Introduction: The explanatory gap (EG) can be defined as the failure to provide an absolute account for mental phenomena. Mentalphenomena are referring to all mental events and states, for example; desires, thoughtsand emotions. A prime focal point is qualia. This is the given term describingour personal experiences. There is something ‘it is like’ for us whenexperiencing things, such as seeing the colour red. The gap infers a void of important knowledge.In this case, it is having a verified report detailing qualia in a logicalform.
“The explanatory gap argument doesn’t demonstrate a gap in nature, but agap in our understanding of nature.” (Joseph Levine). Our curiosity is aimed at increasing our explanatory power of the interactiverelationship between our brain and mind. A well-functioning mind enables us to beaware of experiences we come across in the world and the reason for ourconsciousness. When defining thebody, we say that it’s physical with precise spatial characteristics. They’respatial because they have an exact location.
When trying to understand themind, our brain is probably the most relevant body part. Our mental characterand brain network are both believed to be independent and interactive states.This obscure relationship creates inexplicable confusion. The EG expresses a troublingpuzzle associated with our conscious experiences in the material world.
Physicalism states that physical facts metaphysically determine all our facts.From a posteriori reasoning, we know that physical, non-mental events have thecapacity to cause conscious experiences. On the flip side, it entails thatconscious experiences can cause purely physical events. For example, if I thinkabout wanting a tea, I can then get up and make one. Analytical behaviourism may provide solid enough logic to bridge theexplanatory gap. Logical/analytical behaviourism argues that statements of themind should be understood in terms of statements about behaviouraldispositions.
A disposition is the way in which the mental state is actualised.When speaking about mental states we are only describing behaviour. Forexample, to be in pain is just to wince/cry, etc. They believe we are misled by the belief thatwe have a mind and the way we talk about an individual’s mental states. Thisreductive theory argues we should change mental terms such as ‘desiring’ with detailsreferring to behaviour. Science can only investigate what is observable, hencewe must look to behaviour.
Talking about our inner mental states areinaccessible to others, thus cannot be scientific. This might bridge the explanatory gap becausethe behaviourist says that all psychological phenomena can be translated tobehavioural terms and concepts. They say we don’t need concepts or states whichgo further than behavioural dispositions. When talking about mental states wemake a category mistake, said Ryle, meaning we are really talking about somebehaviour instead. Emil de Bois-Reymond asked what conceivable link there is between themovement of atoms in our brain and our ability to experience subjectively. It’sargued that qualia would not be distinct if they didn’t possess certainqualitative features. One argument further separating the EG is theKnowledge argument.
Imagine that physicalism is correct and thatneuroscientists had knowledge of all the laws about our functioning brains.Further, imagine a neuroscientist in possession of this knowledge but was bornwithout colour perception. Something is missing from their knowledge. Forexample, they wouldn’t be able to recognise a red object from a blue one. Wewould say that they have learnt something new if he acquired colour perception,showing that physicalist descriptions can’t explain everything in our world. Furthermore, he considered the argument frommultiple realizability. This investigates the idea that the same mental statecould be ‘realised’ in different ways. Imagine two people see a bear and areboth terrified.
One runs away while the other is frozen to the ground. Thisshows that the same mental state could lead to alternative dispositions. Thisis problematic because if different behaviours are shown as a cause of the samemental state, then how can we know they are the same thing. Further, this couldalso be true the other way around, i.e.
the same behaviour may be shown becauseof a different mental state. It follows that if we can’t know that they are thesame thing, there is a gap in our knowledge. Type identity theory argues that mental states and processes areidentical to brain states and processes. Philosophers such as Smart deny theexistence of irreducible non-physical properties such as qualia. Their claim isthat we have mental ‘types’ of things such as believing something is the caseand we have physical ‘types’ of things, e.g., neurons firing in our brain.
Thebelief is nothing more than physical processes/changes. The two concepts aredistinct; however, we are referring to the same property. This is ontological reduction because themental phenomena are identical to physical properties. Smart uses Ockham’srazor to support this. The principle suggests that the simplest answer iscorrect as we should avoid multiplying answers beyond necessity. Science hasshown that physical properties of our brains are good reason to explain mentalstates. As there are no dualist arguments backed by empirical research, weshould reject theories suggesting non-physical properties exist. Considering other issues forced upon us bythe explanatory gap, type identity also provides a strong account for mentalcausation.
If it’s true that all mental properties are identical to brainproperties, then mental states involving behavioural dispositions areneurological connections. Thus, mental causation is reduced to physicalcausation. This can be seen as a step towards bridging the EG.
In ‘What is it like to be a bat’, Nagle argued it’s impossible for us toacquire an objective understanding of other ‘type’s’ of experiences. Nagle(1974) defined consciousness as ‘the emergent property making the mind-bodyproblem intractable’. As organisms have conscious experiences, there issomething that ‘it is like’ for them, the subjective character of experience. Herefuses to say that mental states causing us to behave exhausts their analysis.We have learnt that bats brains are specially designed to correlate outgoingimpulses with echoes enabling them to judge the distance, shape and size ofobjects. We can only imagine how this would feel for us. Our minds capacity islimited to truly understanding what it’s like for a bat to be a bat.
Regarding personal experiences, we each haveour own point of view. However, we would have as much trouble understanding ourown experiences properly if approached from alternative views as we would if wetried apprehending experiences of another species without taking up its viewpoint(Nagle, 1974). It’s this element of experience complexing the problem because realexperiences can only be gained from the organism itself. In science, reduction is usually seen as progressiontowards objectivity as we isolate specific variables, minimising our dependenceon human senses. The less dependent it is, the better the objectivity. However,with human experiences, movement towards objective descriptions takes usfurther away from the phenomenal properties defining their real nature. It isthese factors making the EG difficult to bridge.
Conclusion: Firstly, I outlined analyticalbehaviourism which attempts to close the EG by claiming that talk of mentalphenomena is just referring to behavioural dispositions. This was threatened byissues including multiple realizability. Secondly, I looked at Emil deBois-Reymond’s views. He couldn’t conceive how ‘mental’ processes could have acausal / interactive relationship with the physical world.
I moved onto considering mind/brain typeidentity theory. This physicalist theory claims that we can close the EGbecause brain processes are identical to mental processes. The gap may bebridged because all that exists are the physical properties. Lastly, we lookedat Nagle’s answer. He believed that the dilemma will continue to exist untilthe definitions of key words such as subjectivity and objectivity are agreed.His claim was that it’s impossible for us to objectively understand other’ssubjective experiences.
Overall, I believe the explanatory gap is farfrom bridged. Problems in this complexing debate evidently exist. Our brainsare so complex that we don’t know everything about them yet. We’ll struggle to understandthe mind properly until we know all physical facts about the way it operates inlife and after death.
When defending physicalist theories, phenomenal aspectsof our experience require physical accounts. However, after considering these,it seems that many questions have remained unanswered. References:Chalmers, D. (2010). Consciousness and ItsPlace in Nature.
The Character of Consciousness, 103-140.Conaill, D. (2017), Phenomenology,Objectivity, and the Explanatory Gap. The Sou. Jour. of Phil.
, 55: 32–50.Levine, J. (2009). TheExplanatory Gap. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind: Oxford UniversityPress. Nagle, T. (1974). What Is It Like to Be aBat? The Philosophical Review, Vol.
83, No. 4, pp. 435-450Smart, J. “The Mind/Brain IdentityTheory”, TheStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition).Sturm, T.
(2012). Consciousness regained?Philosophical arguments for and against reductive physicalism. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(1), 55–63.