We Can Never Know What It Like To Be A Bat Analysis

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We Can Never Know What it’s Like to be A Bat

Many philosophers agree that consciousness provides a very difficult problem in understanding the mind-body concept; this is why from a materialist’s point of view, the problem is not sufficient enough for giving one’s attention. Thomas Negal on the other hand, finds the problem rather interesting. Negal’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” proposes a number of arguments, one of them which states that the subjective approach to the mind-body problem should be abandoned for a more objective approach (Nagel 1974, pp. 436). The purpose of this essay is to show that Negal’s arguments are sufficient in describing whether it is indeed possible to know what it is like to be a bat, portraying his arguments in an orderly fashion, and ultimately agreeing with Nagel in that a bat’s consciousness is not accessible to human beings. I will develop two arguments to support my thesis. First, I will argue that the subjective character of experience of a conscious organism cannot be captured by current nor future concepts, defining ambiguous terms along the way. Second, I will raise the issue of the mind-body problem and how we cannot know the subjective character of experience of other organisms since it can only be known from a particular point of view. I will then present some counter arguments that can be made against Nagel’s claim. In order to fully understand the question of whether it is possible to know what it is like to be a bat, the terms associated with the question will have to be defined. Assuming that one has to be in a conscious state of mind in order for one to understand what it is like to be something, Nagel starts off his argument with an idea for consciousness. He criticizes the concept of functionalism for disregarding the subjective view of the mind into a purely objective view. Taking into account what he had just stated, Nagel makes his claim: “The fact that [a bat] has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something that it is like to be [a bat]” (Nagel 1974, pp. 436). This “what it is like” is the subjective aspect of Nagel’s theory. He suggests that previous theories on the mind-body problem did not capture this “subjective character of experience” (Nagel 1974, pp. 436). The “subjective character of experience” can be defined as the idea that a certain organism can only have conscious experiences that only it can feel. Using the subjective aspect of consciousness, Nagel explains that consciousness cannot be defined through only objective means. I agree in Nagel’s stance that the subjective experience is “not analyzable in terms of any explanatory system of functional states, or intentional states” (Nagel 1974, pp. 436). Nagel’s argument is convincing; when people feel an emotion such as pain, no one really knows how to describe it, for one person’s pain might be completely different from another’s. What is there to say that feelings such as pain could be described purely through objective means? In other words, the subjective experience of consciousness, whether it be a bat or a human being, cannot be captured through materialism. The subjective character of experience cannot be explained through physical means as it is “connected with a single point of view”, which the physical aspect leaves out (Nagel 1974, pp. 437). With this in mind, I will now turn to the bat example in order to fully argue that the subjective consciousness of a bat cannot be captured with the current theories that we have. As stated previously, bats, being conscious, have an experience, which means that there is something that it is like to be a bat. Their sensory system such as perceived size, shape and texture, however, is very different than that of a human being since they perceive these characteristics through sonar, or echolocation; because of the difference in perception, a claim cannot be made to believe that their experience is subjectively similar to