The nature of consciousness

In 1974 Thomas Nagel thought about bats and so made his case arguing that physical knowledge does not explain phenomenal states. In 1982, almost a decade later, Joseph Levine coined the expression ‘the explanatory gap’ to express the problem faced by any attempt to explain consciousness in physical terms. Without wishing to reject physicalism altogether, Levine put forward the idea that there is a gap in our ability to explain the connection between phenomenal states and the properties of our brains. We have no satisfactory understanding of why brain processes produce the taste of chocolate, or the visual sensation of seeing blue. If you hear a philosopher wonder “How can colour perception arise from the soggy grey matter of our brains?” you will recognize that they’re acknowledging the ‘explanatory gap’. Generally, we lack any explanation of how a phenomenal state is identical with a physical state of the brain.

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