Homework of Nature of Mind at Berkeley. said to deserve A
Instructor: Professor J.J. Campbell
In this essay, I will illustrate how Nagel’s what is it like to be a bat comes up with the limits of scientific understanding and imagination and I will further explain why scientific knowledge can’t help us understand a bat’s point of view by refuting an objection to Nagel’s theory.
2) Limits of scientific understanding and imagination
At first, Nagel reveals that the existence of conscious mental states of a creature depends on having its own point of view, its own subjective character of experience. That is, there is something that it is like to be that organism (219).
Particular subjective character of experience is restricted to particular point of view. For example, bats have the subjective experience that there is something that it is like to be a bat. However, as a kind of creature whose structure is fundamentally different from bats’, we human beings have such a different subjective experience that we can not extrapolate to bats’ point of view from our own point of view (220). In a word, a creature’s point of view is determined by its type (221).
On the contrary, objective character can be comprehended from different points of view because the thing being apprehended is not connected with that point of view. For example, a Martian scientist has a totally different point of view than that of human’s, however, it can still have objective knowledge of a rainbow by studying it scientifically. (221)
Therefore, the gap between subjective character of experience and objective character has been revealed clearly. The attempt to understand another perspective by studying scientific knowledge about it can’t even touch the edge of the gap. Because scientific knowledge is objective and can be acquired from various points of view; however, it doesn’t help us understand other creature’s point of view, which is purely subjective. (223)
Normally, imagination is all we rely on to understand the subjective character of other perspectives. Imagination allows us to adopt another point of view as long as we share the same physiological structure. It enables me to put myself into other people’s shoes. By imagination we can understand what is it like to be Mary, who fails in the exam or what is it like to be Sally, who, on the contrary, earns a good grade because as the same type of creature with them, we have had experiences of happiness and sadness. But it won’t work in the bat’s case. Because we have such a different physiological structure, which determines we have totally different experiences than that of bats, we cannot imagine what it is like to be them.
Either scientific knowledge or imagination cannot break through the limit of physiological structure and help us acquire understanding of another type of creature’s point of view and their subjective experience.
(3) a possible objection: Operation on Structure
However, what if I acquire full understanding of scientific knowledge and let doctors have operations on me in order to change my physiological structure into a bat’s structure? By changing physiological structure, I mean totally changing me into a bat. It seems that after surgery, I will become a bat and therefore acquire the inner life of a bat. It seems that literally, full understanding of scientific knowledge does help me acquire a bat’s subjective experience.
However, the objection misses the point.
At first, what Nagel actually claims is that we can’t extrapolate to the inner life of a bat “from our own case, without changing our fundamental structure” (220). He is not being tricky by giving a strict condition because this is exactly the key of his argument: the limitations of different points of view, which imagination or scientific knowledge can’t break through. If I change my physiological structure into a bat’s, then my point of view will change into a bat’s point of view, too. That is to say, it is not I who has a bat’s subjective experience; it is a new bat that has a bat’s subjective experience. The boundary between a person’s point of view and a bat’s point of view is still there. I can’t understand a bat as a human; my scientific knowledge won’t help me break the boundary.
The key to understanding Nagel’s theory is the emphasis on the particular point of view based on the particular structure. Scientific knowledge is objective, however, particular point of view is purely subjective. Trying to achieve greater objectivity will only drive us far away from understanding of particular point of view.
However, at the end of the essay, I will propose the following question: What is it like to have a bat’s, or a Martian scientist’s, objective scientific knowledge? It seems that Nagel suggests that different perspectives can reach the objective fact by studying it scientifically. However, the problem is that maybe objective facts rely on perspectives. The difference between two approaches can be shown below:
This will be a big issue and I hope I can further discuss it in the future.