3. 7. 2 Knowing what it is like, Van Gulick optimistic’s point of view Multiple realization implies that any given creature with a brain suitable to interact with the world has a very rich mental life, and should have conscious experience. According to Nagel”… fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something chat it is like to be that organism something it is like for the organism. We may call this the subjective character of experience” (Nagel, 1974/2002, p. 219).
However this experience, according to Nagel, is hard to defend from a physical point of view. Nagel argues that “every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable than an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view” (Nagel, 1974/2002, p. 220), for that reason consciousness according to Nagel may escape our understanding, at least for now; in this sense Nagel suggests that “any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective-objective” (Nagel, 1974/2002, p. 25). In other words, Nagel does not rule out a possible physicalist account of consciousness, but this, according to Nagel, awaits advances in science. However, I would argue that a better metaphysics of consciousness is also required, and that non-reductive physicalism is the best option, as Van Gulick points out, “[i]t is pluralistic about theories, languages, and ways of understanding, but monist enough in ontology to satisfy the demands of our physicalist world view” (Gulick, 2002, p. 299).
Nagel argues that we cannot know what it is like to be a bat, even when we know all the facts about how the bat’s brain works – as humans we will not get the genuine bat experience.. This is in line with Van Gulick observation (referring to McGinn’s point of view) that, “we are all armadillos when it comes to understanding the link between the brain and phenomenal mentality” (Gulick, 2002, p. 563). However, science has advanced and everyday there are added new empirical facts to our understanding of the natural phenomenon of the universe, including consciousness.
It is worth emphasizing again, that by the completeness of physics, if consciousness depend on events in the brain, then, consciousness needs to be physical; or, as Armstrong claimed, if “whatever it is, which produces certain effects. This leaves open the possibility of the scientific identification” (Armstrong, 1981/2002, p. 82). Recently, a study at Western University by G. Buckingham et al. suggests that some blind people use echolocation “to interpret the echoes of selfgenerated sounds to perceive the structure of objects in their environment” (Gavin Buckingham et al. 2015, p. 237).
The study seems to suggests that blind people who use echolocation have an accurate consciousness experience of surrounded objects. If so, it can be argued that we may know what it is like to be a bat, and it can be claimed that the experience [of being a bat] can be subjectively understood by using some features of the human brain in place of others. This is the kind of empirical research that may let us know what consciousness is, and it suggests that the gap between consciousness and the brain can be closed.
But currently the question remains as to how neural activity and experience are linked. Admittedly pessimism persists, but this pessimism needs to be eradicated. As has been suggested, links between phenomenal aspects of consciousness and their physical realization in the brain can be discovered by empirical research. This is Van Gulick point of view. In “Understanding the Phenomenal Mind: Are We Just Armadillos? Part I: Phenomenal Knowledge and Explanatory Gaps” (1993), using empirical data from C. L.
Harding’s book Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow (1988), Van Gulick suggest that empirical research can help to recognize consciousness from a physicalist point of view; and, consequently, arguments such as the ‘knowledge argument can be better understood. In other words, knowing how the brain works, how the different brain structures interact and how the perception of colours, sounds, smells and so on are produced, can help us to grasp the phenomenal character of experience from a physicalist point of view.
For instance, using Harding’s finding about colour, Van Gulick suggests that “… the articulation of an organized structure among colour qualia provides the basis for establishing explanatory connections between them and their neural substrates, explaining higherorder-organization in terms of underlying structure” (Gulick, 2002, p. 564). This is critical key to the defence of an optimistic point of view for a physicalist understanding of consciousness experience. From empirical research we may know how vision, auditory, olfactory or tactile process are realized in the brain.
There are different levels of realization:, from low level properties (neurons, chemical or electrical synapsis); to midlevel properties (brain states or brain areas such as Wernicke or Broca); to high-level properties like consciousness. These highlevel properties may impact on the low level properties, meaning they are causally efficacious, without being reduced to that low level physical properties. These empirical findings open up the prospect of an explanatory connection between mental phenomena and the way the brain realizes them.
For example, based on Harding’s findings, Van Gulick suggests that “the articulation of an organized structure among colour qualia provides the basis for establishing explanatory connections between them and their neural substrates” (Van Gulick, 1989/2001, p. 564) Likewise, Hans Flohr in the article “Sensations and brain process” suggests that “underlying physiological processes can be identified. It is assumed that neural assemblies instantiate mental representations” (Flohr, 1995, p. 157).
However, the problem with Flohr’s view is that consciousness representation .. Still, some philosophers, like Tye (1995), suggest that phenomenal experience will not be found inside the brain, and everything is, in representational terms, outside the head. Other philosophers, such as McGinn (1989), suggest that explanation of neural correlates and consciousness will escape our understanding. Nonetheless, the gap needs to be reduced and any advance at the empirical level is important. This is the basic point of Robert Van Gulick, who argues that: …. he more one can articulate structure within the phenomenal realm, the greater the chances for physical explanations; without structure we have no place to attach our explanatory “hooks”.
There is indeed a residue that continues to escape explanations, but the more we can explain relationally about the phenomenal realm, the more the leftover residue shrinks toward zero, there is a long way from that. But we are not armadillos, and the comprehension of the phenomenal does not escape our cognitive abilities… (Gulick, 2002, p. 65) However, although the whole picture of how the brain realizes the phenomenal aspects is still unclear, one thing needs to be emphasized: that the mind and the subjective experience must respond to a physical process, and with the help of the most promising metaphysical account – non-reductive physicalism — there is no reason why the correct interpretation of empirical data shall not allow a full explanation of consciousness in physical terms, locating consciousness where it is: in the brain and realized by the brain states.