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Analytical argument against physicalism
#1
In this paper, Exit Epiphenomenalism, Hein van Dongen and I have tried to refute physicalism. We conclude that within physicalism, only types of materialism that are eliminative regarding phenomenal qualitative experiences (or "consciousness") can be upheld logically (although not empirically), and that all other forms, such as epiphenomenalism, are incoherent. 

Also see: Agnostic Epiphenomenalism?
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#2
I finally got around to reading your article, Titus. Nice work, you guys did a great job of outlining an argument which seems watertight.

Incidentally, I first came across an argument against epiphenomenalism vaguely similar to yours, and which I found compelling, on a post on a blog to which another forum poster directed me a while back. The blog post is Consciousness (IV) — The Case of the Lunatic Fish, and here is the most germane part of it:

Quote:Unfortunately, while most people—including philosophers—are content to stop here and reject the view for sheer counter–intuitiveness alone, philosophy of mind has been somewhat lazy at producing actual logical objections to it. Actual refutations of epiphenomenalism often aren’t very well known, but there is one that is absolute and undeniable and refutes even the possibility that anything like epiphenomenalism could possibly be true completely once and for all. That is: if epiphenomenalism were true, no one would ever be able to write about it. In fact: no one would ever be able to write—nor think—about consciousness in general. No one would ever once in the history of universe have had a single thought about a single one of the questions posed by philosophy of mind. Not a single philosophical position on the nature of consciousness, epiphenomenalist or otherwise, would ever have been defined, believed, or defended by anyone. No one would even be able to think about the fact that conscious experiences exist.

And the reason for that, in retrospect, is quite plain to see: on epiphenomenalism, our thoughts are produced by our physical brains. But our physical brains, in and of themselves, are just machines—our conscious experiences exist, as it were in effect, within another realm, where they are blocked off from having any causal influence on anything whatsoever (even including the other mental states existing within their realm, because it is some physical state which determines every single one of those). But this means that our conscious experiences can never make any sort of causal contact with the brains which produce all our conscious thoughts in the first place. And thus, our brains would have absolutely no capacity to formulate any conception whatsoever of their existence—and since all conscious thoughts are created by brains, we would never experience any conscious thoughts about consciousness.

I wonder what your response to that is? Would you suggest that it is not as strong an argument as it could be because of the possibility of an innate conception of consciousness, as you do of certain arguments in your paper? Or do you see it as more closely approximating your strong argument?
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#3
The paper also summarizes a number of other arguments that have been formulated against epiphenomenalism. One of those is the intuitive. 

It has been shown by several studies that the brain is permanently changed by various conscious practices, including meditation and the learning of certain tasks. These are conscious willed mental actions which epiphenomenalism says have no causal efficacy on anything, especially the brain that it assumes originates them. But these empirical experiments demonstrate apparent causal action by willful actions of mind, where certain brain structures are observed to undergo slow, permanent changes apparently in response.  It may be simplistic to ask, but why is this not considered another, though empirical, argument against epiphenomenalism? At the very least, it seems to perhaps be a more effective version of the intuitive argument described in the paper. The meditation/brain change example is just one bit of a mountain of correlations observed to occur between conscious actions of will and physical (apparent) responses in the brain, body and other parts of the world, where the physical apparent responses are exactly what would be expected if consciousness actually had causal efficacy. These are correlations and don't prove actual causation, but I think this evidence constitutes a strong abductive reasoning argument from the preponderance of evidence, against epiphenomenalism. Please excuse this departure from rigorous philosophical argumentation.
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#4
(09-23-2017, 10:48 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: It has been shown by several studies that the brain is permanently changed by various conscious practices, including meditation and the learning of certain tasks. These are conscious willed mental actions which epiphenomenalism says have no causal efficacy on anything, especially the brain that it assumes originates them. But these empirical experiments demonstrate apparent causal action by willful actions of mind, where certain brain structures are observed to undergo slow, permanent changes apparently in response.  It may be simplistic to ask, but why is this not considered another, though empirical, argument against epiphenomenalism? At the very least, it seems to perhaps be a more effective version of the intuitive argument described in the paper. The meditation/brain change example is just one bit of a mountain of correlations observed to occur between conscious actions of will and physical (apparent) responses in the brain, body and other parts of the world, where the physical apparent responses are exactly what would be expected if consciousness actually had causal efficacy. These are correlations and don't prove actual causation, but I think this evidence constitutes a strong abductive reasoning argument from the preponderance of evidence, against epiphenomenalism. Please excuse this departure from rigorous philosophical argumentation.

