7

If I didn't experience consciousness mentally then I couldn't talk about consciousness with my physical mouth or write about consciousness with my physical hands. Is this an instance of mental events causing physical events?

9
  • 1
    Epiphenomenalism is the view that "it's all going on under the hood" so to speak, and that our conscious experience is simply our subconscious telling us what and how we are experiencing the world. Nothing in this view prevents us from discussing mental events or performing physical tasks.
    – nwr
    Commented Feb 5 at 20:55
  • "our subconscious telling us...". Who is the "us"? That implies another layer of consciousness. From what I've read, epiphenomenalism is the view that physical events cause mental events and the opposite is impossible.
    – Dimitris02
    Commented Feb 5 at 20:58
  • 1
    By "us" I meant our conscious self. Yes, epiphenomenalism is the view that our conscious experience is causally closed. By the time we are conscious that there is a tiger in the bush waiting to leap out and eat us, our subconscious is already working on a way to get the hell out of there.
    – nwr
    Commented Feb 5 at 21:03
  • Related: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/69694/… philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/54474/…. But I don't think any of the answers there actually properly address the "I made my fingers or mouth move in such a way to describe the phenomenon of consciousness".
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 5 at 21:06
  • 1
    @Kaia The physical events and the halo may simply be synchronized, they call it Psychophysical parallelism. For example, physics may work in such away that, aside from physical consequences, it produces this epiphenomenal mental decoration. It will then be perfectly synchronized with the physical but have no effect whatsoever on it. Or, there may be no causal influence in either direction, only what Leibniz called Pre-established_harmony.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 6 at 0:19

6 Answers 6

2

One potential argument, a variation on Leibniz' pre-established harmony, is that the physical brain has inherent knowledge of what it is to have a mind. As an analogy, if I wrote the following script:

"Hello, it is I, famous actor Patrick Stewart. I have mental states. I see the sky is blue, and I experience that blueness as a sensation in my mind. I experience the existence of my mind, and I'm using my mouth to tell you all about it."

And then I paid Patrick Stewart to read those lines, his speech would line up exactly with his experience of mental events, but it would not be caused by the experience of those mental events. (It would be caused by me paying him.)

Of course, this may be unsatisfying too, particularly if one is an epiphenominalist for "scientific" reasons (i.e., because there is no obvious way for mind to change the chemical behavior of neurons). We've seemingly replaced mental causes with God (or at least, some kind of designer) who encoded exact knowledge of the mind and mental states into the brain, without the brain having any access to them.

2
  • 1
    +1 For a Patrick Stewart example. :D And for reaching back to a pre-Kantian strategy.
    – J D
    Commented Feb 6 at 21:00
  • I’m sorry to make pretentious comments like this but based on the few posts I’ve seen you make on here so far I get the feeling you are a first-class mind so I am glad to see another great contributor on the site. Commented Mar 14 at 2:59
2

No. Epiphenomenalism doesn't deny you have mental sensations- it denies that those sensations cause anything. The ideas are tricky to pin down, so I will caricature them in the following analogy. Suppose you had some kind of computerised machine that sorted garbage, say. It would work its way through various items, process them and then put them in separate heaps. All of its actions would be determined by electronic processes. Now, suppose you equipped the machine with a display monitor, upon which it displayed the logic it follows in determining how to process a given item of garbage. The monitor might display information along the following lines...

Have picked up new object and scanned it. It seems easy to squash. It seems metallic but it is not magnetic. It is probably aluminium. I will put it in the nonferrous metal pile.

The information of the display shows the reasoning that leads to the machine putting the object in the non-ferrous metal pile, but it is not the cause of the machine's decision- it is only a display of what is taking place in terms of electronic processes inside the machine. Likewise, epiphenomenalism treats your mental awareness of your thoughts as just some kind of internal display which occurs in parallel with the real decision making which is driven by electrical activity in your brain.

3
  • 1
    The question is specifically regarding statements "about consciousness". In the analogy, it seems like that'd be like the machine saying "my screen's resolution is 1920x1080, therefore I will put this item in the plastic heap".
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 5 at 23:26
  • @Kaia Perhaps an analogy would be "My screen's resolution is 1920x1080, so I've set the default font size to 10 point."
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 6 at 17:27
  • 1
    @Barmar, In the analogy (the screen is the mind), I think "talking about mental experiences" has to be a physical effect, not just something that happens on the screen. Epiphenomenalism is generally compatible with mental states causing further mental effects, just not causing physical effects, right?
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 6 at 20:32
2

I think the genuine act of discussing conscious observation is a refutation of epiphenominalism.

By "mental events" I assume you mean actions such as making decisions or generating stories- actions which both the human brain and a computer could do. If I decide to order a pizza (a mental action), I might have metacognitive insight into why exactly I made that decision- so might a nonconscious computer or zombie. By "conscious observation', I mean the act of observing that one has a qualitative conscious experience. I also specify "genuine" because someone could discuss having a conscious experience without actually having one, e.g. by reading a script or being pre-programmed to say it. The discussion must be both genuine and about having conscious phenomena.

