Monday, January 15, 2007

What's it like to be a bat?

Loftus cites animal suffering as an argument against the existence of God:

"If God exists he should not have created predation in the natural world, either. The amount of creaturely suffering here is atrocious as creatures prey on one another to feed themselves."

One of the problems with this comparison is that it's so hopelessly anthropomorphic. For Loftus is simply projecting himself into the "mind" of an animal, as if he can identify with the "viewpoint" of an animal.

This merely illustrates the philosophically childish level at which Loftus operates. Loftus has been watching too many episodes of Deep Space Nine. You know...Odo, the shapeshifter—who knows what it feels like to be a poached egg.

As Thomas Nagel pointed out over 30 years ago:

This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be a bat. We must consider whether any method will permit us to extrapolate to the inner life of the bat from our own case, and if not, what alternative methods there may be for understanding the notion...I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.

To the extent that I could look and behave like a wasp or a bat without changing my fundamental structure, my experiences would not be anything like the experiences of those animals. On the other hand, it is doubtful that any meaning can be attached to the supposition that I should possess the internal neurophysiological constitution of a bat. Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experiences of bats, if we only knew what they were like...we believe that bats feel some versions of pain, fear, hunger, and lust, and that they have other, more familiar types of perception besides sonar. But we believe that these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive.

1 comment:

  1. Also, to turn the tables around for a moment, if Loftus is an evolutionist, then on what grounds would he object to "creaturely suffering" in the first place? Either in the "animal kingdom" or (assuming its ubiquity in human experience) in his own life as a highly evolved animal?