philosophy of mind

James Teo james at
Tue Jan 15 10:33:26 EST 2002

Note: This thread has diverged into two distinct discussions. (A)
Mat's assertion that qualia does not exist, (B) my own theory of
awareness and free-will. I label the paragraphs as (AAAA) and (BBBB)
to avoid confusion. I am fully prepared to accept my theory (B) may
not be true, but my original intent is to show that (A) is not true,
but somehow got roped into spouting my own unproven pseudoscientific
theory. Mat, if you wish to discuss my views, we should start a new
thread for one of the above lines of argument.

mats_trash at (mat) wrote in message news:<43525ce3.0201140707.17f62596 at>...
> > > And if you regard
> > >consciousness or awareness as an epiphenomenon then not only does that
> > >have inherent dualistic overtones (if its not the neuronal firing that
> > >constitutes awareness what does?)
> > 
> > Huh? I just said it was. Awareness is an epiphenomenon to causality
> > not to neuronal firing. It results from neuronal firing but has no
> > effect on further neuronal firing.
> > 
> mmmmm. beginning to get tangled here. Epiphenomenon to causality?  Now
> you have changed causality from a property of something into a 'thing'
> itself.  But then you immediately say it does result from neuronal
> firing.  Is it an epiphenomenon of a causal firing pattern?  In which
> case our views differ only by the epiphenomenon! :)

I don't see how our views coincide on this point since you stated that
"qualia does not exist" and my view explicitly includes qualia and
awareness within it.
Sorry for not being clearer, but when I used the term epiphenomenon, I
meant it to be mean that qualia is epi- to causality, and resultant
from neuronal firing.
The neuronal firing pattern in turn does have direct causal effect.
example: neuronal firing causes/ produces:
1) motor behaviour.
2) others (autonomic status? whatever...)
3) awareness/ qualia.
Now, (1) and (2) have direct causal effects on the body and the
environment. The awareness/qualia just sits there (and if it does have
any causal effect it may in memory).

> > I thought I explicitly said it has nothing to do with decision making.
> OK. But thats a very different definition of awareness to most people.
>  Most people consider awareness to be the very property that allows
> them to make informed decisions.

I really don't think what you claim is correct.... I don't think there
is any aspect in most people's understanding of awareness that
requires an active stance in the external world.
Eg: can you be aware and be incapable of action?
Yes, if you accept the idea that there is awareness in sleep paralysis
or in some cases of failed general anaesthesia combined with
successful muscle relaxants.

You seem to be tying alot of concepts into one neat parcel to be
discarded together: mind-body, soul, qualia and free-will. I can agree
that mind-body dualism and spontaneous free will should be discarded,
soul should be set aside for awhile to sort out definitions. But not

> > >If its an epiphenomenon how does it
> > >become causally effective in producing actions?  or are you saying
> > >that awareness does not contribute to decision making, and all that
> > >goes on at a lower level; we are simply informed of it after the
> > >event?
> >
> > Yes, the latter is my view. The only way awareness affects actions is
> > indirect perhaps in affecting how memories are encoded, and encoded
> > memories then affect future executive function (which may not be
> > aware).
> You still have the problem I mentioned.  If its an epiphenomenon then
> it can have no causal effects whatsoever, memory making included. 
> Indirect action would still have to be mediated by a direct step from
> epiphenomenon to biological substrate at some point.

Okay, fine, I won't call it an epiphenomeneon, as that seems to be
confusing matters since I am using "epiphenomenon" just to describe it
as being a phenomenon separate to immediate causality. Perhaps I
misused the word. In terms of long-term causality I haven't thought
about whether it would or would not affect all forms of causality
(memory and otherwise) but I don't think either routes invalidates my
view of qualia/ awareness as being a real thing.
> I still have the essential difficulties with your argument.  Not only
> do you multiply entities beyond necessity (if it isn't causal then its
> not needed unless of course you think qualia need explaining). 

Yes, that's my point. I think you are using Ockham's Razor wrongly in
this context since Ockham's razor assumes that if everything is equal,
and in this case, it isn't, since qualia is not pure theoretical
concept but is subjectively real and does need explaining.

> Further you arguably make your theory much more diificult to
> investigate.  I think you would agree that just saying awareness is an
> epiphenomenon is not enough of an explanation, just as much as when I
> say causal firing patterns are awareness isn't enough. The theory
> needs to be deepened and its fine structure elucidated.  However, how
> would you begin to investigate an epiphenomenon?

But that is the whole point see? We don't know how to approach and
investigate qualia and awareness. It's a "HARD problem". Philosophers
have been trying and trying but your answer is a cop-out ('this
phenomenon doesn't exist so we don't have to investigate it'). This is
hardly satisfactory when I (and probably other people) do subjectively
have awareness.

If you are referring to my own theory that awareness has no direct
effect on free-will.... that is a valid criticism. Unfortunately it is
a difficult hypothesis to test in the near future with our limited
understanding of neuronal firing and crude experimental techniques.

However, I don't think it is logically impossible, although it would
be problematic to be accepted by the entire scientific community since
awareness can only be measured SUBJECTIVELY as far as I can imagine.
Eg: You could conduct experiments on yourself and scientifically prove
it to yourself but it would not be able to prove it to others, unless
they do it to themselves too (sounds like faith, yes?). As such, you
can prove empirically your awareness exists as a product of your brain
but you cannot prove that other people's awareness exist.

As a simple thought experiment, I propose the following (assuming we
had the techniques to do what I suggest): selectively impede the
'awareness' process (chemically, electrically, magnetically,
magically) while having no (or limited) effect on other processes.
Then while aware and unaware (only you can tell which is which), you
would get a robot/computer/external entity to test you. The first set
of tasks would be test for spontaneity and random behaviour. Then
there would be another set of tests which would test for impairment in
other functions (the various types of memory, primary sensory
processing, motor behaviour, etc). The controls would be to
selectively block other circuits involving executive planning, primary
sensory processing, etc. The results which would be support my
hypothesis would:
1) spontaneous and random behaviour is not increased in the presence
of awareness (thus showing free-will doesn't exist and doesn't
suddenly exist in the presence of awareness).
2) certain aspects of memory (short/ mid/ long/ episodic/ whatever) is
completely impaired by loss of awareness (thus showing that awareness
is required for somethings).
3) primary sensory processing and other primary brain functions are
not obliterated in the absence of selective awareness loss (thus
showing that awareness is distinct from these other brain functions).

Of course, the details of this thought experiment is meagre since we
don't have any detailed understanding at this point on the
organisation and composition of the various thought processes. And
until we find some way of selectively only impairing consciousness it
is impossible to do. But my point is that awareness and qualia is a
theoretically testable hypothesis but only you can fully judge the
validity of your experiment (since you detect whether or not there is
awareness). I fully accept that until then I cannot prove the
existence of my own qualia or how much free will my qualia has.

However, I must remind you that your own hypotheses (the soul does not
exist, the qualia does not exist) is not even theoretically provable
since it is a negative statement.

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