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Can someone explain Thomas Nagel's: What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

have a college paper due, and my mind is already fried from my other assignments. If someone knowledgeable in this field could help me, that would be much appreciated.

Maybe a summary or explanation of this work in simple terms, or links to websites that could help me out with. His stance on objective and subjective perpectives. Which is the truer perspective? Or could objective be compatible with objetive? Thanks again.

5 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Nagel's difficulty is essentially this: he believes that there are some experiences which are completely beyond human understanding.

    We might, he argues, imagine an approximation of what it might be like if we were bats. It is possible to imagine being nearsighted, eating bugs, hanging upside-down in an attic, and perhaps even flapping our arms to fly. But this is just what it is like for US to be a bat... not what it is like for a BAT to be a bat.

    A similar analogue might be drawn for a person who was blind from birth. They might develop an intellectual understanding of what light is and learn about how sighted people react and use it, but Nagel suspects that even with all the training in the world, they will never really understand what it is like to SEE.

    This is the kind of subjective experience that he identifies with with consciousness itself. And he takes great pains to observe that although we can do a great job describing how neurons work, we still have essentially no explanation for consciousness itself. We can describe any number of phenomenon associated with thinking beings, but in any of them consciousness seems to be something that might be there or not... we don't even have a way to definitively tell whether other humans are conscious, though they certainly seem to be.

    His argument, then, is that although science seems able to objectively describe things in such a way that no point of view is necessary or even implied, it should also acknowledge the presence of this ineffable subjective experience as well. He doesn't suggest that such experience is necessarily beyond the bounds of analysis. Quite the contrary - he seems mostly to be advocating a greater study of it; that the whole is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.

    That's my take anyway, for what it's worth. Good luck on your paper.

  • ?
    Lv 4
    5 years ago

    For the best answers, search on this site

    Never heard of Thomas Nagel, but it sounds like an interesting essay. I'm not really sure I understand the theory though. Is he saying that it is the bats sonar ability that disproves physicalism? I wouldn't agree with this because the bats are still perceiving the same material world as any other animal. First let me just say I'm a Thelemite who strongly disagrees with physicalism. IMO, for the hardcore materialist skeptic, there is no way to disprove physicalism (even if a materialist has the most profound consciousness raising experience of their life, they can always just turn around and say "Oh it's all in my mind hurr derp" Because we've been taught that nothing that happens in the mind is real- quite subjective I feel, there isn;t really such a thing as "reality" it's like the word "normal"). Just like many people think god can't be proven. In fact there are people who even go so far as to start conversation about disproving physicalism just to be reassured that it cannot be disproven so their world view can solidify, and "reality" seem more defined. I personally feel talking about physicalism with a physicalist is exactly the same as talking about christianity with a christian or islam with a muslim. IME physicalists like to talk about the beauty of the Earth and the physical plane. I feel the beauty of Earth actually works against physicalism. With all of the beautiful and amazing animals, plants, people, places etc etc., Is it really that hard to believe there is another plane of existence? Just look around you. I mean if this planet was nothing but a barren orb then I'd probably have a hard time believing there is an alternate "reality", but never with the majesty of this plane. Rational people who think and are willing to look at both sides of the coin are disappearing..... fast Always research truth yourself, instead of taking someone elses word for it Everything that is, is alive "I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle." - Aleister Crowley

  • 6 years ago

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    Can someone explain Thomas Nagel's: What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

    have a college paper due, and my mind is already fried from my other assignments. If someone knowledgeable in this field could help me, that would be much appreciated.

    Maybe a summary or explanation of this work in simple terms, or links to websites that could help me out with. His stance on...

    Source(s): explain thomas nagel 39 bat:
  • 1 decade ago

    Philosophy of mind

    Nagel is probably most widely known within the field of philosophy of mind as an advocate of the idea that consciousness and subjective experience cannot be reduced to brain activity. This position was primarily discussed by Nagel in one of his most famous articles: "What is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974). The article's title question, though often attributed to Nagel, was originally posed by Timothy L.S. Sprigge. The article was originally published in 1974 in The Philosophical Review. However, the essay has been reprinted in several books that are concerned with consciousness and the mind, such as The Mind's I (edited by Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter), Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology (edited by Ned Block), Nagel's Mortal Questions (1979), and Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (edited by David J. Chalmers).

    In "What is it Like to Be a Bat?", Nagel argues that consciousness has essential to it a subjective character, a what it is like aspect. He states that "an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism—something it is like for the organism."[3] Nagel also suggests that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of reductionistic science. He claims that "[i]f we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could be done."[4] Furthermore, he states that "it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective."[5]

    While Nagel is sometimes categorized as a dualist for these sorts of remarks, he is more precisely categorized as an anti-reductionist. Nagel (1998) writes:

    “ ...I believe that there is a necessary connection in both directions between the physical and the mental, but that it cannot be discovered a priori. Opinion is strongly divided on the credibility of some kind of functionalist reductionism, and I won't go through my reasons for being on the antireductionist side of that debate. Despite significant attempts by a number of philosophers to describe the functional manifestations of conscious mental states, I continue to believe that no purely functionalist characterization of a system entails—simply in virtue of our mental concepts—that the system is conscious.[6]

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  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    I also have the same question

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