Epiphenomenalism: one of the most disturbing ideas in philosophy: Do our thoughts have any meaning whatsoever?

Andrew has often said that up to 95% of our decisions are unconscious. . .

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The article echoes another helpless attempt of the extremism of materialsm which fails to understand the role of consciousness and thus tries to pigeonhole consciousness as a useless byproduct of bio-chemical brain activity.

Go on mindless robots: work, play, consume, procreate and die. Next generation, please!

(and don‘t even try to bring about change in the world like trying to save the climate or bring about social improvement, because you can‘t, because… remember? we are all mindless robots without consciousness and will, so please continue to consume and do not question the status quo, when your life ends you‘re dead anyway, so worry about the world? Relax and enjoy (while you can), a robot has no moral obligations, isn‘t that swell?!?)



Epiphenomenalism is the idea that our conscious minds serve no role in affecting the physical world.

To me, this is the key point. The interpretation of why this is may be different, but the phenomenon itself is evident.

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Barry, my friend, thanks for posting the article, please don’t take offence when I get a bit sarcastic on some of the article’s points. For me epiphenomenalism is flawed:

Epiphenomenalism is the idea that our conscious minds serve no role in affecting the physical world.

That is a postulate, but I would expect being presented some sort of evidence/proof of this postulate, which I can’t find in the article.

On the contrary, our thoughts are a causally irrelevant byproduct of physical processes that are occurring inside of our brains.

Now that is full-blown, hard core materialism coming at ya in the second bullet point of the article :slight_smile:
…Expecting some hard core proof from the arcticle. Otherwise it’s just an opinion, a dime a dozen.
By the way, the author is equating thoughts with conscious mind and interchanges all through the article.

On any given day, we will make thousands of decisions and perform countless actions. We will move our legs to walk, open our mouths to eat, smile at our friends, kiss our loved ones, and so on.


Today, we know enough about neuroscience and physiology to give a complete and full account of how this happens.

No, not true.
What neuroscientists do know is that certain correlations can be observed between brain processes and physical activities, i.e. neural networks being active or activated in correlation to physical activity and vice versa.
Now, here the author is starting to step into and mix another subject which should not be taken as the same subject. It is true that we are not conscious of many activities, but that does not equate to not having consciousness or tell us anything of the role of consciousness as such.

We can point to the parts of the brain that activate, the route the nerve signals will take up and down the body, the way the muscles will contract, and how the body will react. We can, in short, give a full physical account of everything we do.

Well, so that is a correlation of physical activity and neural activity. So, by understanding that there is a correlation, has one understood causation? Scientfically, the answer is “no”.
In the summer time, statistically, there is an increased number of ice cream sales.
Statistically, one can observe a correlation between the increased number of sold ice cream correlating to an increased number of people having drowned while swimming. So, have we now discovered that ice cream must be the cause of drowned swimmers? No, of course not, but there is indeed statistical correlation, because in the summer time more people eat ice cream and also more people go swimming and some of those drown, so both numbers go up but have no causality (but a correlation).

So, just because neuroscientists can observe correlations between mental processes and physical activity, they can not scientifically claim to understand casuality. T

But if epiphenomenalism is correct, it means that our thoughts don’t add anything to the physical world that isn’t already ongoing. It means that we are locked in our heads. All the thoughts and feelings are ultimately pointless or nonsense.
If epiphenomenalism is correct, well is it? Still a postulate without evidence at this point.
In any case, it is not something new that many physical processes run without conscious control by thoughts (e.g. digestion, etc), so I don’t see the argumentation line so far.
This is no logical proof that epiphenomenalism is correct. Just because I don’t have to think of digesting my food and mentally control the process by thought, that doesn’t mean that mental processes cannot affect my digestion.

But if epiphenomenalism is correct, it means that our thoughts don’t add anything to the physical world that isn’t already ongoing. It means that we are locked in our heads. All the thoughts and feelings are ultimately pointless or nonsense.

Well, if epiphenomenalism is correct, then the author will have no problem explaining the placebo effect.

If the mind does not affect the physcial world, then the placebo effect should not exist.
By taking a sugar pill which has no medical effect, just by mental faith of the medical subject, physical healing takes place in contract to the control group.
The placebo effect is accepted by the scientific community although it cannot be explained by materialism.

So, how does Epiphenomalism explain this?

If a theory is disproved by data, it must be wrong.

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I like your ice cream/swimmers example. In just about every one of his interviews, Don Hoffman uses the example of a crowd gathering every morning at the train station. Does the gathering of the crowd cause the train to show up?

An increasing number of deep thinkers across many disciplines are turning this discussion on its head by postulating that the mind is really all there is. In that paradigm, the brain is actually a creation of the mind. In fact, within this emerging framework, the brain exists within and is a slave to the basic principles of spacetime…and spacetime has been shown to be mathematically doomed as a fundamental principle.

Donald Hoffman and Rupert Spira are two of the most persistent voices in this discussion and they present convincing arguments that Consciousness (Mind) is fundamental.

Some ancient texts make a distinction, however, between the Macro-Conscious Mind and the micro-conscious mind. Here is some pertinent text from Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines.

“Through innumerable myriads of forms, through innumerable myriads of eyes and sense organs of creatures, through innumerable myriads of microcosms, Mind knows itself to be the dreamer of the Maya Kingdom.”

It goes on to say…

“The Doctrine of Maya is the philosophical basis for the related doctrine of the One illusorily perceived as the Many, of the Macrocosm as the totality of all microcosms.”

This might allow both sides of this discussion to be correct, depending upon which framework they originate from.

Consciousness (big C) “creates” the brain which becomes an interface for (small c) micro-consciousness. Perhaps the thoughts of micro-consciousness have no meaning whatsoever in the framework of Macro-Consciousness while, at the same time, they mean everything in the framework of micro-consciousness.

After all…I “decided” to write this post, right? And while I was doing it I’m pretty certain that there were lots of synapses lighting up in my brain…as the train showed up up more time.