Just a thought - and I'm not saying your argument doesn't merit attention in the paper - perhaps a counter-argument is that it is merely an assumption that the changes in the brain originate in the mind, because it might be that the brain changes itself in response to patterns of its own behaviour. I don't know whether this counter-argument is good enough to succeed, but thought it was worth mentioning.
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#5
(09-23-2017, 10:58 PM)Laird Wrote: Just a thought - and I'm not saying your argument doesn't merit attention in the paper - perhaps a counter-argument is that it is merely an assumption that the changes in the brain originate in the mind, because it might be that the brain changes itself in response to patterns of its own behaviour. I don't know whether this counter-argument is good enough to succeed, but thought it was worth mentioning.

A good point, but a counter-counter argument might be that this would require that the brain change itself in just the right ways so as to generate apparently willed actions, like the continuance of meditation in the face of boredom, fatigue, etc.. Why should it do this, why would it bother when the conscious will itself is just an epiphenomenon with no causal efficacy in the world? Why generate consciousness in the first place?
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#6
(09-24-2017, 10:07 AM)nbtruthman Wrote: A good point, but a counter-counter argument might be that this would require that the brain change itself in just the right ways so as to generate apparently willed actions, like the continuance of meditation in the face of boredom, fatigue, etc.. Why should it do this, why would it bother when the conscious will itself is just an epiphenomenon with no causal efficacy in the world? Why generate consciousness in the first place?

Well, that raises an interesting question: can there be will without consciousness? Could, e.g., a non-sentient but advanced AI be said to possess a will?

Let's say for argument's sake that it could. Then, what if part of its programming was to alter its own programming to improve itself according to that "will"? Could this be a valid analogy to the possibility of the human brain rewiring itself independently of consciousness?
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#7
(09-25-2017, 12:07 AM)Laird Wrote: Well, that raises an interesting question: can there be will without consciousness? Could, e.g., a non-sentient but advanced AI be said to possess a will?

Let's say for argument's sake that it could. Then, what if part of its programming was to alter its own programming to improve itself according to that "will"? Could this be a valid analogy to the possibility of the human brain rewiring itself independently of consciousness?

That is an interesting question. I don't think so. The "will" inherently refers to an aware sentient mind having desire, purpose and intention to act, not the operation of programmed logic gates, no matter how many and how fast.

Definition (noun):
1. The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action: championed freedom of will against a doctrine of predetermination.
2.a. Diligent purposefulness; determination: an athlete with the will to win.
  b. Self-control; self-discipline: lacked the will to overcome the addiction.
3. A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority: It is the sovereign's will that the prisoner be spared.
4. Deliberate intention or wish: Let it be known that I took this course of action against my will.
5. Free discretion; inclination or pleasure: wandered about, guided only by will.
6. Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition: full of good will.

A non-sentient advanced AI might be designed to partially reprogram itself in response to failure as a task learning strategy to improve its performance. Many AI systems do something like this today. But they are nothing more than very sophisticated machines designed to learn by analyzing responses to actions and manipulating and storing data, modifying themselves to continually improve their performance in doing something like autonomously driving a car, or answering questions from Internet browsers, or diagnosing and devising treatments for medical conditions. There is no conscious willing to do anything going on inside these things, they are merely complex mechanisms. 

