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Consciousness as epiphenomenon
#1
Paul has mentioned, more than once, a (fatal?) criticism of regarding consciousness as an epiphenomenon. I started this thread because I don't think I understand this criticism.

(12-09-2017, 10:03 PM)Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Wrote: If consciousness is an epiphenomenon, then how is it that we are talking about it?

I think people who believe it's an epiphenomenon haven't worked out the ramifications.

~~ Paul

I can understand the idea that our thoughts, while seeming to arise before our actions, are actually secondary (per experiments by Libet, Wegner, Wheatley, for example). But is the idea that an epiphenomenon cannot affect the primary phenomenon valid? Or is it just a failure of our imagination to come up with a way for it to do so in this case? Are there examples of epiphenomena which allow for feedback?

Linda
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#2
What I read about ephiphenomenal consciousness almost always says that consciousness has no causal effect on the brain. So our talk about consciousness is
  • random with respect to consciousness, or
  • correlated with consciousness by accident, or
  • correlated with consciousness by a third mechanism that produces both consciousness and talk thereof

~~ Paul
If the existence of a thing is indistinguishable from its nonexistence, we say that thing does not exist. ---Yahzi
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#3
Just FYI, Linda, the argument against epiphenominalism to which you allude in your opening post has been discussed in detail in the thread Analytical argument against physicalism. If you want to better understand this argument, then I'd enthusiastically recommend to you the paper (his own) which Titus Rivas presents in the opening post in that thread. Perhaps, too, you might consider switching discussion to that thread so as not to have two separate threads on the same subject.
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#4
(01-05-2018, 11:36 PM)Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Wrote: What I read about ephiphenomenal consciousness almost always says that consciousness has no causal effect on the brain...

~~ Paul

I'm wondering where this part comes from. Is it one of those philosophical categorical definitions which may or may not correspond to empirical findings? 

Linda
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#5
(01-06-2018, 11:00 AM)fls Wrote: I'm wondering where this part comes from. Is it one of those philosophical categorical definitions which may or may not correspond to empirical findings? 

Linda

I think so, yes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphenomenalism

Check out the "Arguments against" section. Victor Argonov suggests that we might know about the mind because of innate knowledge. However, I don't see how that would allow a continuing discussion about consciousness. It also seems there would be questions of how such knowledge would evolve.

~~ Paul
If the existence of a thing is indistinguishable from its nonexistence, we say that thing does not exist. ---Yahzi
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#6
(01-06-2018, 07:12 AM)Laird Wrote: Just FYI, Linda, the argument against epiphenominalism to which you allude in your opening post has been discussed in detail  in the thread Analytical argument against physicalism. If you want to better understand this argument, then I'd enthusiastically recommend  to you  the paper (his own) which Titus Rivas presents in the opening post in that thread. Perhaps, too, you might consider switching discussion to that thread so as not to have two separate threads on the same subject.

I read his paper awhile ago but will check it out again. I'm not convinced that there are many physicalists who are also epiphenomenalists.

~~ Paul
If the existence of a thing is indistinguishable from its nonexistence, we say that thing does not exist. ---Yahzi
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#7
(01-06-2018, 02:17 PM)Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Wrote: I think so, yes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphenomenalism

Check out the "Arguments against" section. Victor Argonov suggests that we might know about the mind because of innate knowledge. However, I don't see how that would allow a continuing discussion about consciousness. It also seems there would be questions of how such knowledge would evolve.

~~ Paul

Do neuroscientists or cognitive scientists think consciousness is this kind of epiphenomenon? I may not have looked deep enough, but this seems to be a philosophical position, rather than a scientific one. (Just wondering where Kamarling, Titus Rivas, etc. got the idea that this is relevant to consciousness research or physicalism.) The other examples given of epiphenomena on Wikipedia do not contain the provision that epiphenomena have no effects on the physical world, only that they are byproducts or nonfunctional with respect to the primary cause. So why is anyone proposing that the "mind" does not affect anything physical a priori?

Sorry to pester you about this - I have the impression that you know more about the background on this than I do.

Linda
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#8
fls Wrote:Do neuroscientists or cognitive scientists think consciousness is this kind of epiphenomenon? I may not have looked deep enough, but this seems to be a philosophical position, rather than a scientific one. (Just wondering where Kamarling, Titus Rivas, etc. got the idea that this is relevant to consciousness research or physicalism.) The other examples given of epiphenomena on Wikipedia do not contain the provision that epiphenomena have no effects on the physical world, only that they are byproducts or nonfunctional with respect to the primary cause. So why is anyone proposing that the "mind" does not affect anything physical a priori?
I don't think any neuroscientist would claim that consciousness is purely epiphenomenal. They may, however, as you say, believe that a quale is a byproduct of brain function. It's just the way we experience the function. However, it seems clear that the quale has causal powers that allow us to think and talk about them after the fact.

The "Arguments for" section of the Wiki article talks about the byproduct concept.

As far as physicalist philosophers are concerned, same may use epiphenomenalism to patch some problems with their models of the mind. But I don't see how they can claim that consciousness is purely epiphenomenal.

Here is the SEP discussion of the issue:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epiph...sm/#ObvAbs

~~ Paul
If the existence of a thing is indistinguishable from its nonexistence, we say that thing does not exist. ---Yahzi
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#9
Hmmm...is this an adequate summary?

While "epiphenomenon" does not preclude causation of other events or eventual feedback to the primary phenomenon, it is packed with (hidden?) assumptions which preclude any further causation when it comes to "epiphenomenalism". For this reason, epiphenomenalism is not generally regarded as valid or useful (it is inconsistent with our observations) by those working within the field, although some have tried to come up with ways to work around these limitations, in order to make it consistent with our ability to talk about consciousness.

As a result, it is probably best to avoid naively using the term "epiphenomenon" when talking about mind/brain stuff, as (confusingly) those hidden assumptions will likely be brought in to play.

Linda
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#10
(01-08-2018, 12:08 PM)fls Wrote: Hmmm...is this an adequate summary? [...]

No. It is by definition wrong. Again, I'd encourage you to read Titus Rivas's paper to which he linked in the opening post of the existing thread on this topic to which I've already referred you, and to move this discussion over to that thread. Epiphenomenalism is a philosophical concept, not an empirically (dis)provable one whose "hidden assumptions" might be empirically relevant.
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