We can only be genuinely aware of that which interacts with us in some way- either through touching us, or through light or sound. We can't genuinely sense what we don't interact with. We could hallucinate something, but then that's false awareness, not genuine awareness.

So genuinely discussing our awareness of conscious phenomena requires genuinely having conscious phenomena, which requires consciousness to interact casually with our physical organism in some way. This seems to refute epiphenominalism. The only question is whether we're mistaken about either having conscious phenomena or being aware of it- neither of these seem plausible to me but they're ultimately as irrefutable as solipsism.

1
  • Computers don't make decisions. Computers don't have a mind. Commented Feb 8 at 3:45
1

Suppose a P-zombie (philosophical zombie) can say and do everything a human might say or do in some dramatic context and yet has no consciousness of its actions or the meaning of the drama! If such unconscious behavior that mimics conscious behavior were possible to verify then it would lend evidence to the theory that consciousness is not an effective cause of human behavior. There is no way to determine that the conscious is not informing the unconscious. Even the concept of blindsight is the idea that one can detect the presence or absence of objects via the conscious mind even without using normal sight. A P-zombie would be sightblind it would detect other humans, animals, everything in the context of drama but have no conscious capacity to see, hear, sense emotions or reasons for action, but it would appear to a conscious person as if it had full conscious capacities.

The Hebrew prophets compare the wicked humans and false gods to P-zombies. They have eyes but the do not see! They have ears but they do not hear or understand!

7
  • 1
    Disregarding the bible thumping, this is very clearly "suppose A; then A is true". If we accept the possibility of a P-zombie that can do and say everything a human with mind can, then we've already accepted that 1) consciousness and body are distinct and separable, and 2) a body without consciousness acts the same as one with consciousness. If we start from those assumptions, of course epiphenominalism is true.
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 5 at 22:13
  • @Kaia I agree it is circular argument. I think the philosophers who make such thought experiments are wicked or self-deceived in the domain of comparative consciousness. However, I think Helmholtz has a good working theory of Unconscious Inference. The field of vision is two-dimensional (2D) but our body-mind automatically unconsciously converts the 2D images into a three-dimensional perception of the self in a 3D world. Normally there is no cognitive dissonance between the 2D image and 3D inference except when we become aware of optical illusions or the 2D (thumb is bigger than moon in 2D!). Commented Feb 5 at 22:27
  • How would a p-zombie answer the question 'How are you?' If there's an answer, it couldn't be a zombie.
    – Wayfarer
    Commented Feb 5 at 23:04
  • @Wayfarer - In theory the P-Zombie would have a very complex unconscious system of reflexes that can process sensory information and react in the context of drama as if there were both a subconscious and a conscious component to their emotive-cognitive systems. The P-Zombie would discuss and debate these same ideas (as we do with the sense of consciousness) but would be unconscious. So I normally am conscious of the distinction between conscious and unconscious; and I normally infer that the self and other humans are conscious; so I could infer that I am conscious and maybe P-zombies are not! Commented Feb 5 at 23:50
  • It might react, but to answer the question as to how it is, is to disclose a state of being, which is precisely what it doesn't possess. Sure, it might be scripted to provide a realistic answer, but in reality, there could be no answer to that question for it.
    – Wayfarer
    Commented Feb 6 at 0:09
1
  1. I am sure that you have a reason why posting the above question. This reason is the mental event which causes the action of your posting.
  2. Of course one can ask about the origin of our reasons. What we perceive is only the final step, when our decisions become the activity of conscious processes. At this point begins the discussion: What is the function for the organism that certain mental processes are conscious processes?
  3. From a biological point of view it does not seem convincing that there is no function at all (epiphenomenalism). Instead neuroscience discusses whether conscious processing has access to more resources then unconscious mental information processing.
0

One of the answers already mentioned p-Zombies -- and while the existence of the latter remains controversial (especially among p-Zombies themselves ;), the existence of ChatGPT is clearly established.1 And that thing would talk your ear off about consciousness, if you let it, without experiencing any of it mentally.

1 And, honestly, I don't understand how it is possible that, even after ChatGPT, people still have doubts about p-Zombies? They sure talk like they are conscious, they act like they are conscious but... And don't get me wrong, every one of them has the potential. But it looks like they are waiting for something. Another life maybe?

2
  • 1. p-zombies are a thought experiment, not a thing in real life, and indeed they are impossible under many theories of the nature of mind. 2. the nature of the thought experiment is that a p-zombie, if it existed, would be entirely indistinguishable from a human, so if you imply you know some Real Human People are p zombies, you've fundamentally misunderstood the concept. 3. I cannot think of a belief that is more offensive to both your own intellect and the personhood of all humanity than to believe that some subcategory of them do not experience existence as the same level as your own.
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 7 at 10:07
  • (to preempt a concern: the existence of chatGPT doesn't prove the existence of p-zombies because chatGPT is not a human brain. The idea of p-zombies fundamentally supposes that there could be an exact copy of a human brain, but without mind.)
    – Kaia
    Commented Feb 7 at 10:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .