Consciousness and Bats

I just downloaded a book by Annaka Harris titled, “Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind“.

Unlike her husbands book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spiritually Without Religion” – her book seems more digestible.

Right off the bat (no pun intended), like a seasoned author, she defines what she is discussing. She points to our most basic understanding of consciousness – which was proposed by philosopher Thomas Nagel:

“The most basic definition of consciousness is that given by the philosopher Thomas Nagel in his famous essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” and it is how I use the word throughout this book.”

Thomas Nagels brilliant concept of consciousness goes as follows:

“An organism is conscious if there is something that it is like to be that organism”

I thought this was fantastically simple and intriguing (however, it turns out though that it’s actually quite complicated).

In his essay, “What Is It Like To Be A Bat” – he breaks down the experience of a bat:

I have said that the essence of the belief that bats have experience is that there is something that it is like to be a bat. Now we know that most bats (the microchiroptera, to be precise) perceive the external world primarily by sonar, or echolocation, detecting the reflections, from objects within range, of their own rapid, subtly modulated, high-frequency shrieks. Their brains are designed to correlate the outgoing impulses with the subsequent echoes, and the information thus acquired enables bats to make precise discriminations of distance, size, shape, motion, and texture comparable to those we make by vision.

Tommy says that we can’t really know what it’s like to be a bat – but we can imagine, or form a, “schematic conception of what it is like.”

To be completely honest, this essay is quite challenging to follow:

In our own case we occupy the relevant point of view, but we will have as much difficulty understanding our own experience properly if we approach it from another point of view as we would if we tried to understand the experience of another species without taking up its point of view.

I’ve read that long sentence four times, and I still don’t think I fully get it.

In any case, Annaka’s book, Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind – lead me to Thomas Nagel and his Bat Consciousness.

I have no doubt that the book will point towards other fascinating concepts.

And I’ll be sure to share them here.


7 responses to “Consciousness and Bats”

  1. You wrote, “I’ve read that long sentence four times, and I still don’t think I fully get it.”

    Somebody who says ‘I do not understand’ is a good thinker according to me. I like that.

    Lots of humans have this arrogant delusion that only humans can have experiences or qualia.

    What do you think, where does this arrogant delusion come from?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The arrogant delusion perhaps comes from our innate belief that we are the Center of the cosmos.


  2. And where does our innate belief that we are the Center of the cosmos come from?


    1. That’s a tough one. Maybe it’s a defence mechanism left over from evolution – protects our ego/brain from being overwhelmed with the infinite possibilities of the universe. Where do you think it comes from?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. D,

    I think that our innate belief that we are the Center of the cosmos comes from the actual fact that every conscious being is, in reality, the part creator of her cosmos. That means that her cosmos would not exist without her.

    Do you understand? Perhaps it needs more explanation?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are all *literally* in the non-spatial center of our own subjective universes.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Ryan Clark, What is a subjective universe and what is a non subjective universe?


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