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Epiphenomenalism is the theory in philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are caused by physical processes in the brain or that both are effects of a common cause, as opposed to mental phenomena driving the physical mechanics of the brain. The impression that thoughts, feelings, or sensations cause physical effects, is therefore to be understood as illusory to some extent. For example, it is not the feeling of fear that produces an increase in heart beat, both are symptomatic of a common physiological origin, possibly in response to a legitimate external threat.
The history of epiphenomenalism goes back to the post-Cartesian attempt to solve the riddle of Cartesian dualism, i.e., of how mind and body could interact. La Mettrie, Leibniz and Spinoza all in their own way began this way of thinking. The idea that even if the animal were conscious nothing would be added to the production of behavior, even in animals of the human type, was first voiced by La Mettrie (1745), and then by Cabanis (1802), and was further explicated by Hodgson (1870) and Huxley (1874). Huxley (1874) likened mental phenomena to the whistle on a steam locomotive. However, epiphenomenalism flourished primarily as it found a niche among methodological or scientific behaviorism. In the early 1900s scientific behaviorists such as Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B. F. Skinner began the attempt to uncover laws describing the relationship between stimuli and responses, without reference to inner mental phenomena. Instead of adopting a form of eliminativism or mental fictionalism, positions that deny that inner mental phenomena exist, a behaviorist was able to adopt epiphenomenalism in order to allow for the existence of mind. However, by the 1960s, scientific behaviourism met substantial difficulties and eventually gave way to the cognitive revolution. Participants in that revolution, such as Jerry Fodor, reject epiphenomenalism and insist upon the efficacy of the mind. Fodor even speaks of "epiphobia"—fear that one is becoming an epiphenomenalist.
However, since the cognitive revolution, there have been several who have argued for a version of epiphenomenalism. These more recent versions, however, maintain that only the subjective, qualitative aspects of mental states are epiphenomenal. Imagine both Pierre and a robot eating a cupcake. Unlike the robot, Pierre is conscious of eating the cupcake while the behavior is under way. This subjective experience is often called a quale (plural qualia), and it describes the private "raw feel" or the subjective "what-it-is-like" that is the inner accompaniment of many mental states. Thus, while Pierre and the robot are both doing the same thing, only Pierre has the inner conscious experience.
Frank Jackson (1982), for example, once espoused the following view:
I am what is sometimes known as a "qualia freak". I think that there are certain features of bodily sensations especially, but also of certain perceptual experiences, which no amount of purely physical information includes. Tell me everything physical there is to tell about what is going on in a living brain... you won't have told me about the hurtfulness of pains, the itchiness of itches, pangs of jealousy....
According to epiphenomenalism, mental states like Pierre's pleasurable experience—or, at any rate, their distinctive qualia—are epiphenomena; they are side-effects or by-products of physical processes in the body. If Pierre takes a second bite, it is not caused by his pleasure from the first; If Pierre says, "That was good, so I will take another bite", his speech act is not caused by the preceding pleasure. The conscious experiences that accompany brain processes are causally impotent.
Some thinkers draw distinctions between different varieties of epiphenomenalism. In Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett distinguishes between a purely metaphysical sense of epiphenomenalism, in which the epiphenomenon has no causal impact at all, and Huxley's "steam whistle" epiphenomenalism, in which effects exist but are not functionally relevant.
Arguments for Epiphenomenalism 
A large body of neurophysiological data seems to support epiphenomenalism. Some of the oldest such data is the Bereitschaftspotential or "readiness potential" in which electrical activity related to voluntary actions can be recorded up to two seconds before the subject is aware of making a decision to perform the action. More recently Benjamin Libet et al. (1979) have shown that it can take 0.5 seconds before a stimulus becomes part of conscious experience even though subjects can respond to the stimulus in reaction time tests within 200 milliseconds. Recent research on the Event Related Potential also shows that conscious experience does not occur until the late phase of the potential (P3 or later) that occurs 300 milliseconds or more after the event. In Bregman's Auditory Continuity Illusion, where a pure tone is followed by broadband noise and the noise is followed by the same pure tone it seems as if the tone occurs throughout the period of noise. This also suggests a delay for processing data before conscious experience occurs. [clarify] has called the delay "The User Illusion" implying that we only have the illusion of conscious control, most actions being controlled automatically by non-conscious parts of the brain with the conscious mind relegated to the role of spectator.
The scientific data seem to support the idea that conscious experience is created by non-conscious processes in the brain (i.e., there is subliminal processing that becomes conscious experience). These results have been interpreted to suggest that people are capable of action before conscious experience of the decision to act occurs. Some argue that this supports epiphenomenalism, since it shows that the feeling of making a decision to act is actually an epiphenomenon; the action happens before the decision, so the decision did not cause the action to occur.
Arguments against Epiphenomenalism 
Some philosophers, such as Dennett, reject both epiphenomenalism and the existence of qualia with the same charge that Gilbert Ryle leveled against a Cartesian "ghost in the machine", that they too are category mistakes. A quale or conscious experience would not belong to the category of objects of reference on this account, but rather to the category of ways of doing things.
Functionalists assert that mental states are well described by their overall role, their activity in relation to the organism 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.” 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 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”.
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.
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Epiphenomenalism". Retrieved 2012, Feb, 5.
- 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)
- 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.
- Jackson, 1982, p. 127.
- Levin, Janet (2010). "Functionalism". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 ed.).
- Wegner D., 2002. The Illusion of Conscious Will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Flanagan, O.J. (1992). Consciousness Reconsidered. Bradford Books. MIT Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-262-56077-1. LCCN lc92010057.
- Symons, Donald. The evolution of human sexuality. Oxford University Press. 1979.
References and further reading 
- Chalmers, David. (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Dennett, Daniel. (2003) Freedom evolves.
- Green, Celia. (2003) The Lost Cause: Causation and the Mind-Body Problem, Oxford: Oxford Forum.
- Huxley, Thomas. (1874) "On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata, and its History", The Fortnightly Review, n.s. 16, pp. 555–580. Reprinted in Method and Results: Essays by Thomas H. Huxley (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898).
- Jackson, Frank. (1982) "Epiphenomenal Qualia", The Philosophical Quarterly, 32, pp. 127–136. Online text
- James, William. (1890) The Principles of Psychology, Henry Holt And Company. Online text
- Libet, Benjamin, E. W. Wright, B. Feinstein, and D. K. Pearl, "Subjective Referral of the Timing for a Conscious Sensory Experience", Brain, 194, pp. 191–221.
- Libet, Benjamin. (1985) "Unconscious Cerebral Initiative and the Role of Conscious Will in Voluntary Action", Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8, pp. 529–566.
- Robinson, William. (2003) "Epiphenomenalism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward Zalta (ed.). Online text
- Walter, Sven. (2007) "Epiphenomenalism," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, James Fieser and Bradley Dowden (eds.). Online text
See also 
- Dualism (philosophy of mind)
- Frank Jackson
- Free will
- George Santayana
- Philosophy of mind
- Problem of mental causation
- Specious present
|Look up epiphenomenalism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Epiphenomenalism entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by William Robinson.
- Epiphenomenalism - an article by Sven Walter in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Wikibook on consciousness
- Exit Epiphenomenalism - Analysis by Rivas and Van Dongen.
- Strange Ideas