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2011-05-02
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
That problem: The one that presents as a simple reductio ad absurdum

Epiphenomenalism claims that there is no causal link from mental to physical states / events. But if that were true, we wouldn't even be caused to comment or know about our own (causally inert) mental states and events. We are so caused, however, so epiphenomenalism must be false. 

I can see that as an epiphenomenalist I would at least have to admit that I am responding reliably to the mental states about which I speak. Otherwise I would have no reason to believe or report that I even have any mental states. Nevertheless, I still want to distinguish between the mental facts I must respond to in order to be said to know I even have these states, and further mental facts, or details thereof, to which I am powerless to respond.

Take an episode of colour experience as an example:

Let us suppose I am observing a banana. I want to claim that I know that I am having a colour experience. I am, in fact, fully acquainted with the subjective character of this experience, even though I can only report that I am having an experience of the sort I usually have when observing bananas. So as an epiphenomenalist I want to maintain the following:

1. I know that I am having colour experiences, so my knowledge that I am having them must have been caused by the experiences themselves. 

2. I know which particular type of colour experiences they are; their subjective character, so my knowledge about their subjective character must have been caused by that character.

So at first blush it looks as if my epiphenomenalism is wrong. I couldn't know these things if it were true. But, of course, there is a difference between knowing something and physically responding to it. Bearing this in mind, then, as an epiphenomenalist  I would hold to the following explanations for 1 and 2 above.

1a. To the extent that my knowledge causes me to behave, report, etc., in certain ways, the states of affairs causing this knowledge cannot be epiphenomenal. My knowledge that I am conscious, that my consciousness has characteristics, etc. falls under this heading. Being conscious leads to me reporting that I am conscious, having experiential qualities leads me to report that I have them, and so on. 

2a. To the extent that my knowledge has no effect on my behaviour or reports, the states or characteristics known to me are epiphenomenal. My knowledge of what it is like, experientially, to be conscious (in all its details) falls under this heading. My knowledge that the particular experience I am having has this quality (some quale or other) has no effect on how I behave. I simply cannot demonstrate the experiential facts of which I have knowledge. By the same token, as we all know, nothing Smith can say or do will demonstrate to us what his 'red quale' is like to him, or even that he has one.

It seems to me that this is really what Frank Jackson had in mind in his 'Epiphenomenal Qualia'. And once we recognise that all the mental facts in 1 and 1a are second order, propositional facts - (the fact that I am conscious, etc ) - and that all the mental facts in 2 and 2a are first order, non-propositional facts - (the fact of what it is like to the subject, etc),  the overall theory seems to make sense. 

That I have knowledge of all of the mental facts seems unproblematic for the epiphenomenalist, since knowledge is a mental state too. The problem was about how we respond to that knowledge, and I am suggesting that the above analysis removes the problem.









 



2011-05-08
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
1) Mental states such as sensations, images and pains

2) Behaving such thinking, perceiving and reporting

Your claim: a) It is possible 1) causes 2),

                  b) 2) are physical states or events and

                  c) there is a causal connection from 1) to 2).

My claim: 2) are cognition which are mental facts too (from experience).

Therefore, why would cognition be a physical entity, such as perceiving?

And also, why would a sensation cause reporting on it? If "we are so caused", then a mental state affect us, or persons, not a cognition about a sensation.

In fact, we can comment that we have cognitive states, such as reporting. However, that causal connection between mentality and physicality seems also to be controversial because they are not similar entities.

Finally, if responding to mental states and knowledge about them are also mental entities, then your analysis does not remove the problem.

Best regards

Mika P. Suojanen

2011-05-09
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Hi Mika - 
 
Many thanks for your response.
 
If I understand you correctly, you still find our physical responses to such mental facts as that we are conscious, that we are having a particular type of sensation, etc., problematic for the epiphenomenalist.
 
Firstly, I will repeat my claim that for the epiphenomenalist there is no problem about our knowing all the mental (experiential) facts. Both experience and knowledge of that experience are, ex hypothesi, mental states / events. Secondly, then, the problem arises with regard to how these mental items cause particular physical responses.
 
My suggestion is that in fact there are no particular physical responses,  and therefore there is no need  to explain how they are mentally caused.
 
Example: I go shopping in the market and see a pile of tomatoes, some ripe, some unripe. I invariably select the ripe ones. So you might say that it is my red experience (mental) which ultimately determines that I choose (physical) the ripe tomatoes. There must be some sort of causal law in force. You might say that my experience of redness causes me to pick up a ripe tomato. I would say this is misleading.
 
If, indeed, there is any psycho-physical causality involved at all, what actually causes me to pick up a ripe tomato is the similarity of my experience to experiences I usually have as a result of looking at red objects. Just as in J.J.C.Smart’s example of lettuce and cabbage leaves, it is similarities and differences that we need to identify as causes of actions. This is why I refer to them as ‘second-order’ facts. The relationship between specific actions and specific experiential types is a topic-neutral one. If I had been born with inverted spectra, I would still be (specifically) choosing the ripe tomatoes even though my experiences were ‘green’.
 
