A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

What happens to non-materialists about consciousness?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 6, 2006

It seems to me that once one leaves materialist view of consciousness, it is not easy to stop there.

One can’t stop on epiphenomenalism, because:

  1. If knowledge is connected to the physical domain, and consciousness is not, then knowledge of being conscious is impossible. But we know that we are conscious, and that’s why all those books, papers and thoughts on consciousness are there.
  2. Or when one tries to combine epiphenomenalism with evolution we get that evolution has:
  • Created beings which act as conscious (e.g. talk about consciousness, write papers and books about it), and…
  • Incidentally created them in such way that they are conscious.

The second possibility sounds like the pre-established harmony of Leibniz, but I can’t escape the feeling that there is something wrong with this situation. It surely goes against the intuitions of what proper explanation should be, as formalized by Occam.

And one can’t stop being non-materialist only about consciousness because:

If the causally potent (non-epiphenomenal) consciousness isn’t product of the physical, and the genetic build up work just on level of physical, and determine only the physical attributes of the organism, then this consciousness can’t be product of such evolution.

So, if we don’t accept dualism, and if we don’t accept that somehow consciousness developed separately from the rest of the body we will have to accept that genes, organisms, life and evolution will appear not as entirely physical, but including some otherness. (By otherness, I mean here something which would be analogous to consciousness in case of humans – something other then physical, but it doesn’t have to be consciousness). So this otherness would not be epiphenomenon of the physical, but actually something that affects/interacts with the physical.

But why stop there?

This post was inspired by the post “Jaegwon Kim comes out“, on Fragments of Consciousness weblog.

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2 Responses to “What happens to non-materialists about consciousness?”

  1. T. Scrivener said

    “If the causally potent (non-epiphenomenal) consciousness isn’t product of the physical…”

    Couldn’t a dualist argue that the mind is a non physical product of the physical, seperate in every way from it except casual.

  2. Hi T.Scrivener, thanks for the comment.
    You are right. I overlooked important possibility in the second part of the argument. I agree that through random mutation a physical structure (or type of structure), say A,can be created which through psychophysical laws could induce(create) mind (or mind-like) thing B, which betters individuals chance of survival. Through further evolution, the structures could be created which induce more and more complex minds (again through psychophysical laws), which bring even better chance of survival, even the genetical information affects only the physical part.

    I still think though that dualism has big problems, namely that it needs to accept non-epiphenomenal consciousness, hence deny closure of the physical world. And also I think it has problem with the fact that I know that I’m conscious. It seems to me that in such dualistic picture, this knowledge can’t reside on the physical level, as why would in zombie this kind of consideration even appear? (i.e. that I’m conscious). But then if thinking and knowledge (or some of it) are seen as belonging to the mind, wouldn’t we be duplicating the knowledge/thinking functionality (both in brain in the mind)? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

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