 pm 

mitchellmckain wrote:My own argument was to draw analogies with the how the computer screen follows after physical events in the processor but does not therefore mean that it has no impact on events because there is a human operator who reads what is on the screen and uses input devices as a result. Likewise, it is foolish ignore the fact that what is presented to our conscious mind can likewise motivate responses which follow from such awareness.

RJG wrote:Hi Mitch, to use this analogy, you need to be consistent with the terms. If "display screen" represents "consciousness", then you need to hold this throughout, and not switch to something else (i.e. "a human operator who reads what is on the screen and uses input devices") other than the "display screen" itself.

mitchellmckain wrote:Computer: You leave out the human operator which does exist.

Okay, so then please clarify, in your analogy, does the computer "display screen" represent human "consciousness" or are you trying to say that human "consciousness" is represented by "display screen" + "human operator"?


mitchellmckain wrote:Computer: You leave out the human operator which does exist. The fact is that the display screen makes a huge difference because what happens with the computer depends a great deal on the operation of the display screen. No display and the person sees nothing and cannot input anything much, thus what the computer does depends heavily upon the display screen via the human operator.

Your analogy to compare the "computer" to the "human" seems to be flawed, as here (above) you are including the "human" as PART of the "computer".


mitchellmckain wrote:As both Neri and myself have repeatedly explained the very origin of consciousness in evolution requires this for the purpose of survival, so your argument makes no sense whatsoever.

So why do you and Neri believe that 'consciousness' is necessary for survival???

Cyanobacteria have survived over 2.8 billion years. Jellyfish have survived over 550 million years. Is it "consciousness" that should be credited for their long survival?
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Neri on January 27th, 2018, 12:55 am 

RJG,

I am afraid you misunderstand.

Libet says that we have the power to decide under normal conditions where there is no RR; and when there is an RR, we have the power to decide to override it.



Dave,

Good post.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 27th, 2018, 1:52 am 

Dave_C wrote:Regarding conscious time delay (CTD), one needs to show papers that argue that CTD results in epiphenomenalism…

Hi Dave, "papers" are not needed, ...just 'simple logic'.

If CTD exists, then EVERYTHING that we are conscious of has already happened, and if so, then epiphenomenalism is true (...i.e. mental causation is false).

For example, imagine watching (being conscious of) an old video tape of yourself when you were a kid. Now, let me ask you, is there anything you can do 'now' to change that which you are currently conscious of watching? No, the past is the past, it is unchangeable. There is nothing that you can do 'now' to change the actions/events of when you were a kid, ...agreed?

In fact, I'm sure you would agree with me that it is logically impossible for our present consciousness (of our past actions) to have a causal effect on those 'past' actions, ... agreed?

Okay, so now imagine that you are only conscious of your actions/events that happened 150 milliseconds ago. Does the logic still hold?

Is it still logically impossible for our 'present' consciousness to have a causal effect on those 'past' actions? (Answer: Yes, it is still IMPOSSIBLE!)

If CTD exists, then EVERYTHING we are conscious of, are of 'past' events, which means mental causation is impossible!, ...this is just simple, straightforward logic (no "papers" required!)


Dave_C wrote:...and those papers need to address the issue of consciousness being a ‘programmer’ of the brain. If CTD simply contends that since our conscious experience is not immediate and therefore is not part of the causal chain, then we’re missing the potential for consciousness to influence future events when it ‘programs’ the brain to act in a certain way.

Dave, consciousness does NOT "program" future actions. That is just an old myth/belief. Because of CTD, consciousness is relegated to just a measly old (non-causal) 'after-effect'.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Asparagus on January 27th, 2018, 9:25 am 

Schopenhauer's answer was that volition is a matter of identification. We analyze experience and in the process pull cause and effect apart. When you identify with the potent subject, you believe in volition. When you withhold identification and merely witness cause and effect, you become a determinist because you see the inter-relatedness of every particular.

Then there's the Neoplatonic answer...
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Neri on January 27th, 2018, 9:56 am 

RJG,

Epiphenomenalists do not rely on what you call “CTD” to justify their claims. There is a reason for this. “CTD” is patent rubbish. I might add that the endless repetition of your claim cannot give it the credence that it lacks.

Because I have dealt with this issue previously, I see no need for further response in this thread.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Neri on January 27th, 2018, 9:59 am 

Asparagus,

Thank you for your contribution.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 27th, 2018, 10:32 am 

Neri, you seemingly discard logic in favor of maintaining an old belief/myth.

If you truly believe CTD is "patent rubbish", then you should 'easily' be able to point out it's logical flaw! ...but you refuse to offer any support/evidence of the "rubbish-ness", and instead only offer condescending remarks.

It is one thing to call something "rubbish", and then quite another to logically refute it as such.