Of course the machines keep getting more and more "intelligent" in accomplishing designed tasks. This ultimately gets into issues with the Turing test. If a machine finally convinces human experimenters that it behaves and communicates exactly as if it is conscious (and the test is sophisticated and thorough enough), then the materialists would claim it is conscious. The interactive dualists would mostly say it is still just a mechanism mimicing human behavior albeit in a very cleverly designed way, that there is still nothing really conscious and self aware, sentient, going on inside. This being ultimately because in principle consciousness is not reducible to matter and energy in motion - human-made machines can never be conscious, sentient beings. I am of that opinion. 

So a non-sentient AI can't even in principle have a will, and a sentient AI (having a will) is impossible in my opinion.
 
As to whether the brain can rewire itself independently of consciousness, I don't think so. It is evident that brain structures complexify and grow as a built-in automatic response to increase in use, and vice versa. That mechanism does seem to be part of its built-in "programming". But the increase or decrease in use is due either to actions of the conscious will, or possibly disease processes. In the case of stroke recovery it looks as if the brain is rewiring itself mainly in response to conscious attempts by the patient to regain lost functionality. Maybe an expert could answer whether some stroke recovery still takes place in the brain of a victim who remains in a coma, with no consciousness.

I guess it's full circle back to the conflict of philosophies of mind between materialist and nonmaterialist views.
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#8
nbtruthman, I hope that, my having procrastinated over a response, that which I have to offer is acceptable.

First, though, I hope that you understand that I am deliberately playing critic: as best I understand, you and I see things very similarly (I, too, am an interactionist dualist who doesn't believe that AI can become sentient). I am, then, simply trying to test our assumptions and arguments to see how well they hold up. In that spirit...

You quote various definitions of "will", and whilst it seems that they generally imply consciousness, I am not sure that this (consciousness) is really necessary to or implicit in (a definition of) will. As neural networks, especially those which can alter their own programming, become more and more sophisticated, their behaviour, too, will become more and more human-like, and will appear more and more to be goal-driven in the same way that human behaviour is: can, then, we really discriminate between goal-driven human behaviour and the (as you would have it) "merely apparently" goal-driven behaviour of AI? Perhaps we might refer to it as "artificial will"?

Re neural plasticity, you write (emphases mine):

(09-26-2017, 07:08 AM)nbtruthman Wrote: As to whether the brain can rewire itself independently of consciousness, I don't think so. It is evident that brain structures complexify and grow as a built-in automatic response to increase in use, and vice versa. That mechanism does seem to be part of its built-in "programming". But the increase or decrease in use is due either to actions of the conscious will, or possibly disease processes. In the case of stroke recovery it looks as if the brain is rewiring itself mainly in response to conscious attempts by the patient to regain lost functionality. Maybe an expert could answer whether some stroke recovery still takes place in the brain of a victim who remains in a coma, with no consciousness.

Again, deliberately playing critic (because "in real life" I see things very similarly to you), your argument seems rather more rhetorical than logical: i.e. it is based on assertions which themselves are unsupported. For example, you write that "the increase or decrease in use is due [...] to the actions of the conscious will", but this is exactly the point in contention (i.e. that the brain rewires itself under the influence of the conscious will as opposed to autonomously), so if you intend this as a premise in an argument, then it begs the question, and if not, then it is not even an argument but "merely" rhetoric.

I hope to post more in response to (arguments against) the paper linked to in the opening post sometime soon, but for the moment am running out of battery charge, and won't be able to recharge in the very immediate future, so please stay tuned and be patient!
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#9
As promised in my last post, here is some more in response to counter-arguments against the argument in Titus's paper.

The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on epiphenomenalism refers to the sort of argument prosecuted by Titus in his paper as "self-stultification", and describes it in these terms (similar to those of Titus and his co-author):

"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. (A variant has it that we cannot even succeed in referring to our own minds, if epiphenomenalism is true. See Bailey (2006) for this objection and Robinson (2012) for discussion.) If these destructive claims can be substantiated, then epiphenomenalists are, at the very least, caught in a practical contradiction, in which they must claim to know, or at least believe, a view which implies that they can have no reason to believe it".

