(CC) Carol Zaleski–What is it like to be a creature?

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.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * General Interest, Animals, Anthropology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology