Does Physicalism Leave an Explanatory Gap?

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When thinking about certain correlations between our physical body and the mind, for instance c fibres firing and pain, one might come to the conclusion that despite having thorough scientific knowledge about the concept of pain it still not a satisfactory account of how a physical act of c fibres firing gives rise to the conscious sensation of pain. Some philosophers like Levine agree that psycho-physical identity statements leave an inevitable explanatory gap; others like McGinn argue that this gap is potentially closable. Some like Papineau dismiss the problem completely and claim that there is no such thing as an explanatory gap, and all argument around it is purely “slipping back into dualist thinking”(Papineau, 1998) When we consider psycho-physical identity statements about the mind and body, theoretically they should be analogous to type-identity statements in the external world. For instance when we discover that water is H2O, when presented with evidence, we do not feel inclined to ask why this is the case. However even after ample scientific evidence that pain is in fact c-fibres firing, we would still tend to raise questions as to why pain feels this certain way and not any other way. This impression that despite sufficient physical knowledge the relation is still unexplained is precisely what Levine points out in “Materialism and qualia: the explanatory gap”. However let us consider what c-fibres firing does in fact explain about pain. Functionalist would argue that the “qualia” of pain have a specific role in our interaction with the environment. For instance stimulation of nerve endings makes c-fibres fire which induces the feeling of pain in order to avoid injury. However emphasis should be made on the difference between why the function exists and how the function works. Certainly the functionalist’s account clarifies the causal role of pain, nonetheless the qualitative aspect of how pain feels remains unexplained. So perhaps with qualia part of...
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