...the earth may not be flat after all, ...maybe a sun-god does not control the movements of the sun, ...things may not actually be as we wish/want them to be.

...it is time to let 'logic' dictate our truths.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Positor on January 27th, 2018, 11:16 am 

Dave_C » January 27th, 2018, 3:45 am wrote:So the question Kim asks is, are the muscle reactions caused by the pain or the neural state? The computationalist might say both since they are one in the same, but now Kim points out that muscle contractions can’t be caused by both, that would be over-determination. They are either caused by one or the other, and that the true cause is the more fundamental one, the one at the level of neurons and muscle cells. If these physical interactions take place, then the higher level phenomena (pain and wincing) will take place regardless of these higher emergent levels since these higher levels will always be dictated by and depend on, the lower level causes.

I understand the arguments against epiphenomenalism, but I would like to see anti-epiphenomenalists address the question of over-determination, or competition between conscious and non-conscious causes. If consciousness/free-will can really initiate physical actions/changes (overriding the chain of events that would take place in its absence), how exactly does it do so at a neuronal, molecular, atomic and subatomic level? The mechanism for doing so seems deeply mysterious.

Until the causal power of consciousness/free-will is explained and quantified scientifically, in terms of forces, conservation of energy etc, anti-epiphenomenalism (like epiphenomenalism) will remain mere philosophical speculation, however plausible it may seem.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Asparagus on January 27th, 2018, 11:24 am 

@Positor
I think you have it backwards. We don't wait to discover how the mind has the power to do arithmetic before asserting that it does. It's common sense that people act on their choices. Most of us have evidence in the form of direct experience. What remains philosophical speculation is that we're all deluded. Right?
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Braininvat on January 27th, 2018, 11:31 am 

If we simply claim that CTD shows that the causal chain in neurons is not dependent on phenomenal states because phenomenal states don’t occur till some small dt after those neurons change state, then the Mars Rover is not being controlled by anyone on Earth because there is a time delay between Mars and Earth - so what the Rover does is not dependent on anyone on Earth.


Interesting analogy. Care to respond, RJG? Is the Rover on its own?
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Dave_C on January 27th, 2018, 3:10 pm 

Hi Positor
Positor » January 27th, 2018, 10:16 am wrote:I understand the arguments against epiphenomenalism, but I would like to see anti-epiphenomenalists address the question of over-determination, or competition between conscious and non-conscious causes. If consciousness/free-will can really initiate physical actions/changes (overriding the chain of events that would take place in its absence), how exactly does it do so at a neuronal, molecular, atomic and subatomic level? The mechanism for doing so seems deeply mysterious.

Until the causal power of consciousness/free-will is explained and quantified scientifically, in terms of forces, conservation of energy etc, anti-epiphenomenalism (like epiphenomenalism) will remain mere philosophical speculation, however plausible it may seem.

That’s the question isn’t it? To put it another way, the issue everyone fumbles around with is how to reconcile the fact that neuron interactions would not seem to depend on anything except other neuron interactions. It’s just a big pile of neurons analogous to a pile of switches just like a computer. There doesn’t seem to be any way that higher order processes can influence the lower level neuron interactions. But that’s where nonreductionism and downward causation comes in. Unfortunately, those concepts have issues as well. For the record, I disagree with nonreductionism and downward causation as it appears in the literature today, but I’ll explain what is just one, often used explanation to support the causal efficacy of phenomenal consciousness.

Reductionism has different meanings but the one most commonly used for this philosophical argument regards the ability to reduce higher level physical laws to lower level ones, preferably using bridge laws (ie: laws that ‘bridge’ the higher level description to the lower level description of nature). For example, thermodynamics can be reduced in some way to the movement of molecules so the higher level is reduced to the lower level. I explained this in another post here:
viewtopic.php?f=10&t=28413&p=275142&hilit=bridge+thermodynamics+nagel#p275142

Nonreductionism posits that the higher level laws have some sort of causal efficacy over lower level parts. Jerry Fodor (1974) “Special Sciences (or: The disunito of science as a working hypothesis)” gave an example of a higher level law in economics, Gresham’s Law, and made the argument that it was impossible to find bridge laws to reduce economics to physics so therefore the higher level laws in economics must somehow be causally efficacious.
http://fewd.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user ... nhtese.pdf

Another example often quoted is Phillip Anderson’s paper, “More is Different” (1972). Anderson is well known for his contention that each level of nature is accompanied by additional, higher level laws that somehow influence the lower levels.
http://robotics.cs.tamu.edu/dshell/cs68 ... ferent.pdf

There are plenty of other, less famous examples of papers in the literature in support of downward causation but to be honest, the concept of downward causation is not widely supported. If there was a valid, widely accepted explanation for phenomenal consciousness and how it can be explained in physical terms, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby mitchellmckain on January 27th, 2018, 5:29 pm 

RJG » January 26th, 2018, 10:49 pm wrote:
mitchellmckain wrote:Computer: You leave out the human operator which does exist.

