What is the explanatory gap? Can it be closed?

The question addresses the explanatory gap found in dualism. Can the two halves of dualism, the physical and the non-physical, the internal and the external, the mind and body, ever be brought into a coherent whole?

I shall argue that yes it can with a position that is ultimately against dualism with the thesis that all things are manifestations of one consciousness and that the dualistic divide can be described as one imaginary membrane that paradoxically divides two parts of a nothingness or ‘voids’ allowing consciousness to self-reference and thus bring itself into existence. The explanatory gap of traditional mind-body dualism shall be closed by transcending the physical using quantum mechanics and art; but it shall also be accepted that in daily life maintaining this perspective may not be possible. It shall be shown we are beings who inhabit the explanatory gap, which would be better labelled, ‘the communication gap,’ which is an illusion, because there is nothing to communicate.

My position can be described inter alia as dialethiest, panpsychist, and epistemologically results in pyrrhonism (Popkin 1980 103-132). In other words my thesis shall require the acceptance (or transcendence) of a paradox, indivisible experiential being and the relinquishing of the belief in the ability to obtain and store knowledge; which encapsulates itself as a dialetheist liar paradox in that, “this conclusion cannot be known.” This is the purpose of the ‘artistic diagram’ depicting ‘void on void’, because even if the conclusion cannot be ‘known’ as such in a cognitive sense, it can be understood and experienced in a real sense. The ‘artistic diagram’ shall be explained in detail and shall serve (I hope) to significantly enhance the commutative power of this essay to bridge the explanatory gap. Having qualified this unusual addition, I can continue.

Theories from various philosophers will be put forward and shown to either be false, or encompassed by my own theory, in which case they will be absorbed to live inside of it, starting with the basics:

Cartesian dualism

In Descartes’ sixth meditation he concludes the mental and physical are fundamentally distinct (Chalmers 2002). In The Passions of the Soul Descartes goes into more detail on how he believes the mind and body interact. He says that some of our perceptions are caused by the soul and others by the body. He also says that the soul is united to all parts of the body conjointly but its “seat” is in the pineal gland in the brain (Cottingham 1996) (as cited by Chalmers 2002, 22).

Cartesian dualism fails where the body is categorized as being different to other seemingly external entities, for example:

“The body is a unity which is in a sense indivisible because of the arrangement of its organs, related to one another that the removal of any one of them renders the whole body defective” (Cottingham 1996) (as cited by Chalmers 2002, 22).

Is it not the case that the removal of air or gravity or sunlight or alteration of the position of the solar system would render the whole body defective? His categorization cannot be justified. I argue that what Descartes calls the ‘soul’ is actually consciousness and is not contained in a person’s body but rather everything in existence is made of one consciousness and so everything is indivisible, which means all categorizations dividing reality are illusory. However, the experience of these limited categorizations, these limiting categorizations, they ‘condense’ existence from infinite nothing, they are existence. This claim will be justified after quickly running through what other philosophers have to say about dualism.

Levine’s explanatory gap

Levine says that psycho-physical identity statements, such as, “pain is the firing of c-fibres,” leave an explanatory gap (Levine 1983)(as cited by Chalmers 2002, 354). He uses the example of, “water is H20” as a statement with no explanatory gap. He says aliens could be in a state of pain and not have c-fibres; perhaps they would have “D-valves” instead which appear to cause the experience of pain, and so he says there is an explanatory gap in describing an experience in physical terms.

What the explanatory gap is exactly needs to be made clear here. Levine’s example can be enhanced with more precise language, “pain in humans pain is the experience of the firing of c-fibres,” and “pain in aliens is the experience of the opening of D-valves.” It’s clear that my alteration does not explain what experience is. This is the explanatory gap. I argue that experience is consciousness. Fiddling semantically with a single sentence about c-fibres reveals nothing, and so I can continue.

