Let's say for a moment that the mind is of unknown substance, and that the state of a particular brain region is emergent from it. That is certain states of the mind will cause certain states of this brain region, but the states of this region will not cause any changes in the mind. The states of this region are an epiphenomenon of the mind.

Question: Has this or a mechanism for it been discussed?

Now normally Epiphenomenalism holds that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain. But given the brain can have input only regions this means that the above scenario can obtain while at the same time the mind is emergent from the brain(as a whole)... The only concession the epiphenomenalist need to make is that the mind is of substance that is poorly understood.

Question: Has the body-mind problem been attacked in this way before?

Another way to state it is: The mind may well be an epiphenomenon of the brain, but the brain can have a specialized sensory organ the states of which is epiphenomenal to the mind. Note that the mind can be of a different substance(dualism) or purely emergent(non-dualim).

The use of "epiphenomenalism" here is meant to show that the mechanism of mind-to-brain causation may be subtle and difficult to observe by normal means (because the cause-effect relationship is unidirectional and requires observing of the inner workings of the mind). Ultimately though it suffers the same criticism Descartes' "pineal gland" do, as being a postulated point of interaction without a theory of the mechanism nor any observation to support it.

Moreover the "brain region" may not be homogeneous, and may be distributed and fractional. As far as I can see our best hope of finding it would be to map the whole brain and finding neurons for which the function is unaccounted. Even then it may be that axons or dendrites are the receptors, or sub-molecular structures serving to change threshold potential...

  • I assume 'reverse epiphenomenalism' would be Idealism or non-dualism, in which case it is discussed at vast length and may be more popular view than unreversed epiphenomenalism. . . – user20253 Jan 16 '20 at 11:36
  • @PeterJ It simply denotes the unusual direction of mind toward brain causation. I thought I made it explicit that dualism was on the table... :-) – christo183 Jan 16 '20 at 11:42
  • I'm not sure what you mean by this comment. If you're sticking to dualism then you're describing Idealism, and this has plenty of literature and support. But perhaps I'm misreading the question. – user20253 Jan 16 '20 at 11:54
  • 1
    Okay. Can't argue with that. – user20253 Jan 16 '20 at 12:01
  • 1
    I do not think this is seriously considered for the simple reason that material conditions obviously affect the "mind". Feeling cold, or more exotically, hallucinating after taking LSD provide obvious examples. Body-to-mind causation is too overt for serious doubts, only mind-to-body causation is doubted. To make this work, one would have to assume that the reality itself is of a kind with the mind, and physical events are merely projections of "true" events. But then we get idealism or neutral monism, not reverse epiphenomenalism. – Conifold Jan 21 '20 at 0:25

I think there are two possible positions here:

1) Two-way epiphenomenalism, i.e., the mind has an effect on (some region of) the brain while (some, potentially different, region of) the brain also has an effect on the mind. This seems to be the position you are suggesting. But I would say this is not really epiphenomenalism in any meaningful sense anymore. One of the key aspects of epiphenomenalism is that the mental does not have an effect on the physical (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epiphenomenalism/). I personally think this is a problematic view (see also How do epiphenomenalists make sense of discussions about qualia?), but it has the advantage that one does not need to pose the existence of some mechanism by which the mental has an effect on the physical. By simultaneously accepting reverse epiphenomenalism, that advantage is completely gone / one doesn't really have epiphenomenalism anymore (and presumably also not reverse epiphenomenalism). That is not to say that the result is not a reasonable theory, for example traditional dualism is such a theory, but it does not seem to make sense to call it epiphenomenalism.

2) Strict reverse epiphenomenalism, i.e., the mental has an effect on the physical but not the other way around. But this seems an odd position, because we think our mental events are at least to some extent influenced by the physical world.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.