So at the very least I think I can confidently infer that there are at least some specific facts about my experiences (I refer to them as ‘first-order’ facts) which have no causal connection with specific actions. And it is these causally inert experiential states or events which I was claiming to be epiphenomenal.
 
Is there still a problem about second-order mental facts determining particular physical responses? Does the similarity between mental states cause a specific response? I am not at all sure that it does. The said similarity certainly causes me to know or believe that I am having similar experiences, but knowledge and belief are further mental phenomena, so nothing to explain there.  The important question is whether my knowledge or belief that the experiences are similar causes particular physical responses (e.g., my choosing the ripe tomatoes).
 
My tentative answer is ‘probably not’. If nothing in our behaviour or physical state can indicate which particular experiential state we are responding to, then that particular state is epiphenomenal. But, by the same token, if nothing in our behaviour or physical state can indicate even that we are conscious, or consciously responding to our experiential states, comparisons between them, etc., (in short, that I am not a philosophical zombie) then even similarities and differences between experiential states can be regarded as epiphenomenal.
 
I would think this is the most appealing position to adopt. We have conscious experiences, know what they are like, and whether they are the same of different from one another. This is all mental content. On the physical side, however, none of our supposed responses to our mental content has been caused by the latter; just like the philosophical zombie, we operate, or function, entirely by way of physical responses to physical input. So when I accurately pick out just the ripe tomatoes, it is the zombie in me doing what it does. What distinguishes me from the philosophical zombie is my luxury ‘add-on’ – my (causally inefficacious) conscious awareness and knowledge of what I am doing.
 
I think that is more or less the way I was thinking about this. All responses very welcome!

2011-05-09
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
2a. To the extent that my knowledge has no effect on my behaviour or reports, the states or characteristics known to me are epiphenomenal. My knowledge of what it is like, experientially, to be conscious (in all its details) falls under this heading. My knowledge that the particular experience I am having has this quality (some quale or other) has no effect on how I behave. I simply cannot demonstrate the experiential facts of which I have knowledge. By the same token, as we all know, nothing Smith can say or do will demonstrate to us what his 'red quale' is like to him, or even that he has one.
........................

Well, suppose I dislike the way bananas taste, so I avoid them. Doesn't my knowledge
that bananas have this taste affect my behaviour?  So my knowledge that particular experiences have this quality
affects my behaviour.

Also suppose upon first tasting a banana I come to believe bananas have THIS quale.
That's a change in my beliefs (a new belief). It supervenes on physical states
of my brain. As the quale causes my belief (or is part of the cause),  which supervenes
on physical states, it causes
my physical state to change. So it has causal powers to affect the physical
even if it has no affect on how I behave.



2011-05-09
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim --

Again, as in my example of reliably choosing ripe tomatoes, it seems to me that there are two possible scenarios to consider:

On the assumption that there is a nomologically possible, but zomboid, physico-functional simulacrum of me (call it Fred) which would recoil from bananas exactly as I do, either:

1. The cause of my banana recoil is exactly the same as Fred's

or:

2. The cause of my banana recoil is my (mental) dislike of the (mental) banana quale.    

I think this may be the crucial issue. Given that I know all of the following to be true:

i) I have banana qualia, and dislike them (mental)

ii) I decide not to eat bananas (mental)

iii) I notice that I am, indeed, avoiding bananas,

which of the above accounts is inferable from this? If I start out defending epiphenomenalism, by what reasoning must I abandon it? Obviously I know that I am behaving in this way, and I know that my behaviour supervenes on my mental resolve to avoid bananas, but the epiphenomenalist is claiming, in essence, that the latter is not causing the former. Without begging any questions, how are we to establish that he is wrong? How are we to determine, for example, that my mental states are not mere passive indicators of what I am doing?

I realise that if we had the means to rule out the philosophical zombie (Fred) we could safely attribute my behaviour to my mental states, but I am not aware that anyone has succeeded in doing that.  


2011-05-09
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
First, we are acquainted with qualia. There is no plausible account of
direct acquaintance without supposing that qualia have causal powers,
If they were black holes in causal space we wouldn't be acquainted with them
That acquaintance causes us to have form beliefs about qualia, that is,
to have beliefs we didn't have before. So qualia are part of the cause of
our having beliefs about qualia.

However having new beliefs about qualia supervenes on brain states.
There is no change of belief without change of physical state, therefore.
As qualia cause us to form new beliefs and this requires a change
in brain states, qualia cause changes in brain states. So they
are not epiphenomal.

We could insist that the change in brain state is all that causes the belief.
That in turn has a wholly non-qualitative cause.
The quale has nothing to do with it.

It follows from this that acquaintance with (or the experiencing of) qualia, which most certainly
is partly caused by the quale, never causes us to form a belief about qualia.
As that is very implausible (indeed, preposterous), so is epiphenomenalism.
The point isn't to blast the epiphenomenalist out of her position, after all.
People determined to hold on to whatever can do so. The point is
to show that Epiphenomenalism leads to incredible consequences.

Second, When I experience a certain quale I may like it (or detest it).
That preference also supervenes on a brain state. As the quale itself
is part of the cause of my liking it (which is a causal response to the experiencing
of the quale), the quale is again causally involved in changing my physical brain. Otherwise
experiencing the quale has no causal role in my coming to like
the quale. Again, that's vastly implausible.

As I hate the quale, say, and I know I do, and I experience myself
as intentionally avoiding the quale because I dislike what it's like
to have it, the claim that disliking the quale plays no role
in my intentionally avoiding the quale is vastly implausible.
So is the claim that experiencing the quale has no causal role
in my disliking the quale. So is the claim that the quale plays
no causal role in my experiencing the quale.

Again the point isn't to blast the epiphenomenalist out of her position
or to absolutely disprove that position, but to show that it flies
in the face of obvious facts about our inner lives and so has
vastly implausible consequences. If the epiphenomenalist
wishes to pay the price, well, you can hold onto any position
if you are willing to pay the price. The Flat Earther can insist
that the Earth looks spherical from space because an undiscovered
force field bends light to make the flat earth look spherical,
and so on. Most rational people get off the bus.



2011-05-09
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim --

Let me grant you your claims about psychophysical supervenience. And let's assume further that this supervenience is compelling evidence for causation. We are still left with more than one possibility:

On occasions when I like the banana quale, have thoughts like "I think I'd like a banana", and also buy a banana, either:

1. Mental states cause physical states (my liking of the banana quale leads to brain states that cause me to buy some bananas). 

2. Physical states cause mental states (the physical effects on my brain of eating bananas, physically tasting them, cause me to buy some bananas, and also to experience and like banana qualia). 

Each of these is a coherent explanation for what is going on. Without begging any fundamental questions about materialism, physicalism or dualism, how might we expect to decide between the two? Is there some independent evidence we might cite that renders the first more plausible than the second? 

Actually, on that question, I am fairly sure that some scientific tests have been conducted (sorry I don't have link at this moment) which indicate that when we are in the process of making a decision to act, the physical act  (including brain state) precedes the experience of deciding to act. When you think you are coming to a decision your brain has already made it. That is the general idea; perhaps someone can fill in the details. I am not presenting this as a knock-down piece of evidence in favour of option 1. It is just an interesting finding. 

My question is what it would be like to have options 1 and 2, respectively, going on. Would there be a discernible difference? Or would you choose 1 over 2 on the basis of independent considerations about the inherently wacky nature of 2? I don't find it wacky at all. 







2011-05-11
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Hi Brian!

To my mind, physical reponses are not problematic for the epiphenomenalist, if these responses are not physical but mental. Nevertheless, the very deep philosophical problem remains: how is mentality in causal connection with physicality?

If 1) mental states such as sensations and images,
  2) cognition such as deciding and perceiving and
  3) emotions such anger and joy

are mental entities, then, for the epiphenomenalist, there is no the following problem: how do mental items cause particular physical responses? In brief, a causality would be the following: a sensation of redness (mental) causes deciding to hold out one's hand (mental).

Thus, why does one name cognitive behaving, for example deciding to pick up, physical? Many cognitive psychologists consider them as psychological as mental states in general.

Finally, if there is no similarity between A and B, how is there a causal connection between A and B? And mentality and physicality are ontologically distinct entities. They are not similar, if I understand their meanings correctly. So, a psycho-physical causality seems to be an inference for many present philosophers. They don't perceive it.

2011-05-16
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Regarding this:
> some scientific tests have been conducted (sorry I don't have link at this moment) which indicate that when we are in the process of making a decision to act, the physical act (including brain state) precedes the experience of deciding to act.

The source you want is Benjamin Libet, Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).



2011-05-16
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Bill Meacham
Thanks, Bill. Much appreciated. 

2011-05-17
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
I wonder what people think of this argument against epiphenomenalism:

We are acquainted with qualia. There is no plausible account of
direct acquaintance without supposing that qualia have causal powers,
If they were black holes in causal space we wouldn't be acquainted with them
That acquaintance causes us to form beliefs about qualia, that is,
to have beliefs we didn't have before.  So Mary says to herself,
upon seeing a ripe tomato: 'This is what it's like for people to see red.'
Or I say, upon first eating a mango: 'So this is what mangos taste like.'
So qualia are part of the cause of
our having beliefs about qualia.

However having new beliefs about qualia supervenes on brain states.
There is no change of belief without change of physical state, therefore.
As qualia cause us to form new beliefs and this requires a change
in brain states, qualia cause changes in brain states. So they
are not epiphenomal.

We could insist that the change in brain state is all that causes the belief.
That in turn has a wholly non-qualitative cause.
The quale has nothing to do with it.

It follows from this that acquaintance with (or the experiencing of) qualia, which most certainly
is partly caused by the quale, never causes us to form a belief about qualia.
As that is very implausible (indeed, preposterous), so is epiphenomenalism.

2011-05-17
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim -

just to pluck out one premise from that: I'd say I am not at all sure about the supervenience of beliefs on brain states. 

