Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Analysis

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Thomas Nagel argues that consciousness presents a formidable challenge for both physical and mental issues. He contends that reductionists have an incomplete grasp of consciousness and lack a convincing psychological explanation to back up their familiar reductions (Nagel, 1998, 3-30). Consequently, reductionists tend to overlook the significance of consciousness. Nonetheless, Nagel maintains that without consciousness, the perception of physical and mental problems becomes ordinary.

In his discussion, Nagel delves into the concept of conscious experience and acknowledges its existence in specific animals as well as aliens. He highlights the presence of a distinct subjective experience linked to being an organism, which he labels as “the main character of the experience.” Nagel argues that reductionist or functional states, national or intentional acts of behavior are insufficient in fully comprehending this aspect of consciousness. To gain a comprehensive understanding of both physical and mental awareness, consciousness must be acknowledged. Furthermore, Nagel examines the differentiation between objective and subjective experiences.

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The problem he identified in reducing the latter is its connection to a singular perspective. To avoid any discomfort, Nagel attempted to investigate this situation in relation to bats, who are closely related to us but still different. Due to their differing views and experiences, Nagel argues that we cannot comprehend what it is like to be a bat (Nagel, 1998, 3-30). Nagel not only attempts to imagine the states of being a bat for himself but also considers what it is like for the bats themselves (Nagel, 1974, 436).

According to Nagel, transforming into a bat, even gradually, wouldn’t provide any insight into his current situation. Nagel believes that our understanding is limited, as we can only make schematic ascriptions without truly grasping the essence of the subject. Despite using a peculiar example, Nagel reminds readers that this lack of understanding also applies to human experiences. The problem cannot be denied, even if it may never be fully comprehended. Nagel delves into the exploration of how humans can imagine concepts that surpass their understanding. Finally, he revisits the question of which organisms exhibit a distinctive perspective.

According to Nagel (1974, 436), he argues that one cannot claim to have experienced complete privacy. He acknowledges that a certain level of objectivity is attainable. The existence of alternative perspectives is a common occurrence in our daily lives, but this is only feasible for organisms that possess a significant level of similarity. Similarly, the extent to which an organism can achieve objectivity is limited and never reaches 100%. Nagel raises the question of how certain organisms can be so attached to a point where objective physics appears to be unattainable, highlighting the physical and psychological impact of this issue.

This paragraph does not present an argument against reduction. It acknowledges that an objective understanding of many things is allowed to a certain extent. However, when it comes to the realm of subjective experience, reductionism is bound to fail. The reduction of psychological issues is presented as an example. While reducing other types of phenomena often leads to greater objectivity, trying to reduce subjective experience from the perspective of the subject’s attention is destined to be unsuccessful. This viewpoint is supported by Nagel in his work from 1998 (pages 3-30). Throughout its history, the main objective of reductionism has been to exclude the subjective point of view.

However, in the world, ignoring it is false, which leads to the failure of (neo) behaviourism. Consequently, Nagel acknowledged that the problem of the consciousness of the mind and body cannot be solved using traditional scientific methods. Even with advancements in neuroscience, it is still impossible to fully describe what goes on in the minds of others who experience anger. This is due to the subjective nature of experience, which cannot be addressed by objective physical facts (Nagel, 1974, 436).

According to Nagel, there are only a few conclusions that can be confidently made about physical and psychological issues. One of these conclusions is the need to uphold physicalism, which states that mental states are conditions of the body and mental activity is a physical event. However, Nagel also acknowledges that the apparent clarity of statements marked with ‘are’ can be misleading. Without a theoretical framework to provide understanding, these statements remain ambiguous. We do have evidence that brain activity can be described physically, but we still lack the necessary theoretical framework (Nagel, 1998, 3-30).

In his discussion, Nagel raised a couple of suggestions. Firstly, he questioned whether the question posed is appropriately framed – can we truly ascertain anything that is objective about what it is like to have his experience, or can we only inquire about the subjective appearance? Secondly, Nagel pondered the potential for developing objective phenomena. He proposed that by developing concepts to describe the experiences of others, starting with those who are blind, we may be able to uncover the genuine experiences of individuals. This approach, however, would require significant effort and is intricately tied to the aforementioned issues (Nagel, 1974, 436).

Many people have eaten risotto that could have used the taste of a cooked rat. While capturing and eating a mouse may not be appealing, it is not illegal. However, Gino D’Acampo, the winner of I am a celebrity… get me out of here!, has faced complaints from RSPCA in South Wales, Australia for catching and cooking a rat as entertainment. A court hearing is possible (Nagel, 1998, 3-30). It is often said that involving animals and children in entertainment is unwise.

