Hierarchical Brain

An explanation of the human brain

First published 1st February 2024. This is version 1.5 published 2nd March 2024.
Three pages are not yet published: sleep, memory and an index.
Copyright © 2024 Email info@hierarchicalbrain.com

Warning - the conclusions of this website may be disturbing for some people without a stable mental disposition or with a religious conviction.

Explanatory gap

The explanatory gap is a term used mostly by philosophers meaning the huge difference between the known physical properties of the brain and personal mental experiences. This is a possible starting place for this website as a whole, because it is a concept that is relatively easy to understand, and a primary aim of this website is to bridge this gap by providing evidence for why there is a gap, and how it can be explained. Scientists know quite a lot about the low-level components of the brain, how they work and what they do; the explanatory gap refers to the difficulty of how I can use this knowledge to explain how my thoughts, feelings and consciousness come about.

My conclusion on this website is that the reason there is a gap is because I am only aware of a model of my world in my own brain, I do not directly perceive the real world or my actual brain, and what I mean by “I” is actually the model of me within my brain. This is why it is impossible for “me” to internally understand what is really happening in my own brain. This website attempts to explain how the model and its components within my brain can be created and maintained and how they can provide the internal experiences I have.

Contents of this page
History of the term - a brief history of the term “explanatory gap”.
Emergent features - examples of emergent features relating to the history.
Levels of description - how multiple levels of description create emergent features which help plug the explanatory gap.
Illusions - a review of illusions in three categories. These highlight different aspects of the explanatory gap and help to determine possible levels of description.
Conclusions - the explanatory gap helps to determine useful levels of description for explaining the workings of the human brain.
References - references and footnotes.


Emergent features

Levels of description



References For information on references, see structure of this website - references

  1. ^ Materialism and qualia: the explanatory gap - Levine 1983
    doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0114.1983.tb00207.x downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 357, end of third paragraph: “...for instance, if penetration of the skin by a sharp metallic object excites certain nerve endings, which in turn excites the C-fibres, which then causes certain avoidance mechanisms to go into effect, the causal role of pain has been explained... However, there is more to our concept of pain than its causal role, there is its qualitative character, how it feels, and what is left unexplained by the discovery of C-fiber firing is why pain should feel the way it does!”
  2. ^ Leibniz’s Mill Argument Against Mechanical Materialism Revisited - Lodge 2014
    doi: 10.3998/ergo.12405314.0001.003 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    A detailed discussion on the thoughts of Leibniz in 1714, who proposed that it would never be possible to bridge the explanatory gap using physical explanations (materialism), although Leibniz clearly already believed that perception, sensation and thought, along with the soul, are immaterial with non-physical causes. However, the author does not actually say whether he agrees or not.
  3. ^ The puzzle of conscious experience - Chalmers 1995 (updated 2002)
    downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 96, first column, third paragraph: “Of course, neuroscience is not irrelevant to the study of consciousness. For one, it may be able to reveal the nature of the neural correlate of consciousness - the brain processes most directly associated with conscious experience. It may even give a detailed correspondence between specific processes in the brain and related components of experience. But until we know why these processes give rise to conscious experience at all, we will not have crossed what philosopher Joseph Levine has called the explanatory gap between physical processes and consciousness.”
  4. ^ Consciousness explained or described? - Schurger and Graziano 2022
    doi: 10.1093/nc/niac00 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 2, second paragraph: “The idea of the explanatory gap is that, while it is possible to come up with laws of consciousness, a true scientific theory of consciousness is not possible.”
  5. ^ Knowledge in perception and illusion - Gregory 1997
    doi: 10.1098/rstb.1997.0095 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    See page 2 under the heading “2. The hollow face”.
    This paper explains this type of illusion by assuming that there is a difference in level between “perceptual knowledge” and “conceptual knowledge”. Although it acknowledges that initial perception is done unconsciously it does not seem to make a connection between “perceptual knowledge” being subconscious and “conceptual knowledge” being conscious.
  6. ^ Hearing lips and seeing voices - McGurk and MacDonald 1976
    doi: 10.1038/264746a0 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This is the paper that first reported what came to be known as the McGurk effect. From the beginning of the abstract: “Most verbal communication occurs in contexts where the listener can see the speaker as well as hear him. However, speech perception is normally regarded as a purely auditory process. The study reported here demonstrates a previously unrecognised influence of vision upon speech perception. It stems from an observation that, on being shown a film of a young woman's talking head, in which repeated utterances of the syllable [ba] had been dubbed on to lip movements for [ga], normal adults reported hearing [da]. With the reverse dubbing process, a majority reported hearing [bagba] or [gaba]. When these subjects listened to the soundtrack from the film, without visual input, or when they watched untreated film, they reported the syllables accurately as repetitions of [ba] or [ga]. Subsequent replications confirm the reliability of these findings; they have important implications for the understanding of speech perception.”
  7. ^ The McGurk effect in infants - Rosenblum, Schmuckler and Johnson 1997
    Perception & Psychophysics, 59, 347-357, downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This paper shows that McGurk effect can be seen in children as young as five months old, although the results are obviously not as clear cut as with adults who can describe what they hear. Since children this young don’t have a fully developed sense of self, and therefore would probably not be able to report on what they heard, even if they could communicate, I think these results have to be treated with care.
  8. ^ Forty Years After Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices - the McGurk Effect Revisited - Alsius, Pare and Munhall 2017
    doi: 10.1163/22134808-00002565 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Second sentence of Abstract on page 1: “Despite the well-established practice of using the McGurk illusion as a tool for studying the mechanisms underlying audiovisual speech integration, the magnitude of the illusion varies enormously across studies.”

Page last uploaded Sat Mar 2 02:55:43 2024 MST