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.
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?".
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.
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.