Episode 4: Being Right by Being Wrong

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.

6 thoughts on “Episode 4: Being Right by Being Wrong

  1. Ah! I think I see what you’re showing now – that result does indeed seem to be a big problem for epiphenomenalism. I like that (as I’m an interactionalist).

  2. Thanks, Enigman, I was starting wondering if I’m missing something obvious when it seems to me that the zombie-epiphenomenalist-behavior is really weird, when we remove “they do that because they are aware they are conscious” as an explanation.

  3. Maybe I can throw up some ideas for critique.

    1) if you are other than 100% clear about epiphenomenalism but you care about the truth value of your statements (at all) then you get Richards argument for free will – you can make yourself right by rejecting it but can’t make yourself wrong by rejecting it and you can’t change anything if it is true.
    2) I Question the effectiveness of NCC – because if zombies act entirely like I do then the precursors for my thought process are almost fully explained by my brain patterns. It would be hard to have a experience of anything other than a completely minimal nature without being blown off tack by them – a concept like well developed epiphenomenalism independent of the zombie strata should be well beyond you. Potentially ‘green’ might also be given enough understanding.* (more explanation at the end)

    3) related to the above consider eliezers Cartesian theater argument to represent scientific psychology’s position. We seem to be able to seperate out most ordered thought / internal dialogue as ‘not us’ a sort of process we just happen to observe not actually dupicated in the qualia shadow.
    4) there are a lot of philosophical implications we seldom explore – for example if you dump causality as important you raise issues regarding your own continuality – and for that matter quantum immortality…
    5) why would the qualia happen to match in an intelligent manner reality? why not have one person being part of 50 people or any other combination (thats the other side to why would we believe in qualia)
    6) there are lots of thought experiments seldom done to elaborate on the model – what would happen if you took a trip to zombie world – what if you came back again? what would it be like? what if you steeped halfway into zombie world? what does the answers to that say about the relationship between qualia and matter? What is the just of the rule that attaches qualia to matter? If we have billions of examples in the world why not specify it a bit more?
    8) I propose that if qualia are something that can be duplicated in possible worlds they are part of the world. so saying they are inaccessible to science is not to say there is a bridging law but instead to say there is a series of ‘exception laws’, e.g. entropy doesn’t apply to qualia, sped of light doesn’t apply, cause and effect laws don’t apply etc etc – quite complex – opening up a occams razor attack.

    What do you guys think of those?

    *to be simple imagine I see a series of coloured squares and at those times i must be thinking of that colour representing any thought i might have that has a brain signal associated with it, between that I could think of something else that is a consequence of previous qualia (eg like wondering if qualia exist) but the cards are flashing past me every second, so i have to fit my other thoughts in less me than that (even though I know I can’t think that fast about a complex thing), worse yet how can i recall all the qualia prior to the most recent qualia? the evidence is stored in my brain but I can’t get at it because the brain hasn’t (and can’t be) been told to recall it. Maybe qualia space recalls it but what sorts of rules are we proposing here? and why are they so consistant with the zombie?
    One model seems to be that your qualia is a perfect shadow of your zombie. if the zombie looses an arm it looses and arm, if zombie brain is damaged it’s brain is damaged – two worlds identical and from an external viewpoint apparently identical based on determinism, because they appear to effect themselves, obeying all the same rules. hmm i might have run out of objections to this one except that it is a candidate for occam’s razor.

  4. I guess 4 and 6 are just complaints that they should be able to elaborate their position but don’t seem to do it much – maybe I just miss it – regardless if they did do that they might find implications that they don’t believe in in other areas of philosophy.
    and 3 is in part about how thought qualia has been neutered to an extent by science already.

  5. Hey GNZ,

    Thanks for the comment. Interesting thoughts.

    1. I agree that Epiphenomenalism seems to have problem with free will. If epiphenomenalist can’t make a decision or a choice *within his conscious self*, but his conscious self including the choices are determined by some otherness (something beyond itself), there is problem of arguing for any kind of freedom. Seems that even compatibilism about free will is beyond such view.

    On that I think that Richard at Philosophy, Et. Cetera will respond that the beliefs are in part constituted by qualia, but that brings us to your number 2 point.

    2.What good is that constitution, when *what qualia we will have* given the bridging laws is fully determined by the physical world for the epiphenomenalist. That is, epiphenomenalists agree that it is nomologically true that for every difference in the conscious experience, there is difference in the physical world. So, it isn’t as if it changes anything about the issue of free will.

    3.If I understand that argument right, we have that phenomenon when we sometimes feel like as if we are just observers of our experience. But even in those cases we can report this, so, it is not as if we are just observers. While I agree with this, I don’t think this is a problem for epiphenomenalism on its own. They would just say that that whole phenomenon is determined by the brain, and we just get the conscious experience of ‘having conscious experience of observing without affecting, and then of reporting that’

    4&6.The continuity of experience is interesting, in particular combined with your idea of “going to zombie world and back” (which “can be done” by turning off the bridging laws for few seconds and then turning them on again). Imagine that this happens “during” thinking of an argument including qualia (e.g. for a second or two). Would epiphenomenalist notice it? Would the thought be “partly constituted” by qualia in that case?

    5. Why does conscious experience depends on the brain, and not of the bunch of people is interesting question. Who knows maybe there is multiple conscious experiences related to any matter structure. I don’t think this is very problematic for epiphenomenalism on its own. Maybe when combined with some other things it might be.

    8. If I understand you right, you are analyzing the possibility that epiphenomenalism is wrong here, but that still for some other reason consciousness is not open to scientific research? I don’t quite understand the idea I guess, but it seems to me as far one can report on their conscious/mental processes we can do science based on those reports.

    Related to your notice that epiphenomenalist maybe don’t elaborate a lot of details about their view, same as you, I don’t know. I also feel there is this problem with the epiphenomenalism that I tried to point to in this little series of posts, and seems to me that at least Richard Chappell failed to provide answer (I’m not sure that he even tried) to that one. Or maybe I’m missing it also.

    And I was actually thinking the other day that maybe instead of never-ending arguments in trying to convince each other, philosophers should be more interested in developing their views, checking all consequences, etc… It might just so happen that actually people will agree faster that way :)

  6. thanks for your comments,

    3) yes but if every time I look my thoughts of a certain type are, just my brain its reasonable to think they are always just my brain, And if this applies to almost all my thoughts what does that leave to meaningfully be described by qualia? at some point it is a very neutered concept I am predicting a few experimental results here – but could such a neutered concept say “i believe in Epiphenomenalism”?

    >maybe there is multiple conscious experiences related to any matter structure.
    5) yes I like that model, Richard C doesn’t however. To me that is powered by “any perspective must exist” (but may have no interesting content of course) which would threaten zombie concievability and remove the requirement for a bridging law.
    Of course I realize that others might not find that so intuitive.

    8) normally an Epiphenomenalist can say ‘hey I’m just adding one bridging law to explain one additional fact – I’m suggesting they actually need to almost exactly double the number of laws in the universe to apply to qualia and to other stuff or they are messing with the very model of conceptual worlds.
    Like the former that might not be intuitive to others in which case I’d need to think more about it.

    maybe people fear to put forward ideas because they fear to loose debates? Personally I like to see these debates as ways of crafting and testing ideas rather than primarily as one of just proliferating completed ideas.

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