Suppose we try to pin down Fred's belief that:

A. "My experience when looking at a red object is like this," 

where 'this' refers introspectively to the very quality, or quale, of Fred's experience. Clearly, this belief is at least in part defined by the quale concerned. 

But now we try to pin down Bert's belief that:

B. "My experience when looking at a red object is like this," 


where 'this' refers introspectively to the very quality, or quale, of Bert's experience. Clearly, this belief is at least in part defined by the quale concerned. 


The familiar problem with this is that we have no way of knowing whether the two qualia are the same, and therefore whether the two beliefs, A and B, are the same, so because of this we don't know either whether the two observers' (let's say) identical brain states correlate with identical belief states. It appears, then, that at this stage we do not have sufficient reason to infer that belief states supervene on brain states. 

I suppose what it boils down to under these circumstances is what we require of a causal relation. What I ventured at the beginning of this thread was that to the extent that our experiences can be seen to supervene on physical states or events (reporting, liking, lunging for, etc) it is reasonable to infer a causal relation. To the extent that there is no such supervenience (specific qualia) it is not reasonable. So my reports about having mental states are reliable indicators of my having mental states, but not much more. They are not indicators of the mental content of those states. 

Putting it the other way around: What sort of causal relation is it that has specific mental qualities resulting in no identifiable physical states or events (apart from the disposition to report, etc, that something is going on for me apart from what I already take to be the physical)? 





2011-05-17
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
I write:

'However having new beliefs about qualia supervenes on brain states.
There is no change of belief without change of physical state, therefore.
As qualia cause us to form new beliefs and this requires a change
in brain states, qualia cause changes in brain states. So they
are not epiphenomal.'

Note that this argument has to do with a single subject. The claim is that my having new beliefs
about qualia supervenes on brain states. So when I first taste a mango I form the
new belief that THIS is how mangoes taste. The force of the supervenience claim
is that my forming this new belief requires a physical change in my brain.

As qualia cause us to form new beliefs and this requires a change
in brain states, qualia cause changes in brain states. So they
are not epiphenomal.

The force of your objection, as I understand it, is that we cannot know that my forming this
new belief about how mangoes taste requires any change in my brain. But, skepticism aside,
the claim that I can form that new belief without my brain undergoing some physical change flies in the face of what we know about the brain. People do not acquire new beliefs about qualia  without their brains undergoing some physical change. That would be incredible.
If the price of epiphenomenalism
is denying this (since otherwise the quale is causing a physical change), then epiphenomenalism is in deep trouble. 

2011-05-17
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Well yes, it is in deep trouble, incredible even, but then so are all the other attempted solutions to the mind-body problem. Without actually making presuppositions in favour of one of those other theories, though, I am not clear on what evidence you can assert:


"People do not acquire new beliefs about qualia  without their brains undergoing some physical change. That would be incredible."



It would be incredible, if some sort of universal interactionism had already been deemed irresistable. It hasn't, presumably, for the sake of this discussion, so that doesn't work.


It would be incredible, if some form of universal psycho-physical supervenience had already been deemed to obtain. That hasn't either, for the same reason.


So as yet what I don't find any more incredible than the rival offerings is that:


An occasion of sensory perception  P causes a particular brain state S which causes a particular mental state (e.g., quale) M. M causes, or enables, or goes with, the belief B that I am having M. Meanwhile, S also causes the subject to assume particular behaviours and further physical states, N. There is no causal mechanism from M through B to N.


I could concede as an epiphenomenalist that the P-S-M causation is completely reliable, and then as a consequence of that concede that M and S are invariably correlated. It would then follow that my belief B that I am having M is also invariably correlated with S. But even this entire set of correlated states does not compel us to concede that there is a causal mechanism from mental state M  to physical state N. 


Wouldn't you say that for N to change without a change in M is incredible, and that therefore M must cause N? If so, why do we need B to cause N?










2011-05-18
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
>>Wouldn't you say that for N to change without a change in M is incredible, and that therefore M must cause N? If so, why do we need B to cause N?>>

Sorry - mixed up some letters there. I meant to write:


Wouldn't you say that for N to change without a change in S is incredible, and that therefore S must cause N? If so, why do we need B to cause N?


2011-05-18
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Suppose I at last taste a mango and I experience the quale and I think to myself
occurrently that THIS is what tasting a mango is like!  That thought is caused in part
by experiencing the quale, which is caused in part by the quale itself. So the
quale is a cause of the thought; indeed, without it there would be no thought.
Does anybody seriously want to say that my thinking that occurrent thought
doesn't require neurological events in my brain? If it does, the quale is a cause
of them.

To deny that thinking occurent thoughts requires neurological events
is like denying the earth is spherical. If that's the price of epiphenomenalism,
as I take it to be, epiphenomenalism is a crazy view.  We know that thinking
involves neurological events.  Certainly there is vast empirical evidence that there is change of neurological state during occurrent thinking. A view that requires us
to jettison science doesn't make it to the starting line.

