First Causes

Alex Green dralexgreen at yahoo.co.uk
Sat Sep 11 05:53:03 EST 2004

"JPL Verhey" <matterDELminds at hotmail.com> wrote in message news:<41423da5$0$62377$5fc3050 at dreader2.news.tiscali.nl>...
> "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 
> necessary.
> 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?

This is a good point. For the past century whenever people have
pointed out the seemingly epiphenomal nature of consciousness others
have said that this cannot be possible and have simply rejected
epiphenomenal consciousness. A better approach is to wonder why
consciousness exists if there is so much evidence for it being

What we know is that if you abolish consciousness by trauma to the ILN
or suppressing ILN activity with general anaethetic coma results.  If
patients 'recover' from trauma to the ILN they suffer extreme
delirium, persistent vegetative state, akinetic mutism etc.  This
suggests that conscious experience has a global role in the brain,
stabilising activity. Those who have lost consciousness due to ILN
removal have no 'meaningful' behaviour if they awake from coma - in
PVS they just move their eyes blankly, in delirium they make no sense.
 This suggests that conscious experience is at the other end of the
chain of relations from the various senses, it is a state, not an
encoding of data. Encoded data just runs around the brain without
meaning without conscious experience.

According to these observations conscious experience is not
epiphenomenal but neither is it directly responsible for specific
behaviours. It does something else. Stability is a definite phenomenon
but why consciousness for stability? My own suspicion is that, despite
Tegmark, the brain does experience quantum noise. Recent studies
showing that single neurons can precipitate behaviours would seem to
confirm this (Even Tegmark's calculations might allow 1 in 10^11
neurons to have an uncertain state).

If consciousness is a point phenomenon such as Zeh suggested then we
would truly be in a situation where the brain would be unstable
without it and the 'many minds' theories of the universe would be

Best Wishes

Alex Green

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