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What Is It Like to Have Qualia

What Is It Like to Have Qualia

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Published by Dom Siravo

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Published by: Dom Siravo on Mar 11, 2012
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 What Is It Like to Have Qualia?Domenic SiravoMarch 02 2011Philosophy of Mind
 
 As conscious human beings we have an astonishing amount of experiences every day andwe tend to describe these experiences by how it feels to have them. Yet what does it mean to feelor know what it is like to have an experience, and how do these feelings relate to humanperception and consciousness? These questions are addressed by Thomas Nagel in his essay
“What
 
Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in which
he promotes the existence of a subjective character of experience, an idea that is represented by most philosophers by the concept of 
“qualia”
. I argue,along with Bennett and Hacker
, that Nagel’s argument for qualia is i
nventive yet ultimatelyunconvincing and that the existence of qualia has yet to be established. First I give a cursory
review of Nagel’s essay and his central argument. Then I discuss Bennett and Hacker’s response
to the essay and the conception of qualia. Finally, after evaluating both respective works, Iexamine whether qualia exists or not.1. Knowing What It Is Like
 Nagel’s influential and
frequently cited thought experiment asks the reader to try andimagine what it would be like to be a bat. But why is Nagel asking this of us, and what are theimplications of this question? It should be noted that the decision to use a bat for this exercisewas not arbitrarily chosen. The bat is an animal that is differentiated enough from a human by itsforeign ability of perceiving via echolocation and other alien forms of behavior and is alsofamiliar enough as a mammal that it could enable one to assume that a bat is capable of havingexperiences. The latter part of this reasoning is especially important for Nagel because he isultimately investigating how phenomenal experience can fit into a physicalist account of consciousness. The phenomenological features of experience can be understood by turning to thewording
used in Nagel’s original question of “what is
 
it like to be a bat?”
To say that a creature
has a “conscious
experience
 
is to say that “there is something it is like to
be
 
that organism”
 
(Nagel 2). Thus if a bat does have experiences then there is something it is like to be a bat, or the
“subjective character of experience” (Nagel 2). Embedded within Nagel’s explanations
arepremises that his argument will be constructed upon. First is that (1) an experience is a consciousexperience only if there is something it is like for the subject to have this experience. Secondly,(2) a creature can have conscious experiences only if there something which it is like to be thatcreature. Returning to
 Nagel’s question with these premises
in mind will be useful in unearthinghis central argument concerning consciousness.When attempting to explain what it is like to be a bat, we would first turn to ourimagination and picture what it would be like to be able to fly or have sonar and so on. Howeverthis would just be someone imagining what it would be like for them to be a bat, not what it islike for a bat to be a bat. We thus cannot extrapolate the desired knowledge
of a bat’s experience
 through these means. Nevertheless we can try to observe the physical structure of the animal andits behavior, allowing us to express what we believe it is like to be a bat, for instance one hasreason to believe that bats sometimes experience fear and hunger under certain conditions andthe appropriate stimuli. Yet this method also falls short since all the experiences we wouldbelieve that bats have are based on observations that are met with an epistemological barrier thatprevents a complete picture from being portrayed. Nagel explains that the experiences of bats
“also have in each case a specific subjective c
haracter, which it is beyond our ability to
conceive” (Nagel 3).
Consequentl
y, the inability to know the subjective character of a bat’sexperience illuminates that “there are facts that do not consist in the truth of propositions
expressible in a human la
nguage” (Nagel 4).
This holds true for anyone of a different
type
thanthe subject of the experience, since it would be impossible for me to know the experiences of ablind and deaf person and vice versa. The facts of experience are only accessible subjectively;

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