The formation of an imaginary grid dividing reality is the basis of Newtonian science and intuitive animal thought (Susskind 2006). At its most basic level, dualism is the creation of ‘nothings’. These ‘nothings’ can be mathematically described and it allows for fixed empirical measurements and thus the creation and evolution of a system, which evolves into systems and more and more sub-systems, which we experience as reality. Dualism provides the basis for the extension or ‘emergence’ of experiential being. This allows for the one thing, call it ‘oneness’, call it ‘cosmos’, call it ‘all things,’ call it ‘god’, to experience itself and thus come into existence. Therefore there is no fundamental dualistic division; and there is. This contradiction is the essence of the explanatory gap.

This bamboozling panpsychist-dialetheist combination will be carefully and continuously clarified and explained throughout the essay, starting with a brief rundown of quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is the study of the motion of sub-atomic particles, or ‘quanta’ of which all things that exist are made. Some examples include photons (light particles), electrons, neutrons and protons. In the sub-atomic realm the laws of Newtonian physics and common sense rationality do not apply (Zukav 2001). For example, when a single photon is directed through two-slit grate the photon paradoxically goes through both slits at the same time, creating measurable interference - with itself. The photon somehow knows there are two slits (http://library.thinkquest.org). Is the photon conscious?

Furthermore, unlike the motion of things that are on a scale we are used to such as cars and footballs, it is not possible to measure both the position and momentum of sub-atomic particles. The more you know about the position, the less you can know about the momentum. If you focus on the exact position, you can know nothing whatsoever about the momentum, and vice versa. This is not due to equipment limitations, but rather the nature of sub-atomic particles (Zukav 2001).

According to quantum mechanics it is not possible even in principle to predict the future accurately. We can focus on only one thing precisely. This is known as Heisnburg’s uncertainty principle (Zukav 2001). We must choose to what extent we measure the position or momentum of a particle.

Therefore consciousness is fundamentally entwined with existence. The question has been raised; did we create the particles we are experimenting with? After all, everything is made of them - including us. The dualistic mind-body distinction is illusory.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Neils Bohr (1958) (as cited by Zukav 2001, 95) said:

“Light has no properties independent of us. This is the same as saying it does not exist. Without us, or anything else to interact with, light does not exist. And without light, or anything else for us to interact with, we do not exist”

This is known as complementarity. On the one hand this is the strongest argument for dualism because it means there is an ‘us’ and an ‘it’. However, the ‘us’ and the ‘it’ paradoxically cause each other to simultaneously come into existence. They don’t exist until they are put together. If the two halves are inseparable and by definition will remain so for as long as existence exists, why not call it ‘oneness’ and escape the paradox? I shall attempt to explain why we struggle with this by demonstrating that this is a matter of limited awareness, rather than a matter of limited explanations and cognitive powers.

Quantum mechanics tells us that nothing is real unless it is observed, or measured, or perceived in some way. But perceived by what? It cannot be a case of consciousness and matter, or mind and body or physical and non-physical. It must be a case of consciousness and consciousness. This level down from total awareness, the splitting of one consciousness into ‘consciousness and consciousness’ creates experience by allowing consciousness to “self-reference,” or communicate with itself (Wheeler 1984).

The explanatory gap therefore could in theory be closed if all things reached a state of total awareness, as there would be no communication required due to all things recognizing their ‘oneness’. This would simultaneously destroy reality as we know it.

I could reasonably conclude here that this means the explanatory gap cannot be closed. However, that conclusion misses the fundamental point of this essay, that we are a manifestation of one consciousness – right now; not that we were one consciousness and now are we are not. It is a matter of levels of awareness. Awareness in a human can be increased through many activities such as meditation, shamanic rituals, contemplation, and possibly through flow states induced by artistic appreciation. This is how the explanatory gap can be closed, through self-awakening, rather than through receiving an explanation in words. I believe total awareness can be achieved by a human through great dedication in what eastern philosophies call ‘samadhi’. Samadhi is a non-dualistic spiritual state of consciousness (http://www.srichinmoy.org). Its obtainment by monks or masters has not caused the destruction of reality. Therefore total awareness does not entail total destruction, because the reality we think we experience does not exist. Intuitive Newtonian categorizations that explain our physical lives are at worst, completely illusory, and at best, limited.

Words do fall short of explaining the quantum realm, as professor sir Michael berry concluded in his lecture on how theories can live inside other theories (09/12/10). This is why dialetheism and some form of paraconsistent logic must be embraced when it comes to written statements on the quantum realm.

The ‘artistic diagram’ aims to help remedy this problem. To avoid mysticism and vagueness I will keep the written explanation of it to a brief bulleted list, although the essay as a whole should help communicate the same message. The picture is not supposed to be an ‘answer’ but rather an expression of my understanding which should be useful to other experiencers in transcending the ultimate paradox of the explanatory gap by, “breaking apart the illusion of separation” (http://amandasage.com). ”

Artistic diagram “void on void”

Explanation of artistic diagram entitled ‘void on void’
  • Ideally viewed a priori. That is, to be viewed entirely in the present without imaginary pasts or futures interfering. In that is, ideally viewed in a state of samhadi, or what I have been calling total awareness. In other words, in a dialetheist state of paradox acceptance, or the inverse – in a state of having sheded or unlearned Newtonian thinking to the very core.
  • You, the observer – the experiencer, are a part of this picture too.
  • There is no distinction between the experiencer and the picture.
  • Any object or any part of reality can be viewed in this way. Therefore this unity applies to the whole of reality.
  • If held up to the light it reveals a jumble of meaningless backwards symbols.
  • There is unity between the light, the experiencer, the picture, the depicted ‘voids’ and the symbols and indeed everything else.
  • This should alter awareness to some extent. Potentially the experiencer can become aware that everything around them is a manifestation of one consciousness, as the thesis of this essay states.
  • In an additional layer of depth, the experiencer can ascribe meanings to the symbols as we all do in our daily lives and generate a new kind of reality involving meanings and cognition that seems completely different and intangible compared to the visual spatial relations, but is actually just an extension of the same thing.

There are countless other interpretations to be made and parallels to explain regarding the picture but they become too imprecise to include here.


I have explained the nature of the explanatory gap Levine that highlights regarding consciousness and what seems to be a physical experience.

Consciousness cannot be explained on the macro-scale, which is the scale where explanations exist. However, the explanatory gap can be transcended and recognized only to exist as a product of limited awareness. The dialethiest-panpsychist conclusion has thus been reached. All things are manifestations of one consciousness, there is only really one of us here, and ‘it’ exists by experiencing itself by simultaneously creating and inhabiting a imaginary communication gap, which can be temporarily transcended or awoken from, but not explained. The explanatory gap can therefore be closed by recognizing that there is no real gap to explain.


Bohr, N. (1958) Atomic Theory and Human Knowledge, New York: John Wiley

Chalmers, D. (2002) Philosophy of mind classical and contemporary readings, New York: Oxford University Press

Cottingham, J. and Stoothoff, R. and Murdoch, D. (trans) (1996) The Philosophical writings of Descartes, Cambridge University Press in Chalmers, D. (2002, 22) Philosophy of mind classical and contemporary readings, New York: Oxford University Press

Leonard Susskind, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Eeuqh9QfNI&feature=related> recorded lecture on ‘quantum entanglements’ 25/09/2006 Stanford University

Levine, J. (1983) The Explanatory Gap, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64 in Chalmers, D. (2002, 354 - 361) Philosophy of mind classical and contemporary readings, New York: Oxford University Press

Michael Berry, oral presentation of 'Emergence and asymptotics in physics: how one theory can live inside another' 9/12/2010 University of Bristol Physical reality: photons in two places at once. Oracle Education Foundation consulted 10.11.10 <http://library.thinkquest.org/C008537/cool/diffraction/diffraction.html>

Popkin, R. (1980 103-132) The high road to pyrrhonism, San Diego in Course Pack. (2009) Introduction to Philosophy A, Bristol: The University of Bristol

Sage, Amanda. Statement and Biography consulted 11.12.10 <http://www.amandasage.com/index.php?article_id=22>

Samadhi: the height of divine consciousness. Sri Chinmoy consulted 10.12.10 <http://www.srichinmoy.org/spirituality/concentration_meditation_contemplation/samadhi>

Wheeler, J. (1984) A measure of things, New Scientist 1425, 29

Zukav, G. (2001) The dancing wu li masters, New York: Bantam Books


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