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KALADIN

"Epiphenomenon" in Philosophy of Mind as an Anti-Concept

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Posted (edited)

Introduction:

By "epiphenomenonal" I do not mean those perfectly valid descriptions appropriate to the context of physics and biology to articulate those phenomena which can be termed non-primary insofar as their effects are correlated with some relevant primary effects, but are not suspected to be their cause (see: Epiphenomenon subsections "Medicine" and "Electromagnetism"). Instead I mean the usage common to materialist theories of mind, i.e. the doctrine that consciousness exists, but is fundamentally acausal in the physical sense (as though there could exist some rupture between physicality and causality). In this sense consciousness does not affect the brain in any meaningful way, but is "epiphenomenal" - an illusory and metaphysically impotent byproduct of our third-person ontology.

Argument:

"Epiphenomenon" in this sense is an anti-concept, and more specifically, a stolen concept. When speaking to the referents of the concept of "nothing" in the appendix to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand describes such negative concepts as "purely relative". She remarks later on that "[n]on-existence - apart from what it is that doesn't exist - is an impossible concept. It's a hole - a literal blank, a zero". In our case of the concept "epiphenomenon", the relative distinction has been collapsed - the referent in question is both "non existent" and the "what it is". The omissions relevant to the formation of the concept "nothing" are the totality of the measurements belonging to the existents whose absence is being signified. The omissions relevant to the the formation of the concept "being" are the the totality of the measurements of the measurements belonging to the existents whose existence is being signified. In collapsing the just-mentioned distinction, the measurements and the measurement's measurements become one, absolving the relative character needed to produce anything of sense about an absence of being. This "sense" derives from the existent (read: causal) nature of all productions of knowledge and principles known. Put very simply, the attribution of acausality contradicts the requirements of knowing an existent to attribute. The absoluteness of reality and the principle of no metaphysical hierarchies guarantees the nonexistence of any gradations of existence, including the gradations of existence relative to putatively known existents.

Conclusion:

The adjectival form of "epiphenomenon" common to those materialist fetishizations of the human mind's nonexistence is an anti-concept, and just another poor way (albeit a fashionable one) of attempting to side-step the axiom of consciousness.

Edited by KALADIN
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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, KALADIN said:

Instead I mean the usage common to materialist theories of mind, i.e. the doctrine that consciousness exists, but is fundamentally acausal in the physical sense (as though there could exist some rupture between physicality and causality).

The materialist notion of Epiphenomenalism is not so much that consciousness is acausal, but rather that consciousness (free will, reflection, deliberation, making choices, weighing options, etc.) would violate causality if it were capable of changing or redirecting physical behavior.  Much of this can be attributed to an ideological bias among materialists which was fostered or seemingly supported by an early, scientific misunderstanding of how the nervous system (which includes the brain) works.

From Wiki link above:

Epiphenomenalism is a mind–body philosophy marked by the belief that basic physical events (sense organs, neural impulses, and muscle contractions) are causal with respect to mental events (thought, consciousness, and cognition). Mental events are viewed as completely dependent on physical functions and, as such, have no independent existence or causal efficacy; it is a mere appearance. Fear seems to make the heart beat faster; though, according to epiphenomenalism, the state of the nervous system causes the heart to beat faster.[1] Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.

In 1907, William James reflected on the growth of Behaviorism in psychology.

Many persons nowadays seem to think that any conclusion must be very scientific if the arguments in favor of it are derived from twitching of frogs’ legs—especially if the frogs are decapitated—and that—on the other hand—any doctrine chiefly vouched for by the feelings of human beings—with heads on their shoulders—must be benighted and superstitious. 

Edited by New Buddha

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24 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

The materialist notion of Epiphenomenalism is not so much that consciousness is acausal, but rather that consciousness (free will, reflection, deliberation, making choices, weighing options, etc.) would violate causality if it were capable of changing or redirecting physical behavior. 

This is precisely what I mean by "fundamentally acausal in the physical sense" and "an illusory and metaphysically impotent byproduct of our third-person ontology"; the motivation for ascriptions of acausality to something is the recognition of that something's ability to "violate causality".

I suppose I can appreciate your providing a more meticulous description of the thesis I'm arguing against though. Do you have anything to say about the argument itself?

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51 minutes ago, KALADIN said:

byproduct of our third-person ontology

I'm not sure what you mean by third-person ontology.

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Posted (edited)

On 7/17/2017 at 4:13 PM, KALADIN said:

"Epiphenomenon" in this sense is an anti-concept, and more specifically, a stolen concept.

The stolen concept fallacy is employing a concept which is logically dependent on a prior concept to attack the validity of that prior concept.    

Rand on Anti-concepts : "...  It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick."

As anti-concepts are not reliably dependent on antecedent concepts I don't buy into your statement that stolen concepts are a type of anti-concept.  In fact the stolen concept fallacy needs a valid concept to steal before the fallacy can be completed.

Consciousness can never be an anti-concept no matter how ill-defined or mis-characterized.  Epiphenomenalism is a theory about the attributes of consciousness.  Epiphenomenalism qua concept has reference to specific imputed attributes of consciousness and thus is a perfectly valid concept acting as a file-folder and name for that particular wildly erroneous theory.  It is neither anti-concept not stolen concept.

EDIT: Objectivism holds consciousness as fundamental, even identifies it as the third axiomatic concept after Existence and Identity.  Epiphenomenalism abuses the axiom of identity as it applies to consciousness, as if something could exist yet not participate fully in existence by being both caused and in turn being a cause.

Edited by Grames

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On 7/17/2017 at 8:38 PM, New Buddha said:

I'm not sure what you mean by third-person ontology.

Ditto, that is opaque to me.

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On 7/19/2017 at 2:25 AM, Grames said:

As anti-concepts are not reliably dependent on antecedent concepts I don't buy into your statement that stolen concepts are a type of anti-concept.  In fact the stolen concept fallacy needs a valid concept to steal before the fallacy can be completed.

But they are dependent. Those "contradictory elements" Rand speaks to are necessarily held conceptually. Just as concepts are a form of awareness of existence, so contradiction is a form of awareness of consciousness, and the attempted union of concept and contradiction - an anti-concept -  is an obstacle to awareness of existence (existence has no contradictions). For the attribution of acausality (the thesis I'm lambasting), the "disparate, incongruous, contradictory element" is the deployment of identity in opposition to causality. A concept which tries to integrate this impermissible, metaphysical divisibility can and should be designated an anti-concept.

On 7/19/2017 at 2:25 AM, Grames said:

Consciousness can never be an anti-concept no matter how ill-defined or mis-characterized.  Epiphenomenalism is a theory about the attributes of consciousness.  Epiphenomenalism qua concept has reference to specific imputed attributes of consciousness and thus is a perfectly valid concept acting as a file-folder and name for that particular wildly erroneous theory.  It is neither anti-concept not stolen concept.

This is specifically why I included the phrase "[t]he adjectival form of "epiphenomenon", i.e., "the attribution of acausality", not a name.

On 7/19/2017 at 2:25 AM, Grames said:

Epiphenomenalism abuses the axiom of identity as it applies to consciousness, as if something could exist yet not participate fully in existence by being both caused and in turn being a cause.

This is restating where I said, "the attribution of acausality contradicts the requirements of knowing an existent to attribute". The point was that knowledge-acquisition is a causal process, and an existent incapable of participating this process is an existent incapable of being knowingly attributed anything at all.

On 7/17/2017 at 8:38 PM, New Buddha said:

I'm not sure what you mean by third-person ontology.

I meant to say first*-person ontology. The fact that we both are and participate the systems which facilitate the capacity of self-awareness, that our knowing subject can at once be also object. Sorry for any confusion.

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Kaladin

I think we have similar views although I might describe it a little differently.

I would characterize the errors of epiphenomenalism as one of two errors incorporating a third:

1. claiming an attribute of consciousness, i.e. the attribute "what it is like to be an entity which is conscious", i.e. from a first person view etc. is itself what consciousness is, when in fact consciousness is an aspect of the causal and natural (physical, chemical, biological, etc.) functioning of the brain.  The conclusion they make is that "what it is like to be something" can never be a cause and hence, consciousness itself is impotent.

OR

2. Claiming that "what it is like to be an entity which is conscious" should in and of itself, and independent of the natural identity (physical, chemical, biological, etc.) of the conscious entity, be an independent causal agent... i.e. that an attribute of a thing should be causally independent of the identity of the thing, when in fact the attribute of the thing is not separable from the thing, things ARE their attributes.

Both of these errors smuggles in the third error: the conflation of "what it is like to be X" (for any existent, a thermostat, a worm, a bat, a chimpanzee, a human) with a consciousness feeling/experiencing/thinking etc. which are examples of functioning of consciousness, not the mere "what it is like to be" feeling, experiencing and thinking.  Surely the act of consciousness, feeling, thinking, experiencing, are causal, they are functioning of the natural mind. 

The "what it is like to be X" where X is anything, at all... that is equivalent to what it is to be X i.e. it simply is "to exist as X".  There is no need for any extra layer of causation or layer of identity, it is almost a trivial redundancy.  Everything is in a state of being what it is like to be what it is.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Putting aside the debate over mind and concsiousness etc.  I believe that a claim to the existence of any X where X has no causal interactions no causal consequences in reality is literally unknowable, because it cannot be detected or perceived even indirectly.  For that something to cause the kinds of changes on the brain/mind which constitutes memory of it or thinking of it or anything in consequence of it, it first must be causal.  Otherwise it would not have any impact on the identity of the mind and one would never know of it.  As such, the claim is an arbitrary assertion.  Only mystic revelation would explain how one could allegedly gain knowledge of an acausal existent.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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