A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Epiphenomenalism and Twin-Chalmers-Zombie

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 1, 2008

I already wrote this in a previous post, but after reading a post at Philosophy Et.Cetera – Why do you think you are conscious?, let me just repeat in short the issue which seems to me is devastating for epiphenomenalism.

The issue is, that epiphenomenalism would tell us that there is nothing contradictory in the idea of zombie-world which is same as ours, just that in it humans lack consciousness.

However, if you think of it, in that zombie world, the twin-zombie-Chalmers, have written the same books and papers, that he wrote in this world. And same goes for Richard, and all other epiphenomenalists.

Now, in this world, we have a good account of why they wrote those things, and why they say those things. We talk about beliefs, and intuitions, and thinking, awareness of qualia, and so on. So, in this world, we have psychological account of why those things are written. And really, any anti-physicalist would want to say that they are saying those things because they mean them.

However, those things don’t exist in the zombie world, so they can’t be used in the explanation. Things like intentions, beliefs, qualia, awareness, and so on, are not supposed to be there. And yet, still, by some wonder, the same books, the same papers, are still written.

Maybe this doesn’t go against the idea that the zombie world is conceivable, for sure it is possible that by random chance zombies get to write the things Chalmers and others wrote, but it seems to me, makes the idea very implausible.

So, the question for epiphenomenalists is – do they have any better explanation of why zombie-Chalmers ended up writing those books and papers, or is the mere chance (which I guess they will agree is very implausible?) the only thing on which they rely?

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4 Responses to “Epiphenomenalism and Twin-Chalmers-Zombie”

  1. To add couple of clarifications:
    a)the issue doesn’t disappear if we negate that in the zombie-world zombie-twins of the epiphenomenalists don’t really speak and write about qualia, epiphenomenalism, but they are just pure behavior… Because still, we have the phenomenon where they *behave as if they speak and write about qualia, epiphenomenalism* and so on.

    b)the answer – it reduces eventually to the fundamental physical laws, is also bogus answer, as it doesn’t really explain, why we encounter this identifiable phenomenon of people behaving as if they speak and write about qualia, epiphenomenalism and so on. In the similar situations with other macro phenomena like tides, erosions, evolution, species traits, and so on, we wouldn’t accept that as an explanation.

  2. Enigman said

    Is it that the epiphenomenalist thinks that qualia actually accompany the physical processes, as a matter of physical law, but that we can imagine physical closure as a theoretical (or pre- or meta- theoretical) possibility; that is, zombies are conceptually possible, but not physically possible. The epiphenomena cannot actually be sliced off our physics, in any possible world – the physics would have to be different for there to be no epiphenomena. But nonetheless, what the conceptual possibility of epiphenomenalism amounts to is that we can imagine that the set of all causal explanations, including of this writing, need not go beyond the physical.

    In fact we do refer to qualia, but such reference, such meaning, supervenes upon the physical processes in our brains. I guess it’s like Searle’s Chinese Room. All has an explanation in terms of the people in the room. But maybe the room has a thought in chinese. If the room had evolved, its behaviour would correspond to reality in some way, due to that evolution, and the associated thought would similarly have a content that related to phenomenal reality. The chinese thought would not be random or arbitrary. (I’m guessing.)

  3. Enigman said

    Oops, some of those “physical”s should’ve been “natural”s, but you probably know what I mean: the natural laws would have to be different, if the same physics and no epiphenomena; we would not be made of the stuff we are made of, but possibly impossible stuff. (No, that’s less clear!)

  4. Hi Enigman!

    Epiphenomenalists think that qualia and consciousness are matter of so called “bridging” or “psychophysical” laws. Qualia and consciousness appear as a result of those laws, but the whole behavior is explainable by appeal to the physical laws. That is, their position is that the physical realm is causally closed, so this phenomenon – namely consciousness, doesn’t in any way affect physical “realm” (that’s why it is called ‘epiphenomenon’). So, they say that it is conceivable to imagine a world just like ours, with same physical laws, but without the bridging laws.
    So, right, in that world, the whole behavior will be same as it is in this world, where we do have those bridging laws, but there would be “nobody home”.

    So, if we take now that zombie world, and take the phenomenon of zombie-epiphenomenalists, we have zombie-Chalmers’-twin which spends numerous hours behaving as if thinking about consciousness, spends numerous hours behaving as if writing a book about consciousness and epiphenomenalism, there are numerous zombie-humans that behave as if buying that book, then behave as if reading that book, and so on… (I use “as if”, because it is problematic if we can use the same words in absence of consciousness. But you can get the point I guess).

    So, the issue is this – The epiphenomenalist, as he claims that this whole behavior can be explained through dispositions and generally through physics, needs to give any plausible account of *why this kind of behavior would happen*, starting with inventing of the word “qualia”, through the whole history of philosophy of Mind, discussing the problem of consciousness, etc… And in that explanation they need to talk just about things which are reducible to physical.

    Most of the physicalists (which argue for mind/brain identity of some kind) don’t have this issue, as they can just say that the our usual *first-person* explanation of what happens, namely that we are conscious, and that we are puzzled by it , etc.., can be ‘translated’ into physical language. However epiphenomenalists explicitly deny this, so they loose the power to address the issue that way.

    Interactionists (dualists that think that consciousness is not just an epiphenomenon, but also causally affects the physical) also can easily address the problem as they can say that the physical is not causally closed, and our awareness that we are conscious, etc… affect how we behave. Epiphenomenalists, again, can’t take that road.

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