The Explanatory Gap
In philosophy of mind and consciousness, the explanatory gap is the difficulty that physicalist theories have in explaining how physical properties give rise to the way things feel when they are experienced. It is a term introduced by philosopher Joseph Levine.
In the 1983 paper in which he first used the term, he used as an example the sentence, “Pain is the firing of C fibers”, pointing out that while it might be valid in a physiological sense, it does not help us to understand how pain feels.
The explanatory gap has vexed and intrigued philosophers and AI researchers alike for decades and caused considerable debate. Bridging this gap (that is, finding a satisfying mechanistic explanation for experience and qualia) is known as “the hard problem”.
To take an example of a phenomenon in which there is no gap, imagine a modern computer: as marvelous as these devices are, their behavior can be fully explained by their circuitry.
By contrast, it is thought by many mind-body dualists (e.g. René Descartes, David Chalmers) that subjective conscious experience constitutes a separate effect that demands another cause that is either outside the physical world (dualism) or due to an as yet unknown physical phenomenon.
Proponents of dualism claim that the mind is substantially and qualitatively different from the brain and that the existence of something metaphysically extra-physical is required to “fill the gap”.
Similarly, some argue that there are further facts facts that do not follow logically from the physical facts of the world about conscious experience. For example, they argue that what it is like to experience seeing red does not follow logically from the physical facts of the world.
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