This is clearly an improper way to consume rats, even if one is starving. However, there is a larger issue at hand regarding the circumstances in which a rat may be included in a risotto. Nagel emphasizes that a significant aspect of life’s evolution is the development of consciousness. Nagel proposes that there is a unique experience of being a bat, in contrast to being an inanimate object like a brick. The distinction between beings that can be considered conscious or not is a subject of philosophical debate. Throughout history, celebrities have eaten maggots and worms on mainstream television, hoping to revive their careers.

No court order has ever been issued to protect the insects that have been consumed without consequence. While being a grub may not have a comparable experience, being a rat does. The challenge in understanding both physical and mental issues lies in consciousness. This could explain why the ongoing debate on this matter receives minimal attention or fails to grasp it accurately (Nagel, 1974, 436). Recently, the reductionist movement has spawned several studies on psychological phenomena to elucidate aspects of materialism, psychological identification, and reduction.

However, the unique physical and mental problems, unlike the problems of H2O-water, Turing Machine, problem of DNA, or oak tree hydrocarbon problem, are often overlooked. According to Nagel (1998, 3-30), the possibility of dealing with these problems involves common ideas of reduction and various other types. Conscious experience, although its existence in non-human organisms is uncertain, is a universal phenomenon that occurs in many aspects of animal life. It is generally difficult to determine what evidence has been provided, with some extremists even denying conscious experience in mammals other than humans.

There is no doubt that it is completely inconceivable in our other planets in numerous forms. However, regardless of the form, the fact remains that an organism has conscious experience. Generally, it is what it is like to be that organism (Nagel, 1974, 436). There are likely to be more implications for the formation and behavior of organisms’ experiences. Ultimately, an organism has a fundamental conscious state of mind only if there is something that it likes. This can be referred to as the subjective nature of the experience.

It does not contain any knowledge. It is a recently developed method to decrease psychological analysis, and all of these methods are logically consistent without this knowledge (Nagel, 1998, 3-30). It is not applicable to any functional state or intentional interpretation systems that can be examined, as these can also be ascribed to robots or machines performing tasks similar to humans, even though they do not have any conscious experiences. It cannot be analyzed as a causal relationship related to human experience and typical behavior, nor can it be given functional descriptions.

The denial of the notion that conscious mental states and events are the only aspects to consider for analysis is supported. It is argued that there are other factors that should be taken into account to understand their full nature. This perspective suggests that any reduction program must include these additional elements for a comprehensive analysis. Neglecting these factors could lead to errors and render the analysis useless. The subjective experience of a psychological phenomenon plays a crucial role, and it is essential to consider it when defending materialism. Without acknowledging the subjective nature of these experiences, it is impossible to fully grasp what is needed for a physical theory.

According to Donald Davidson, if the brain has a physical cause and effect, it must also have a physical description. This belief holds true even if we may not want to believe it and goes against the general psychological theory. Davidson’s argument applies to intentional mental activity and suggests that we have reason to believe that feeling is a physical process, even if we don’t fully understand it (Nagel, 1974, 436).

Davidson presents the argument that certain aspects of events may not be linked to mental psychology, and some people may agree with this viewpoint. However, our current ability to understand this concept is limited, and we do not have a clear idea of what a theory about it would involve. The study of consciousness, which could potentially exist independently from the brain, has only been minimally explored. This raises the question of whether it is worthwhile to investigate the true nature of our experiences and how they manifest to us.

To truly comprehend the physical description of their hypothesis, we must first understand the fundamental notion that it possesses an objective nature or a process that may have a subjective nature (Nagel, 1998, 3-30). We will illustrate this phenomenon by describing the experience of bat sonar, which can also be applied to humans. For instance, it can help us explain how a person blind from birth would perceive the concept of sight.

People will eventually reach a blank wall, but it should be able to formulate a set of objective aspects of performance far beyond our capabilities and should utilize more precise methods. Additionally, using easy analogies like “red is like a trumpet’s sound” in discussions on this matter is not very useful. It should be evident to individuals who have both heard and seen a red trumpet. However, the perception of structural features may be described objectively and be more easily understood, even though some things may be omitted.

The text suggests that replacing the first person in a study with concepts could help us relate it to our own experiences. This is because subjective concepts lack the distance and ease of description that objective concepts provide (Nagel, 1974, 436). Recognizing the subjective experience within an objective description may lead to a more familiar type of objective explanation. However, it is unlikely that a mental physical theory would support this idea. The text also mentions that nobody questions the universal fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

Although there is currently no universally accepted explanation for the mind, Nagel challenges reductionist perspectives by arguing about subjectivity and the conscious experience of organisms. Reductionists often overlook this aspect. Unfortunately, the argument has flaws as it assumes a bat is a conscious entity while trying to differentiate between subjective and objective conscious experiences.

It is impossible to assume that a bat possesses consciousness as we cannot comprehend what it would be like to be a bat. Our understanding of conscious experience in other animals relies solely on our own perceptions, which is not enough evidence. To truly grasp the experience of being a bat, one would have to undergo physical transformation into a bat, an impossibility for anyone (Nagel, 1974, 436).

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