Jun 3, 2015

Wed Review (Thomas Nagel - What is it like to be a bat?)

Originally published in The Philosophical Review journal in 1974, "What is it like to be a bat?" is one of Nagel's most popular and best read works.

I'm upset that Nagel didn't reference Daredevil even once throughout the whole essay. I wonder if I could write a parody of this essay called "What is it like to be the superhero Daredevil?".

So Nagel argues that it's impossible to know what it's like to be anything other than what you are. We cannot understand another being's conscious experience through simple resemblance to our own being, extrapolate from our experience to figure out his; yet, we cannot deny that this other being does not also have an experience (a 'what it is' to be him). This makes the issue of consciousness extremely important and difficult. More so than the h20/water and life/dna problems. This inability to know an other's experience leads us to conclude that there are facts in the universe that will never be accessible to humans.

An important footnote states: "The problem is not just that when I look at the Mona Lisa, my visual experience has a certain quality, no trace of which is to be found by someone looking into my brain. For even if he did observe there a tiny image of the Mona Lisa, he would have no reason to identify it with the experience".

A physical demonstration of consciousness is, as Nagel says, a form of saying 'x' is 'y'; except in this case we don't have an idea of how these two different referential paths converge on the same thing (for example, it's pretty clear how 'water' and 'H20' can be described as 'x' is 'y', but to say that 'mental state x' is 'conscious perception y' is much more risky). We can't claim that a physical thing and a mental thing both refer to the same thing.

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