What is it Like to Be a Bat?

Discussion in 'Religion & Philosophy' started by ExpectantlyIronic, Dec 21, 2009.

  1. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    The title of this thread comes from a famous paper by Thomas Nagel on the philosophy of consciousness. He argued that phenomenal consciousness exists, and can be characterized as the feeling of being something (i.e. there being "something it is like to be" whatever is conscious). So if a bat has phenomenal consciousness, then there is something it is like to be a bat using echolocation. If a human being is conscious, then there is something it is like to be a human dreaming or looking at an apple. If a thermometer is conscious, there is something it is like to be a thermometer reacting to the temperature.

    This notion opens up a large philosophical can-of-worms, but I want to focus on what sorts of things are conscious in this sense of the term. Is a thermometer conscious? A human? A bat? An insect? The two extreme positions on this issue are solipsism and panpsychism. Solipsists hold that only they are conscious, as they can only verify their own consciousness. Panpsychists hold that everything is conscious, as a consequence of how alike matter and physical processes seem everywhere in the universe. Other views may link consciousness with intelligence, self-awareness, possession of a soul, etc; or we may otherwise take a neutral route and say there is no way of knowing.

    I find myself largely agnostic on the issue, with slight leanings towards the panpsychist perspective. It seems intuitively likely to me that bats are conscious, and that we cannot know what it is like to use echolocation without using it. If we can grant as much, the inconceivability of the theoretical phenomenal-experience of a thermometer should not pose anymore of a problem than it does in the case of a bat. There are many ways in which people, bats, and thermometers are unalike; but I cannot find grounds to say that any of the qualities that people possess in particular are necessary for consciousness.

    My main problem with attributing consciousness to something like a thermometer, is that I see no reason why a thermometer in particular should have an experience of unified-consciousness, as opposed to, say, a thermometer and the air around it. This same problem can be leveled against human brains, but in our case it seems quite certain that specific brain processes of ours directly correlate with the contents of our conscious experience, and furthermore that said contents are unified in some respect. A thermometer differs enough from such processes, that it would seem an extreme leap in the dark to say that it or some aspect of its functioning has similar correlates in terms of phenomenal experience. Which takes me back to a position of general agnosticism on the issue.

    In any case, this seems like quite the pickle.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2009

  2. theArgus

    theArgus Registered Member

    i read that piece for a philosophy of mind class, this subject is so intriguing.

    it brought to mind another reading for that class, in which someone claimed that physical objects connected to us are just extensions of our mind. ie. someone keeping memories in a book, phone, etc. (another example i like to think about is comparing the messy room of someone like me, with relatively chaotic thought processes, to some orderly and well groomed person whose thoughts are clear, organized, and focused)

    if you get what i'm saying by that, then i believe we do know what it is like to be a bat in a certain sense, as we have taken this sort of idea and implemented it into our existence with SONAR and other techniques like remote sensing. while it is no direct means of ultimately using it like a bat does, ultimately we are performing the same action, however the mechanism and path the information travels is "wired" slightly differently.

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