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The Bats, the Blind, and the Butterflies Essay

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No one can deny that science has evolved rapidly throughout history. One question, however, has not been able to be answered, even though it has been asked from times as far back as Plato. Do humans have minds; a separate entity from the physical brain that allows us to think? Or is there only a brain, controlling everything including choices and emotions? Thoughts have no physical properties, so how is it that they reside in a physical container such as the brain? These questions all describe the “mind-body problem.”
In the article, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” author Thomas Nagel provides his own view on the mind-body problem. He begins by stating that consciousness is the reason why the mind-body problem is so controversial and difficult to solve. The reductionist (i.e. materialist) believes that every human’s mental states are simply the results of the physical components and chemical reactions of the brain. Nagel claims that every reductionist has a favorite analogy to the mind-body problem, but these examples are unrelated. They refer to matters in which scientists have substantial understanding, where as conscious phenomenon is not very well understood (305). This is why, without consciousness, the mind-body problem would not be nearly as interesting or debatable (306).
The author continues to say that consciousness is widespread between humans, animals, and perhaps even life forms on other planets. If an individual has the ability to be conscious, then it must have its own viewpoint. There must be something it is like for a person to be a person, and an animal to be an animal. This “something” Nagel describes as “the subjective character of experience”. He believes that while reductionists are analyz...


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...ctive and objective experiences are. The analogy of the bat is an exceptional case, because no human has any idea of the bat’s perception of the world. The mind-body problem is directly linked to this idea. One might attempt to explain his perception, but he is unable to completely communicate his subjective experience. The analogy of the butterfly is an interesting one; the answer may seem obvious, and so the rest of the problem is ignored. The mind-body problem can’t be solved until scientists learn more about consciousness and mental states. Physicalism (i.e. materialism) cannot be the answer according to what we know now, but could be proven true in the future.


Works Cited
Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophy: The Quest for Truth. Ed. Louis P. Pojman and Lewis Vaughn. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 305-312. Print.


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