A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Evolution and Conscious Experience

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 14, 2007

A week ago Jeff at Minds, Meaning and Morals, wrote a post about how evolution+epiphenomenalism=weirdness.

Here is my contribution to the topic. It is simple argument, so I guess lot of people have come to it after short consideration…

The combination of evolution and epiphenomenalism yields this weird conclusion:
That evolution made us so that we act as if we have conscious phenomenal experience (For this or that reason, we end up writing about this “conscious phenomenal experience”. Maybe Dawkins can figure out why do our genes prefer survival-machines who talk about phenomenal experience.), and only by chance (as consciousness doesn’t affect the world if we are epiphenomenalist) made us so that we *actually have* conscious experience.
What should be understood by “chance” is anything that is not metaphysically necessary. (e.g. even some kind of psychophysical laws would count as chance.)

How do epiphenomenalists respond to those problems?

UPDATE:Brandon pointed in the comments that the phrase “acting as if we have conscious experience” doesn’t make sense in argument against epiphenomenalism, and I agree, so scratch that sentence. What I was referring by that phrase is those acts that we usually take as being there because of the conscious experience. But there is no real need to refer to them in that way. We could instead enumerate those acts… What I meant is e.g. writing a paper or book on the issue of phenomenal experience or qualia, discussing and defending that we have conscious experience,etc…

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3 Responses to “Evolution and Conscious Experience”

  1. Brandon said

    I thinking evolution + epiphenomenalism certainly is weird; but couldn’t the epiphenomenalist say that the formulation of the problem is tendentious? After all, the epiphenomenalist doesn’t think that we were made in such a way ‘that we act as if we have conscious phenomenal experience’, because epiphenomenalism suggests that there is no such thing as ‘acting as if we have conscious phenomenal experience’ — conscious phenomenal experience is epiphenomenal, so doesn’t issue in acts. In other words, if there is any problem here, it’s actually just the standard difficulty of believing that conscious phenomenal experience has no effect on our physical behavior, and not a new, additional difficulty.

  2. Hi Brandon,

    Yes, that is interesting, and probably points to what I guess even deeper issue with epiphenomenalism… the notion “acting as if one has conscious experience” wouldn’t make much sense in the epiphenomenal language, but then any statement about having phenomenal experience would be self-defeating also, as there wouldn’t be any reason for taking it as an act of an agent which has phenomenal experience.

    The problem aside, what I meant by “acting as if having conscious experience” is something like – writing a book on phenomenal experience, where it is set versus the material world, and e.g. it is argued that it can’t be explained by that material world. There are certainly such epiphenomenalists, and if we combine evolution+epiphenomenalism, we are supposed to believe that
    a)the bodies of those epiphenomenalists wrote those books about having conscious experience
    b)and it is mere coincidence that epiphenomenalists have conscious experience.

    Why would the bodies write books about conscious experience?
    Are those books *about* conscious experience at all? In what kind of theory of reference could they be about it?
    I’m very confused.

  3. Clark said

    Good point Brandon.

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