By | April 29, 2016

Not all dualists are interactionists, however. An important alternative version of dualism, called epiphenomenalism, recognizes mental entities as being different in kind from physical ones yet denies that mental states play any causal role in the unfolding of physical events. An epiphenomenalist would argue that mental states, such as perceptions, intentions, beliefs, hopes, and desires, are merely ineffectual side effects of the underlying causal neural events that take place in our brains. To get a clearer idea of what this might mean, consider the following analogy: Imagine that neurons glow slightly as they fire in a brain and that this glowing is somehow akin to conscious experiences. The pattern of glowing in and around the brain (i.e., the conscious experience) is clearly caused by the firing of neurons in the brain. Nobody would question that. But the neural glow would be causally ineffectual in the sense that it would not cause neurons to fire any differently than they would if they did not glow. Therefore, causation runs in only one direction, from physical to mental, in an epiphenomenalist account of the mind-body problem. Although this position denies any causal efficacy to mental events, it is still a form of dualism because it accepts the existence of the ‘‘glow’’ of consciousness and maintains that it is qualitatively distinct from the neural firings themselves.

-Stephen Palmer, Foundations of Cognitive Psychology: Core Readings