As I wonder how it feels to be that mouse, I’m reminded of Thomas Nagel’s famous 1974 essay, “What is it like to be a bat?”””a landmark in the philosophy of mind. Nagel’s thesis was that there is “something that it is like” to undergo particular states of consciousness or being; there is a first-person perspective (for which the technical word is qualia) that will forever elude reductionist explanation. But the inscrutable depths of a laboratory mouse or of his flying cousin are beside the point; what we really want to know is what it is like to be a human being.
Some neuroscientists will tell you that it’s just a matter of time before we possess a complete physicalist map of mental states. I’m certain they are wrong and Nagel is right.
But what is it like to be a human being? The difficulty is that we don’t know which particular experiences specify our humanity; we don’t whether there is some flavor or feel or “pinch of existence” (as William James liked to call it) that goes with being human. Introspection alone can’t answer this question, for our sense of being human is a social acquisition assimilated from our parents, friends and teachers. Faith forms identity: if I accept the religious teaching that I am a creature made by God rather than a man (or laboratory mouse) produced by impersonal mechanisms, it changes everything.