It then purports to describe a counter-argument based on a figure supposedly describing an interactionist causal chain, where "M" is a mental event (which by the self-stultification argument cannot on an epiphenomenalist view be known, since it has no causal efficacy):, and where the Pn's are physical events (such as speech), and where, I think (but can't be sure), "C" indicates "directly causes":

                M
                  \
                |  C
                     \
                P1  P2 --> P3 --> ....

               (Figure 2)

[Please forgive me for the messiness of the diagram - it seems difficult if not impossible to specify a monospaced font in this editor.]

This counter-argument (so far as I understand it) seems to be premised on P3 conveying (potentially inferential) knowledge of M. There is a bunch more to it than that, but I won't bother to go into it, because this premise seems to me to be both a necessary part of the counter-argument and a red herring. It is a red herring because the so-called self-stultification argument neither entails nor suggests the premise that knowledge of M is conveyed by or inferred from a physical event: it is premised on the idea that a subsequent mental event would constitute knowledge of a prior mental event!

In the article's own words, prior to supplying the above "interactionist" figure 2: "The argument that epiphenomenalism is self-stultifying in the way just described rests on the premise that knowledge of a mental event requires causation by that mental event". Yes, but not causation of a subsequent physical event - causation of a subsequent mental event!

Thus, the correct figure to be drawn of the failure of epiphenomenalist causation is this:
                M1      M2
                ^         ^
                |          |
                P1 -->  P2 --> P3 --> ....

The self-stultification argument is that because mental event M1 (some state of consciousness) has no causal efficacy upon mental event M2, then mental event M2 cannot contain knowledge of M1, i.e. we could never become conscious (i.e. "know", which - knowing - is a mental state) that we are conscious. There is no capacity for self-reflection under epiphenomenalism. This argument is simply not addressed in this form by the supposed counter-arguments presented in the SEP article.

Now, I read one of the papers (Robinson, 1982b) referenced as "further explain[ing] and defend[ing]" this purported counterargument, and, if you want to, you can too (via the pirate site Sci-Hub). It is this one: Causation, Sensations and Knowledge by William S. Robinson. I read it carefully to see whether it says anything that would indicate that its counter-argument against the self-stultification argument was any more relevant than the one summarised in the SEP article, but, apparently, it is not. It, too, seems premised on the idea that knowledge of mental events is physical, or at least that knowledge of mental events is predicated on or inferred from physical events.

There is another supposed counter-argument by Chalmers presented, but it too seems (to me) to fail, and I don't have the patience to address why right now.

If anybody else is as interested as I was to dig into these counter-arguments, I would welcome your thoughts: have I called it right, or am I, myself, falling prey to red herrings?
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#10
(09-23-2017, 02:15 PM)Laird Wrote: I finally got around to reading your article, Titus. Nice work, you guys did a great job of outlining an argument which seems watertight.

Incidentally, I first came across an argument against epiphenomenalism vaguely similar to yours, and which I found compelling, on a post on a blog to which another forum poster directed me a while back. The blog post is Consciousness (IV) — The Case of the Lunatic Fish, and here is the most germane part of it:


I wonder what your response to that is? Would you suggest that it is not as strong an argument as it could be because of the possibility of an innate conception of consciousness, as you do of certain arguments in your paper? Or do you see it as more closely approximating your strong argument?

I happen to know the person in question and I wonder why he doesn't mention the article by Van Dongen and myself, because he knows it very well and we have repeatedly discussed it and a paper published after Exit Epiphenomenalism. It almost seems as if he wants to present the argument without giving us any credit for it. The analytical argument is basically the same, albeit in a different formulation.... Anyway, more important than credit is of cause the demolition of physicalism. 

Our argument is incompatible with any kind of new mysterianism by the way, because new mysterianism claims we should simply reject arguments against physicalism, because physicalism would simply be true. Although we could reach the conclusion that physicalism is true, we could not understand why it is true. Our argument goes against this, because the supposed total causal inefficacy of consciousness and its total dependency on the brain is not so much "very or too hard to understand for human minds" but simply untenable analytically.
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