You characterize epiphenomenalism as a solution to the mind-body problem.
How is it that?

You say that other solutions are equally problematic. How? Not that they have
no difficulties! But generally they do not fly in the face of empirical science.

2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Jim --

>>Does anybody seriously want to say that my thinking that occurrent thought
doesn't require neurological events in my brain? If it does, the quale is a cause
of them. >>


So here you are referring to qualia as causing brain events.


>>To deny that thinking occurrent thoughts requires neurological events 
is like denying the earth is spherical.>>

Here, I assume that by 'require' you mean similarly: Physical entailment of brain events? 


I would say that there is a requirement in the places you identify, of supervenience, but that the causal link operates only in the other direction. Presumably, you would allow that brain states cause mental states.  So, in this example, a brain state S causes an experiential quality Q which causes a belief B about Q. I think we are agreed so far (?).


If so, our disagreement seems to be whether B causes some supervenient brain state N. 


My first question on that is how you consider my answer to conflict with empirical science. 


>>We know that thinking involves neurological events.  Certainly there is vast empirical evidence that there is change of neurological state during occurrent thinking. >>


Yes, but what empirical evidence is there that the latter results in, or causes, the former? Why couldn't it be, instead, that brain state S results in N, zombie-like, independently of all mental states? Of course, the proposal could be dismissed out of hand if an interactionist position had already been shown to be correct, but I am assuming for the sake of the discussion that none has. 


I am only saying that there are some reasons for at least considering this suggestion. For example:


1. The experimental results cited earlier: During an episode of deciding to do something, the brain enters the decision-making state before the subject is aware of having made the decision. And yet the subject is under the clear impression that his conscious decision preceded, and caused, his action. I would suggest that far from flying in the face of empirical science this finding challenges our assumptions on the basis of empirical findings.


2. The concept of free-will (the compatibilist variety, which is the only one I can make sense of) is contrary to subjective experience. We all, surely, have the strong impression that we choose, mentally, a course of action and that our physical action follows as a result. But if physical determinism is true this cannot be so; physical brain states must be entirely responsible for our subsequent actions. So again, I would suggest that empirical science is supportive of this account, rather than being in conflict with it. 


So I am suggesting that a similar arrangement obtains in the case of qualia. 


All views and responses welcome, of course.
















2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb

Thanks for the interesting conversation. You write:

‘So, in this example, a brain state S causes an experiential quality Q which causes a belief B about Q. I think we are agreed so far (?).’

Yes, we agree.

Now where N is the brain state that causes the belief, you write: ‘Why couldn't it be...that brain state S results in N, zombie-like, independently of all mental states?’

So the picture is that brain state S causes the experiential quality Q, and S also causes brain state N which causes belief B. The experiential quality Q is a side effect in this process: Q plays no causal role in the production of B. S produces N (the causal basis of B) independent of all mental states. Why not this picture.

First, please note that the picture contradicts what we agreed upon: that the experiential quality Q causes belief B. On the epiphenomenalist picture you outline, Q plays no causal role in the production of B.

So a consequence of epiphenomenalism is this: when I taste a mango for the first time,

my experiencing that taste does NOT cause my belief ‘THIS is what mango tastes like.’

Experiencing qualia never causes any of our beliefs about qualia. My experiencing intense feelings of pain never causes me to think: ‘These feelings of pain are really intense!’ This seems crazy, if I may say so. But it is an immediate consequence of the epiphenomenalist picture.

Worse seems to follow. If my experiencing intense feelings of pain plays no part in producing my belief that ‘THESE feelings of pain are intense,’ if the belief arises on account of causes entirely independent of the experiencing of those feelings, then the experiencing isn’t part of my evidential justification for the belief.  The experiencing isn't WHY I believe it. But if the experiencing is not evidence for the belief, then I don’t know the belief is true. So I don’t know that these feelings of pain are intense EVEN THOUGH I am experiencing them while I occurently form the belief that they are intense. Indeed, I never know, or have justification by way of experiences, anything about the mental states going on in my own mind. Descartes was fundamentally wrong that I could have even justified beliefs about my own mental states.

Again, Epiphenomenalism leads to horrific and (on the face of things) preposterous consequences, e.g. skepticism about whether I’m in pain when my foot gets caught in a punch press. Even though I’m experiencing those feelings, I don’t know I have them–at least not in any way like the way I believe I do. Nor do they even justify my belief that I have a pain in my foot.

What does Epiphenomenalism buy us that is worth this? What other view of the mind leads to consequences as wild as these?


