Neuro Humanities Studies

Thomas Nagel,

What is it like to be a Bat?

Topics: Consciousness; Cognition;
Disciplines: Anthropology;

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Thomas Nagel is a professor of philosophy and law at New York University. He has written extensively on topics in ethics and the philosophy of mind. His book The View from Nowhere (1986), this reading, and Reading 32 (also by Nagel) have been the focus of much discussion in the philosophy of mind. Although this reading differs from Reading 32 in topic, they both (like Colin McGinn in Reading 26)emphasize the limitations of anything like our current concepts and theories for understanding human consciousness-In this reading Nagel will argue that there is something very fundamental about the human mind and minds in general which scientifically inspired philosophy of mind inevitably and perhaps wilfully ignores. He uses various words for That something—"consciousness," "subjectivity," "point of view," and "what it is like to be (this sort of subject)." The last expression is in the title of his paper and seems to fit his argument most precisely- It refers to what most people have in mind when they line up in amusement parks to get on wild and scary roller-coaster rides. Unless they're anthropologists or reporters at work, they aren't trying to learn anything. Nor are they trying to accomplish anything— they're paying to let something intense happen to them. They want an experience, a thrill; they want what it's like to be in that kind of motion. The meanings of the other expressions overlap with the last but also include other things.


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