Hey Nagel–not done with you yet!

The more alert among you will have long ago noticed that the cyberkrunk blog is, at its core, an extended rumination on the mind-body problem in the guise of chatty posts about pop music, restaurants and movies, all expressed in the language of a writing style I invented some time ago called “Gonzo Prufrock”.

Since I mentioned Thomas Nagel last week, let’s take a quick look at his most famous paper, “What is it like to Be a Bat?” I’ll wait till you finish.

Ok, ready? Good. Of course, it is true in many ways that I cannot know “what it is like to be a bat”. Bats have an entirely different sensory system, and don’t use language. Even if it were possible to jack a bat’s consciousness into krunkbot’s brain, that would not be what it is like to “be” a bat, that would be what it’s like to be krunkbot watching a bat’s consciousness. Right? And if I were able to somehow shut off the krunkbot consciousness while I was inside the bat, krunkbot would have no way of bringing that information back into the krunkbot consciousness; the experience would be non-transportable and therefore lost.

Why is this a weak argument against a reductionist theory of consciousness? It’s because of the way Nagel frames the question. He doesn’t ask “what is it like to echolocate like a bat?” or “what is it like taste honey like a bear?” or “what is it like to strum a power chord like Pete Townshend?” No, it’s his “be” that’s in my bonnet. How can you expect to have a reductionist response when you are essentially asking “what is the bat’s non-reducible, total experience including all memory like”? It’s a nice thought experiment, but it really proves nothing.

2 Replies to “Hey Nagel–not done with you yet!”

  1. Hume made a great start on the last one. And in a very powerful way, Darwin enabled a new way of looking at the first two. But to solipsistic creatures like us, the study of the nature of consciousness will always be compelling, no?

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