Okay, so then please clarify, in your analogy, does the computer "display screen" represent human "consciousness" or are you trying to say that human "consciousness" is represented by "display screen" + "human operator"?

Yes that was made quite clear in my post.

Human: Like the above example, human consciousness is more than a display screen. If consciousness consists of presenting information, then to what is it presenting that information? The information is presented to something which responds to the information with actions that alters himself and the world, and thus alters what the human awareness presents them afterwards. As both Neri and myself have repeatedly explained the very origin of consciousness in evolution requires this for the purpose of survival, so your argument makes no sense whatsoever.


RJG » January 26th, 2018, 10:49 pm wrote:
mitchellmckain wrote:Computer: You leave out the human operator which does exist. The fact is that the display screen makes a huge difference because what happens with the computer depends a great deal on the operation of the display screen. No display and the person sees nothing and cannot input anything much, thus what the computer does depends heavily upon the display screen via the human operator.

Your analogy to compare the "computer" to the "human" seems to be flawed, as here (above) you are including the "human" as PART of the "computer".

The human plays a big role in what the computer actually does. Whether it is part of the computer is irrelevant. All that matters is that it represents a causal connection from the display back to the processor. Clearly analogies between computer and human does have its limits. The computer has no will. It just follows a list of instructions - no more. But a human does a lot more than that.

RJG » January 26th, 2018, 10:49 pm wrote:
mitchellmckain wrote:As both Neri and myself have repeatedly explained the very origin of consciousness in evolution requires this for the purpose of survival, so your argument makes no sense whatsoever.

So why do you and Neri believe that 'consciousness' is necessary for survival???

Cyanobacteria have survived over 2.8 billion years. Jellyfish have survived over 550 million years. Is it "consciousness" that should be credited for their long survival?

Yes. As myself and others have often put forward, consciousness is a basic function of the process of life itself. Living organisms cannot maintain themselves without an awareness of both environment and self -- and the awareness of self must include both an awareness of its current state and an awareness of what it should be. The only difference with human beings is a quantitative matter of degree, which includes a greater hierarchical organization and the linguistic medium of the mind, with its rather faster adaptive ability due to the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 28th, 2018, 1:09 am 

Braininvat wrote:Interesting analogy. Care to respond, RJG? Is the Rover on its own?

There seems to be problems with Dave's analogy. I'll respond--

Dave_C wrote:If we simply claim that CTD shows that the causal chain in neurons is not dependent on phenomenal states because phenomenal states don’t occur till some small dt after those neurons change state…

Yes, okay.

Dave_C wrote:...then the Mars Rover is not being controlled by anyone on Earth…

This is false. You seem to be implying (and begging-the-question too!) that "control" of the Rover must somehow be accomplished via "consciousness" (phenomenal states).

The Rover 'is' being controlled by someone on Earth via his/her 'bodily actions'. Whether or not this person is 'conscious' of his actions, has NO bearing on the "control' itself.

Dave_C wrote:...because there is a time delay between Mars and Earth - so what the Rover does is not dependent on anyone on Earth.

This "time delay" between Mars and Earth is NOT CTD; it has absolutely nothing to do with CTD, so the concluding statement does not logically follow.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby mitchellmckain on January 28th, 2018, 3:02 am 

RJG » January 28th, 2018, 12:09 am wrote:
Dave_C wrote:...because there is a time delay between Mars and Earth - so what the Rover does is not dependent on anyone on Earth.

This "time delay" between Mars and Earth is NOT CTD; it has absolutely nothing to do with CTD, so the concluding statement does not logically follow.

Incorrect. The situation is quite analogous -- though it could be fleshed out a little. It more like claiming that the time delay means nothing the rover does has any effect on further instructions from earth. The flaw is the fact that information goes both ways just as it does in the case of a human being.

Just as there is an information flow from both Earth to Mars and from Mars to Earth, so also is there an information flow from the world to consciousness and from consciousness to the world. Just as those on Earth respond to results of actions by the rover on Mars, so also does conscious mind respond to what is reported of the world to his consciousness with actions back upon the world.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Dave_C on January 28th, 2018, 10:24 am 

Hi RJG,
RJG wrote:This "time delay" between Mars and Earth is NOT CTD; it has absolutely nothing to do with CTD, so the concluding statement does not logically follow.

