nism as a whole. “This doctrine is rooted in Aristotle's conception of the soul, and has antecedents in Hobbes's conception of the mind as a ‘calculating machine’, but it has become fully articulated (and popularly endorsed) only in the last third of the 20th century.”[9] In so far as it mediates stimulus and response, a mental function is analogous to a program that processes input/output in automata theory. In principle, multiple realisability would guarantee platform dependencies can be avoided, whether in terms of hardware and operating system or, ex hypothesi, biology and philosophy. Because a high-level language is a practical requirement for developing the most complex programs, functionalism implies that a non-reductive physicalism would offer a similar advantage over a strictly eliminative materialism.

Eliminative materialists believe "folk psychology" is so unscientific that, ultimately, it will be better to eliminate primitive concepts such as mind, desire and belief, in favor of a future neuro-scientific account. A more moderate position such as J. L. Mackie's error theory suggests that false beliefs should be stripped away from a mental concept without eliminating the concept itself, the legitimate core meaning being left intact.

Benjamin Libet's results are quoted[10] in favor of epiphenomenalism, but he believes subjects still have a "conscious veto", since the readiness potential does not invariably lead to an action. In Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett argues that a no-free-will conclusion is based on dubious assumptions about the location of consciousness, as well as questioning the accuracy and interpretation of Libet's results. Similar criticism of Libet-style research has been made by neuroscientist Adina Roskies and cognitive theorists Timothy Bayne and Alfred Mele.

Others have argued that data such as the Bereitschaftspotential undermine epiphenomenalism for the same reason, that such experiments rely on a subject reporting the point in time at which a conscious experience occurs, thus relying on the subject to be able to consciously perform an action. That ability would seem to be at odds with early epiphenomenalism, which according to Huxley is the broad claim that consciousness is “completely without any power… as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence upon its machinery”.[11]

Adrian G. Guggisberg and Annaïs Mottaz have also challenged those findings.[12]

A study by Aaron Schurger and colleagues published in PNAS[13] challenged assumptions about the causal nature of the readiness potential itself (and the "pre-movement buildup" of neural activity in general), casting doubt on conclusions drawn from studies such as Libet's[14] and Fried's.[15]

In favor of interactionism, Celia Green (2003) argues that epiphenomenalism does not even provide a satisfactory ‘out’ from the problem of interaction posed by substance dualism. Although it does not entail substance dualism, according to Green, epiphenomenalism implies a one-way form of interactionism that is just as hard to conceive of as the two-way form embodied in substance dualism. Green suggests the assumption that it is less of a problem may arise from the unexamined belief that physical events have some sort of primacy over mental ones.

Donald Symons dismisses epiphenomenalism from an evolutionary perspective. He says that the view that mind is an epiphenomenon of brain activity is not consistent with evolutionary theory, because if mind were functionless, it would have disappeared long ago, as it would not have been favoured by evolution.[16] The mind might simply be a byproduct, however, of other properties such as brain size or pathway activation synchronicity, which are adaptive.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Walter, Sven. "Epiphenomenalism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Bielefeld. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Robinson, William. "Epiphenomenalism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Huxley, T. H. (1874). "On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata, and its History", The Fortnightly Review, n.s.16:555-580. Reprinted in Method and Results: Essays by Thomas H. Huxley (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898)
  4. ^ Gallagher, S. 2006. "Where's the action?: Epiphenomenalism and the problem of free will". In W. Banks, S. Pockett, and S. Gallagher. Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? An Investigation of the Nature of Intuition (109-124). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  5. ^ Scott, Alwyn (1995). Stairway to the Mind. New York, New York: Copernicus. p. 109.  
  6. ^ Griffin, David (1998). Unsnarling the World-Knot. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 5.  
  7. ^ Polger, Thomas (2004). Natural Minds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 37–38.  
  8. ^ Jackson, 1982, p. 127.
  9. ^ Levin, Janet (2010). "Functionalism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 ed.). 
  10. ^ Wegner D., 2002. The Illusion of Conscious Will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  11. ^ Flanagan, O.J. (1992). Consciousness Reconsidered. Bradford Books. MIT Press. p. 131.  
  12. ^ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746176/
  13. ^ http://www.pnas.org/content/109/42/E2904/1
  14. ^ Libet, Benjamin; Gleason, Curtis A.; Wright, Elwood W.; Pearl, Dennis K. (1983). "Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity (Readiness-Potential)". Brain 106 (3): 623–42.  
  15. ^ Fried, Itzhak; Mukamel, Roy; Kreiman, Gabriel (2011). "Internally Generated Preactivation of Single Neurons in Human Medial Frontal Cortex Predicts Volition". Neuron 69 (3): 548–62.  
  16. ^ Symons, Donald. The evolution of human sexuality. Oxford University Press. 1979.

References and further reading

External links