It might seem so, going by at least some of the statements made in Chalmers' paper "Facing up to the problem of consciousness" "Why," he asks, "should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does." And later: "We know that conscious experience does arise when these functions [such as visual discrimination] are performed, but the very fact that it arises is the central mystery." Similarly, Thomas Nagel, in "What is it like to be a bat?", his famous earlier paper that focused attention on the problem of phenomenal experience, frames the issue more sharply:
We appear to be faced with a general difficulty about psychophysical reduction. In other areas the process of reduction is a move in the direction of greater objectivity, toward a more accurate view of the real nature of things. This is accomplished by reducing our dependence on individual or species-specific pointsSo the paradox seems clear and stark (though practical rather than logical): on the one hand, "subjectivity" is an inherent source of error while "objectivity" is the path to reality; but on the other hand, subjectivity is here the reality to be explained -- how could it ever be possible to be "objective" about the phenomenon of the subjective? As soon as we try to grasp such an illusive phenomenon in objective terms, in other words, we seem to lose the very quality that defines it.
of view toward the object of investigation....
Experience itself however, does not seem to fit the pattern. The idea of moving from appearance to reality seems to make no sense here. What is the analogue in this case to pursuing a more objective understanding of the same phenomena by abandoning the initial subjective viewpoint toward them in favor of another that is more objective but concerns the same thing? Certainly it appears unlikely that we will get closer to the real nature of human experience by leaving behind the particularity of our human point of view and striving for a description in terms accessible to beings that could not imagine what it was like to be us. If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity—that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint—does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it.
Now, when you come up against a paradox in an explanatory project, you have a number of options (not counting the one of just moving on to another project): you can paste a big label "Mystery" over the whole thing and store it away (perhaps bringing it out occasionally to inspire awe); you can invent new entities and/or ontologies and endow those with just the right features or qualities that you hope will make the paradox go away; or you can take the appearance of the paradox as an indication that there's a flaw or problem buried somewhere in your assumptions. The first option might have its uses, but is clearly an expression of explanatory failure. The second might work, but has an ad hoc or arbitrary aspect to it that rubs off on the concocted entities/ontologies. The third option is the one I'd say has the most promise (and may help clear up some other quandaries as well).
In this case, for example, the assumptions I would question are those lurking behind the quasi-realist epistemology that seems implicit in these approaches. Among the most basic of those assumptions, as we can see from the Nagel quote above, are two: first, that "appearance" is to be distinguished from reality, and second, that explanations can and should approximate that reality (in the process, necessarily shunning appearance). Which obviously leads directly into dilemma and paradox when trying to cope with "appearance" itself. So, first, it might help to look again at that "epistemological inversion" suggested previously, in which appearance isn't a veil but is bedrock, and in which explanations don't aim at approximating a non-phenomenal reality (an impossibility), but rather at constructing more effective and comprehensive structures built out of appearance. Such "efficacious myths", as Quine called them, would still be characterized by ever greater abstraction, in which concrete experiential content is increasingly reduced, but they could no longer be seen as structures inherently alien to appearance or what we've been calling experience.
And that in turn might open the way to a more efficacious understanding of experience within a framework of two distinct perspectives or orientations.Earlier in this series, I'd distinguished those two perspectives as the view from within the phenomenon, as it were, and the view from without (in which experience as such appears only presumptively, based largely on observed behavior). As I said in the previous post, however, this doesn't quite capture the situation, and might even suggest that there is the possibility of a view (of anything) from outside of experience itself, when of course such a notion doesn't even make sense. It might help to expand a little on these different perspectives by pointing out that, on the one hand, experience is all that we are aware of, and is the ground and building material for all concepts, abstractions, and explanations of anything -- this is the first perspective. And, on the other hand, (presumptive) experience (as when we encounter other conscious entities) is but one phenomenon among others within the world that is built out of experience -- this is the second perspective. The second perspective, in other words, is contained within the first -- the situation suggests an Escher-like painting, in which the world is wrapped around and condensed into a localized object within itself. Any explanation -- any attempt at explanation -- of such an object will always be contained within our experiential situation, and can never contain that situation. And that, I think, is a sufficient explanation of the wrongly-named "explanatory gap" -- it would be better to think of it as a situational gap. By its nature, that gap is ineradicable and unbridgeable, since it simply refers to two distinct perspectives (and lies, I believe, at the origin of the many forms and varieties of dualism that have haunted cultures since long before Descartes). But, once we abandon the realist assumption that there must be a single, "true" perspective on the phenomenon, and once we disentangle the two perspectives, it presents no obstacle in itself to the provision of a coherent, effective, and physical explanation of experience as a phenomenon within experience.
UPDATE: Here's the conclusion to this series [see "The 'explanatory gap' series: a summary and a Q and A" above].