The story about the Mars rover is actually an "analogy". An analogy is one thing that has similarities with another. Looking at the Merriam-Webster dictionary, analogy is defined thus:
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/analogy

1 : inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will probably agree in others

2 a : resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike : similarity
b : comparison based on such resemblance

3 : correspondence between the members of pairs or sets of linguistic forms that serves as a basis for the creation of another form

4 : correspondence in function between anatomical parts of different structure and origin — compare homology

Note that dictionaries have multiple definitions. The English language (as well as other languages) will often have multiple, slightly different meanings for a single word. I'm not sure why that is, it might be confusing to an internet bot for example. To understand what definition best fits the use of the word, the context of the statement and what is being discussed has to be taken into consideration. In this case, definition 1 and 2a were the intended definition of analogy. I don't think the other definitions work quite as well in this context.

I searched a bit to find a better way to explain this and found 'Teaching with Analogies'.
https://www.teachthought.com/critical-t ... analogies/
I guess I'm not a very good teacher (not that I mean to be one) so I'll have to bone up on teaching with analogies. Sorry for the confusion.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 28th, 2018, 10:46 am 

RJG wrote:This "time delay" between Mars and Earth is NOT CTD; it has absolutely nothing to do with CTD, so the concluding statement does not logically follow.

mitchellmckain wrote:Incorrect. The situation is quite analogous -- though it could be fleshed out a little. It more like claiming that the time delay means nothing the rover does has any effect on further instructions from earth.

Okay, thanks, I see what Dave was getting at now.

Though the concluding statement still begs the question, implying that "control" must somehow be linked to the "consciousness" of a person on Earth.

The Rover is controlled by the actions applied to it. Whether these actions are conscious or not, has no bearing on it's control.

mitchellmckain wrote:The flaw is the fact that information goes both ways just as it does in the case of a human being.

Not exactly. With humans, information in one direction is conscious and in the other direction it is unconscious.

"Consciously experiencing" is a one-way; a one-directional happening.

We only know what we "do", or 'send out' (in the other direction) because we 'sense' (via consciously experiencing!) the resulting bodily actions.

Humans can only consciously experience experiences (one-way 'effects'), and never the (out-going) causations.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Braininvat on January 28th, 2018, 1:39 pm 

People, going back to William James, have pointed out the evolutionary problem with a mind that is not causally efficacious. Why should of all neurophysiological structures only those with a causally irrelevant mind as by-product be able to do what was required for our ancestors’ survival? If a company claims that religion is not an employment criterion, but it turns out that all its employees are of the same religion, that cries out for an explanation, and the same holds if the epiphenomenalist claims that although our mind is totally causally ineffective, during the course of evolution ONLY brain structures have evolved that are accompanied by a mind as a by-product. As Russell and others pointed out, we reject solipsism and consider that other beings that act like us also have minds, and that humans aren't zombies. (A zombie has no epiphenomena, by definition). If the mind is an epiphenomenon, then why wouldn't natural selection lead to zombies? Neurons and muscles should be sufficient, causally.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby RJG on January 29th, 2018, 12:31 pm 

Braininvat wrote:People, going back to William James, have pointed out the evolutionary problem with a mind that is not causally efficacious.

I think this "evolutionary problem" only exists with those that struggle to 'let go' of the flawed notion of 'conscious power' as necessary to control the actions of the body.

Evolution continually tweaks our internal programming. Those that auto-react one way, survive, and those that auto-react another way, perish.

Braininvat wrote:Why should of all neurophysiological structures only those with a causally irrelevant mind as by-product be able to do what was required for our ancestors’ survival?

Survival is determined by how one's body reacts to a given stimuli, not to one's consciousness of said bodily reaction.

Braininvat wrote:...although our mind is totally causally ineffective, during the course of evolution ONLY brain structures have evolved that are accompanied by a mind as a by-product.

To clarify, "mind" (or "consciousness") is just a convenient label/name that represents the "recognition of bodily experiences/reactions", and not anything more. But 'recognition' is not logically possible without 'memory'. Memory is evolutionarily necessary to advance the human species.

So it appears that - Consciousness is just the inadvertent 'side-effect' of memory.

...and if consciousness ever were to become a problem to survivability, (which it can't, since it is 'hermetically isolated' from bodily actions) then I'm sure evolution will deal with it accordingly.
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Re: The Folly of Epiphenomenalism

Postby Braininvat on January 29th, 2018, 2:02 pm 

You have entirely missed the point of James, Chalmers, et al. If, as you assert,

Survival is determined by how one's body reacts to a given stimuli, not to one's consciousness of said bodily reaction.


Then why are we all conscious? Why would the process of natural selection so completely select for consciousness? It's not like an attribute that must, by physical law, be paired with an adaptive one. Like, say, the polar's bear coat being heavy as well as warm. A heavy coat is not selected for (it's just extra dead weight to carry around) BUT the pelt has to be heavy to be warm, and warmth has tremendous adaptive advantage in the polar regions.

You have completely ducked the question. As I see you have before. So I'll trouble you no further. In the context of epiphenomenal minds, I would strongly urge you to consult a reference on the meaning of Ockham's razor and then explain why we are not zombies.
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