WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-50


‘Every reductionist has his favorite analogy from modern science. It is most unlikely that any of these unrelated examples of successful reduction will shed light on the relation of mind to brain. But philosophers share the general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different. This has led to the acceptance of implausible accounts of the mental largely because they would permit familiar kinds of reduction.’

In this essay Thomas Nagel looks at consciousness and questions how we can reduce the mind – body problem objectively without subjectivity. By posing the question ‘what is it like to be a bat? ‘ he highlights his position that it is beyond our ability to ever experience sonar echolocation or hanging uside down asleep for most of the day and therefore it is impossible for us to make judgements on a bats conscious experience.

‘No doubt it occurs in countless forms totally unimaginable to us, on other planets in other solar systems throughout the universe. But no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism.’

Nagel calls this the subjective character of experience

every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.


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