This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.


← The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Jump to comment 231 by Bernard Hurley

Comment 192 by Zeuglodon :

Shunting consciousness aside into, say, a fifth dimension or another realm merely delays this problem, not overcomes it.

Did I suggest otherwise?

Your point about epiphenomenalism suggests that mental processes were caused, but then cut off from the rest of the system so that it had no effect.

Epiphenomenalism precisely is the claim that physical events can cause mental ones but mental events cannot cause physical ones. See:

I don't think this is a good argument, because a thing that is caused but which has no effect could never induce a body to acknowledge its existence. I could not talk about consciousness if it had no effect on my motor actions, because without an effect or input, how could those motor actions be caused? It's no argument to point to the cause heading towards the mental part, the cause that branches off, because that presupposes that cause has an effect on the rest of the system right before it vanishes into the mental other realm, so you end up back where you started.

You seem to have spectacularly missed the point of what I was saying. I was not trying to defend epiphenomenalism, I was merely pointing out the standard ephiphenomenalist reply to Steve Zara's argument which is a version of the so-called self-stultification argument. I think is a particularly weak argument. (Incidentally, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy disagrees with me about that!)

Another way of putting the standard objection to the argument is this: Imagine the brain to be a group of journalists and imagine consciousness to be the final printed newspaper. The journalists don't need to actually read the newspaper to find out what is in the news because they already have that information. Now suppose yesterday's headline was "Journalists to strike for 24 hours starting at 10.00 am tomorrow" and suppose the journalists actually do go on strike today. An epiphenomenalist would say that to claim consciousness causes motor actions is to make the same mistake as to claim that this headline caused the strike. What's more is that they would still be able to write about the strike tomorrow even if they were forbidden to read the final copy; i.e. even if the cause branches off into the printed realm,as it were. Correlation, even perfect correlation, does not imply causation. I was once on a committee of an organisation that put on series of choral concerts. Even if the brochures we produced corresponded perfectly with what went on in the concerts that would not mean that they had caused the concerts - the performers don't need to read the programme before performing! As I said Steve's argument, which you have merely repeated in another form is not particularly strong. It does express fairly well the intuitive reason most people find epiphenomenalism implausible, and is the first thing many people think of when asked to come up with an argument against epiphenomenalism that doesn't make it a good argument.

Sun, 22 Jul 2012 10:57:11 UTC | #949816