2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Let [x] denote the brainstate upon which the quale x supervenes. Then epiphenomenalism states that if I throw away a banana because I can't stand the odour thereof, [I smell banana] causes [I dislike the banana], and [I dislike the banana] causes [I decide to throw the banana away], and the latter causes me to throw away the banana. Separate from that, every [x] causes x as well, so [I smell banana] causes me to smell banana (a quale), etc. I think there is no real problem in that, apart from the problems that qualia in themselves present. A much more serious problem is epistemic: if epiphenomenalism is true, I don't have the least guarantee that my qualia have anything at all to do with reality. It is a priori implausible that [x] would cause exactly x, or that x would be caused by some [x] that has to do with what x stands for, so I can't trust my qualia to be a mapping of the world. Given that, the whole above argument breaks down, because the only reason for supposing [x] to exist at all is in order to make it fit my view of the world (as a causally closed spatiomaterial universe, let's call that a noumenon). If qualia were causally active, a weak argument could at least be made that inaccurate qualia would have been weeded out, but for causally inactive qualia it seems a priori utterly implausible that the phaneron would correspond to any noumenon at all. One might say our qualia wouldn't be coherent if their structure wouldn't correspond to some structuring of the noumenon, but our experience of quale coherence is a quale too, and it is begging the question to suppose that it is caused by some [coherence]. Greetings, Biep.

2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
 
What do you thing about why "knowledge that the particular experience I am ... (expand) having has this quality (some quale or other) has no effect on how I behave."
Why does it not have effect on how I behave?

2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Dear Brian,
Libet is certainly the most quoted example of experiences of decision making following decision making. However, it is worth noting that his result is just what any theory based on standard concepts of cause in biology must predict. Moreover, it does not imply that experiences are not necessary to behaviour in normal non-zombied brains.

In causal terms making a decision must be, as far as any neurobiological theory can make any sense of, the generation of an output from an input. An output is the way something influences other things, rather than itself. If experience is knowledge of something then it must consist in the knowing thing being influenced by something else. Thus for a thing to experience one of its own decisions it must influence other things which in turn send influences back on the original thing afterwards to inform it of its decision. (The only thing about Libet's data that is slightly surprising is how long the lag from brain activity to sensing it is - and this may reflect the very artificial nature of the sort of decision he studied.) Any alternative story that allows entities to know what they are deciding without such a route is supernatural magic of a sort that even Descartes would have had no truck with. In fact Descartes quite explicitly indicates that for thinking in the sense of making decisions rather than just experiencing the soul is likely to need to call on the help of the 'mechanical' actions of the body in the form of divisible brain parts.

What this highlights is, I think, a major problem with a lot of arguments around epiphenomenalism - the assumption that mental events can be thought of in terms of some single entity called a self ("I"). Everything we know about the brain suggests that it is a vast complex of units, all making 'decisions' at different sorts of levels. Unless "I" is defined, and probably divided into a whole range of different entities, some separate, some overlapping, I suspect that we cannot start to discuss compatibility with a causal physical explanation because we have not defined our terms in a way that would allow this. I also think we have to take seriously the possibility that many different "I" structures may have experiences in the same head. There is no evidence against this and there are strong neurobiological reasons to suspect it.

The fact that experiences of decisions must follow decisions does not, however, imply that those experiences are 'off on a siding' or 'steam whistles'. It just means that each decision is always dependent on the content of the experiences relating to previous decisions. 

In fact, a siding or steam whistle version of epiphenomenalism (which is what the term means to a biologist dealing with non mental issues) was never the right analogy because it makes the mental just a causal physical event on the wrong track. What seems to me much simpler and more plausible is the idea that 'mental' accounts of events are accounts of inputs - the output being either an action or the account itself. Physical accounts are of input-output sequences; a physical thing is something that instantiates certain input-output rules. Mental accounts cannot figure in the sorts of causal statements that physical accounts occur in just for that reason. Physical talk does include words for inputs (like 'input' or 'stimulation') but only as place holders to be filled in with causal statements involving instantiations of operation of physical rules in a defined context of the dispositional properties of the entity receiving the input or whatever.

I think your original formulation has a lot of things right but I would be wary of concluding that the mental was epiphenomenal in any steam whistle sort of sense.

Best wishes

Jo E

2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Dear Jim,Making use of ideas of Charles Martin's, but not following all his claims, my feeling is that although your argument must be right in one reading, it may be wrong to attribute causal powers to qualia.

An electron has a causal power to repel other negatively charge entities. However, if we consider what an electron 'might be like' either  to another electron or to a proton it seems reasonable to think the 'qualia' that might be involved would be different - sort of opposite. Similarly, everything we know about the way humans experience things tells us that the experience will be dependent both on the causal powers of things going on in the outside world and the 'sensitivity' of the sensory apparatus to these powers. (If you come more proximal and talk of causal powers of inputs to synapses the argument remains.) Using Martin's terms (not quite his final take) a quale ought to be a manifestation of what the dispositional powers of something ought to seem like to a subject and this seeming will be determined just as much by the dispositional powers of the subject to be sensitive to the other powers. Thus qualia in this view would not have causal powers in the way that these are attributed to 'things'. Qualia would be manifestations to a subject (this is not strictly Martin's interpretation) of the co-disposition of one thing interacting with the co-disposition of that subject. This would be like 'pulling' or 'pushing' rather than 'negative charge'. Qualia would be inescapable elements of the acting out of a causal relation, but if we were to ask what their causal powers are we would find that there cannot be a meaningful answer. It would be a bit like asking 'do electrons pull or push - period?'. Thus there is every reason for it to seem that qualia cannot cause anything in terms of the laws of physics, but that need not mean that they are not part of the causal process.

Jo E


2011-05-19
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Hi Brian, I hope my comments aren't too misplaced.

"My suggestion is that in fact there are no particular physical responses,  and therefore there is no need  to explain how they are mentally caused."

Wouldn't "selecting ripe tomatoes" (instead of the unripe ones) be a "particular physical response"?

"If, indeed, there is any psycho-physical causality involved at all, what actually causes me to pick up a ripe tomato is the similarity of my experience to experiences I usually have as a result of looking at red objects. Just as in J.J.C.Smart’s example of lettuce and cabbage leaves, it is similarities and differences that we need to identify as causes of actions. This is why I refer to them as ‘second-order’ facts. The relationship between specific actions and specific experiential types is a topic-neutral one. If I had been born with inverted spectra, I would still be (specifically) choosing the ripe tomatoes even though my experiences were ‘green’."

Isn't this similarity or difference between experiences something one can only discern mentally? And if you allow for this mental judgment to affect or cause one's behaviour in this instance, then where do you draw the epiphenomenal line regarding the causal influence of the mental on the physical?

Also, this passage leaves me wondering why the "normal" individual chooses the red and the inverted-spectra individual chooses the green tomato (which is, for normal sighted people, ripe red). Isn't it because both desire ripe tomatoes, and so both consciously seek out and choose the ripened ones? I don't see how the similarity (alone) of one experience to another might cause anybody to do anything.

"Is there still a problem about second-order mental facts determining particular physical responses? Does the similarity between mental states cause a specific response? I am not at all sure that it does. The said similarity certainly causes me to know or believe that I am having similar experiences, but knowledge and belief are further mental phenomena, so nothing to explain there.  The important question is whether my knowledge or belief that the experiences are similar causes particular physical responses (e.g., my choosing the ripe tomatoes)."

It appears contradictory you stating prior to this that "it is similarities and differences that we need to identify as [the] causes of actions."

"My tentative answer is ‘probably not’. If nothing in our behaviour or physical state can indicate which particular experiential state we are responding to, then that particular state is epiphenomenal. But, by the same token, if nothing in our behaviour or physical state can indicate even that we are conscious, or consciously responding to our experiential states, comparisons between them, etc., (in short, that I am not a philosophical zombie) then even similarities and differences between experiential states can be regarded as epiphenomenal."

Doesn't everything in our behaviour indicate whether or not we are conscious?

However, for someone to indicate that they are not a philosophical zombie via their behaviour is a separate issue. I can show you that I am awake, but how can I also show you that I'm experiencing any qualia?

Luke.

2011-05-20
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim -

thanks for this. I have to challenge your profile of epiphenomenalism, at least as I construed it. According to my suggestion, having Q results in having a belief about having Q. All mental. My position (which I think is standard epiphenomenalism) only suggests that no mental states cause any physical states.

Brain state N is a consequence of brain state S, all physical, and then physical/functional dispositions emanate from N. So Nothing on the physical side is caused by anything on the mental side. 

My version allows us to have good reason for believing that we are having qualia. They are a feature of our conscious minds, and so are the beliefs pertaining to them.

I am not clear why you suggested an alternative model according to which brain state N causes B, and Q causes no other mental states. That isn't my model at all, as you rightly acknowledge. And the point of my model is that I don't see any empirical evidence that even could conflict with it. 


Best,

Brian .   




2011-05-20
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Hi Dina -

Why I suggest that experiential qualities do not cause physical states/behaviour is that it seems to be true that no empirical tests can identify the particular sensation someone is having. Inverted spectra, etc. 

More than that - I don't think we have managed to even begin to identify consciousness in a creature. Think of the higher animals: we tend to assume (by analogy with ourselves?) that they are conscious, but when we scrutinise our own assumption there is nothing to support it. No tell-tale physical / dispositional traits must have been the result of consciousness. That is why when we look down the hierarchy of animals we don't know how to draw any sort of consciousness line. Whatever their physical or dispositional state is, it could always be explained in purely physical terms. 

In other words, I don't think philosophical zombies have been ruled out at all.  

In short, there are no physical effects diagnostic (uniquely characteristic) of mental states, and in that respect mental states do not cause physical states.

best wishes,

Brian  

 


2011-05-20
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Luke Culpitt
Hi Luke -

and thanks for the comment. 

Ned Block wrote something about the 'Intensional Fallacy'. According to this, while we might all efficiently pick out only ripe tomatoes (red objects) we do not necessarily have identical qualia prompting us to do so. Smith could see red objects as I see green ones. And since this difference would not be apparent from their behaviour, there is no evidence that specific qualia supervene on specific behaviour. But then it follows, I would say, that nor is there any evidence that qualia cause behaviour.  

Of course, no-one has proved this to be true. It's just that no-one to date appears to have a clue as to how to prove the contrary: That specific qualia are always produced when looking at red objects, and that picking ripe tomatoes is always accompanied by specific 'red' qualia.

My claim is that there is no diagnostic behaviour that only occurs in the presence of quale Q. Or any qualia at all, for that matter. A philosophical zombie could, as far as we know, exhibit that behaviour too. So how could we claim to have established that qualia cause behaviour?   

  

Best, 

Brian   



  


2011-05-20
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
You write: ‘I have to challenge your profile of epiphenomenalism, at least as I construed it. According to my suggestion, having Q results in having a belief about having Q. All mental. My position (which I think is standard epiphenomenalism) only suggests that no mental states cause any physical states.’

Well, here is what I take to be standard epiphenomenalism:

‘Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events.’ Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy

‘Epiphenomenalism is a position in the philosophy of mind according to which mental states or events are caused by physical states or events in the brain but do not themselves cause anything.’
Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy

I thought this was your view, and you said that the physical state underlying the experiential quale Q caused it, so I thought you thought the physical state underlying the occurent belief
about having Q caused it–though I see now that you don’t. My objections were leveled at Standard Epiphenomenalism–at least as expressed above. I think my objections to that are good. I see you are affirming only the second conjunct of the Stanford Encyclopedia definition, so I don’t think my objections apply to you.

 Also that you think that sometimes mental states are caused by the physical states that ‘underlie’ them but sometimes they are not caused by the physical states that underlie them. So the quale is so caused but not the thought about the quale, though it too involves neurological changes.

Two questions would seem to arise: First, If all mental states (nomically) supervene on neurological events, why are some of them but not others caused by the neurological events? Second, what is the relation between mental states and the underlying neurological events when the latter do not cause the former?

These questions do not arise for the encylopedia definitions and one can see why the first conjunct is in them. It  completes the account of the causal relation between brain states and mental states.

2011-05-21
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Jim Stone
Yes - you are right that my version is non-standard in respect of what causes the belief B that I have quale Q.  
Strategically, of course, I need to go that way; otherwise the reductio I started out describing will defeat me at the outset. In order to be said to know about my own qualia, my knowledge must be caused by them.
 
So given that quirk in my position, how might I resolve the problem you bring up about some mental states being physically caused and others not? I think there is a way:
 
'Belief', for me, is a very slippery concept. I can say the same about 'knowledge'. Some beliefs obviously have a functional or dispositional content: even an ant might be said to 'know' that its nest is in need of a clean-out. We wouldn't even need to check whether it has consciousness to determine that. When we think about knowing or believing that a particular quale is present, however, I don't think we can do the mental state full justice unless we include the quale itself, as intentional content of the belief. Thus, to believe that I have quale Q going on is to be in a conscious state which in some way incorporates the concept of Q.
 
So to put it simply, I would say that a ‘belief’, insofar as it is about something, must be caused by what it is about (within the context of the sorts of belief we are talking about here). An ant’s ‘belief’ that it needs to clean its nest out is caused by the state of its nest, for example, while a belief that I have a quale Q going on is caused by an occurrent Q. 
 
So I suppose this position deviates from the ‘standard’ epiphenomenalism in a second way; that qualia beliefs are ‘caused’ by qualia. I will stand by that, but at the same time I have to wonder what a qualia belief has in common with a nest-cleaning belief. Perhaps, in the former case, ‘belief’ is a misleading word. Isn’t it, rather, just that I am aware of a quale? 

2011-05-23
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Hi Brian, and thanks for your reply.

"So how could we claim to have established that qualia cause behaviour?"

I think that there is more to the mind, or to mental events, than just qualia. There are also thoughts, for example.

Luke.

2011-07-25
That problem with Epiphenomenalism
Reply to Brian Crabb
Hi Brian, What you're talking about is called "the Knowledge Pardox" and is described by Rosenberg (who quotes Shoemaker) in his book "A Place for Consciousness" (pg 119).  If physicalism is false, and if the world is causally closed under physics, it appears as if there is no room for p-consciousness to make a causal contribution to brain events. But clearly, our knowledge claims about p-consciousness (e.g. "I know that I am conscious right now") are driven by physical brain events. If p-consciousness is irrelevant to the causal dynamics of the brain, then, it seems that it can play no role in producing our knowledge claims about it. In short, it seems as if our knowledge claims about p-consciousness should bear no relevance to the phenomenon itself; we should have no way to really know that we are p-conscious, even though we claim that we are.
(Ref: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=68357 )

Most philosophers claim that the phenomenal event and the physical event are simply one in the same so naturally, there is no paradox. See for example Kim, "Mind in a Physical World" who argues mental events (ie: phenomenal consciousness, qualia) don't cause physical events. Per this view, the statement* that we perceive red coincides with the phenomenal events, but are not caused by these phenomenal events. 

Problem I see is that if phenomenal events are truly subjective and can not be objectively discerned, there is no way, even in principal, to determine if phenomenal events occur or what they might be. I would subscribe to the knowledge paradox and suggest that the world can not be causally closed under the physical.  

*Any statement or behavior that we associate with a phenomenal event is an objectively measurable occurrence.