First Causes

JPL Verhey matterDELminds at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 10 18:48:56 EST 2004

"Alex Green" <dralexgreen at yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message ...

> I would not maintain that conscious free will is impossible, just that
> most actions are non-conscious and observed. The most striking aspect
> of conscious experience is the way it is extended in time. You hear
> whole words, not impossible sounds of zero duration. But when you hear
> words or see movements they are all arranged in the right direction
> "Hello" is heard as if it starts from the "he". But when we hear
> "hello" the "he", and even the "o", is in the past. It is the same
> with actions when we go to lift an arm the whole movement is in
> experience so it seems as if all the components of the movement are
> consciously executed. We believe this even though reason tells us that
> the arm is already moving when we have this experience.
>> "Free will" and conscious intentionality of course don't float in 
>> some
>> virtual reality and remotely-magically execute certain behaviors like 
>> a
>> devine control freak, like "a ghost operating its machine". You 
>> rightly
>> mention the interdependance of many conscious and unconscious 
>> processes.
>> But I just don't see the logic of attributing epiphenomality (if 
>> that's
>> proper english, and understood as "having no causal efficacy on any
>> behavior") only to conscious brain process and not to unconscious 
>> brain
>> process. Why wouldn't certain unconscious processes have epiphenomal
>> properties as well? After all, it is possible to think of the 
>> properties
>> of any physical event in brains, rocks etc.. as "epiphenomal". Every
>> event can be seen as the outcome of other causes.. The moment an 
>> event
>> is 'born' it explodes back into nothingness. Hence I would would say
>> that everything is an epiphenomen or nothing is.
> A simple process like a reflex arc is not epiphenomal, the ventral
> root neurone activity can be shown to cause the muscle contraction.
> The behaviourists on this newsgroup are also partly right when they
> maintain that much of behaviour is executed in skilled or reflex
> blocks where cause and effect is quite clear.

To come to terms with volition - as a possibility or fundamental 
impossibility - I would think that a closer look at epiphenomalism is 

As i see it, to call conscious experience 'epiphenomenal' means you 
again end up with a ghost in a machine, or a ghost hovering over a hill 
top. Then, of course, conscious volition is always oxymoronic under any 
circumstance. But in fact it is an admission of defeat: the 
epiphenomalist has no clue what conscious experience is since he 
believes that what is observed and  'physical', such as the observed 
brain, is the real thing and must 'somehow' be the cause of conscious 
experience. Since this riddle can not be resolved, conscious experience 
ends up being called "an epiphenomenon". But it is a word that has no 
other meaning than saying 'I don't know', or 'I am 'confused'. The great 
divide, the "explanatory gap" between brain and mind..  or 
matter-vs-mind in general, still rules. Like the Ghost itself, the word 
"epiphenomenon" is a void without meaning, especially scientific 
meaning. There are no known physical entities and qualities with which 
this "epiphenomenon" can be described, analyzed and put into equations 
that can predict. The ghost in the machine just has been given a 
personal name, "epiphenomenon". But it remains a ghost all the same, a 
rabbit out of a magic hat. There still is the hard problem of why that 
epiphenomenon would arise from all those observed brain processes to 
begin with. The same thing has just been given new names: "conscious 
experience", "mind", "Ghost".. and finally: "Epiphenomenon". Where is 
the progress?

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