Episode 4: Being Right by Being Wrong
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 5, 2008
In previous episodes of ‘The Behavior of Epiphenomenalist Zombies’:
There is social phenomenon where philosophers discuss the issue of consciousness. It is identifiable third person phenomenon. Physicalists and interactionalist dualists can explain that phenomenon by general “they do that because they are aware they are conscious”. One of those will provide further reduction of “being aware that one is conscious” in terms of physics, the other one will provide further explanation in terms of there being something separate from the physical which can affect the physical.
However those explanation are not available for the epiphenomenalist (as of course if this is explanation of our behavior in actual world, it will be explanation of our behavior in the zombie world, and that isn’t possible), so she is to provide another explanation. She is not in the same boat as the physicalist on this one as for providing an explanation of a macro phenomenon (be it social, psychological or biological), it is not enough to point that given the state of the universe at previous time T, and say that given the physical laws, we will see the behavior that we are seeing. Given that one doesn’t want to say that this social phenomenon is incidental, we need an explanation on higher level of abstraction. And there is where the epiphenomenalist, lacking the “awareness that one is conscious” as an abstraction which falls into the physical world, is in worse position than the physicalist.
Episode 4: Being right by being wrong
So, epiphenomenalist needs to give new explanation. Enigman, Richard Brown and Norman Bacrac had helpfully pointed to some possibilities in the comments, and trying to work on their ideas, and trying to get more precise, here is what I got to:
Zombies, because of the evolution, are inclined to try to predict things in the world, and as part of that they have ability of forming theories and ability to imagine what is possible and what is not.
There are two possibilities of explaining zombie-philosophers behavior related to this. In the first “consciousness” lacks referent (or “as if lacks referent”), and in the second it doesn’t.
1.As part of the ability of forming theories, and related to the behavior of their own zombie-species, zombie-philosophers assume an existence of a non-physical principle which would explain their behavior. In the actual world this would correlate with the appearance of the Cartesian dualism. But, then somewhere along the way, physicalist-zombies will start to say, that really everything in the behavior can be explained in the physicalist terms (and given our epiphenomenalist outlook, they are right). But then, appear epiphenomenalist-zombie, which now for some reason, while thinking that the physicalist is right, still argues and discusses that this assumed entity, while not affecting the behavior, is still there as separate somehow. Now, I know this makes epiphenomenalist-zombies sound silly, but really I try my best. The general conclusion is that somehow, something in the epiphenomenalist-zombies, makes them still argue against physicalist-zombies about the existence of the theoretical entity, which they agree was shown as not needed. Now, whatever is this cause, we can say that the theoretical abilities in the epiphenomenalist-zombies don’t function quite as “they are supposed to”. But by some strange miracle this “not functioning as supposed to” of the abilities PLUS the fact that in the actual world there happen to be psycho-physical laws, end up with the behavior of epiphenomenalist philosophers (which btw can be explained same as the zombie-epiphenomenalist behavior) producing and being inline with their phenomenal beliefs, and being true (we are working within epiphenomenalism view). So, we end up being right because of the combination of two incidents: mis-function of some ability + existence of the bridging laws.
2.The other possibility would be where instead taking talking about consciousness to be related to the ability of forming theories, to take it as used in the way as behaviorist use it. So, this usage of “consciousness” in zombie philosophers would be related to the phenomenon of certain kinds of behavior which is present in zombies. And now, there we get epiphenomenalist-zombies as a result of different sequence of events. Now, zombie-epiphenomenalist might mis-understand the usage of the word “consciousness”, and somehow when using their ability to distinguish possible from impossible things, given their misunderstanding (not really sure how this misunderstanding would go in details), they end up saying that consciousness can’t be reduced to physical phenomena. Or maybe, they don’t misunderstand the word, but just their ability “functions wrong” somehow. In any way, we get to a situation similar to the previous case, where two incidents: a)something going wrong in the zombie-epiphenomenalist and b)there being bridging laws in the actual world, ends up making epiphenomenalist being right.
So, the weird thing is that if somehow the abilities which are result of brain processes in the epiphenomenalists start functioning “right” (in the sense of what they were selected to do, in terms of evolution), the epiphenomenalists will become physicalists.
I know this might sound bad (i.e. talking about epiphenomenalist brains functioning in wrong way), but I have no intention of offending anyone, it is just a speculation to show how epiphenomenalism has some silly consequences. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the functioning of the epiphenomenalists’ brains. I just think they are wrong.