Today’s poem is something I wrote a few years ago, and takes a few more artful liberties than I might like with it’s actual philosophical content. Nagel is arguing that there are certain things about our experience which are unique to our experience and can’t be communicated, but he isn’t giving us an argument for dualism (a mind/body division) or invoking the supernatural in any way. It can be reasonable without being spooky when we start thinking of the mind as an arrangement of neurons. Anything which had the exact same arrangement as me would understand the “what it’s like” of being me, but wouldn’t need to explain it, because it would also BE me. It’s something I think about from time to time. If you’re interested in looking into it, I highly recommend Stephen Pinker’s book How the Mind Works.
In other news, I’m auctioning off my moustache for the last week of Movember. The details can be found here, but it essentially involves donating money to decide how silly I look. It’s for a good cause, and I encourage you to do it. Also, the various parts of my Movember song, to be released at the end of the month, reside there. Anyway, poetry!
Physicalists grow wary when we wax imaginary,
but it’s the only way to see their theory’s utter inadequacy.
It works for most, I’ll give it that,
but what’s it like to be a bat?
It cannot say, it does not know,
it cuts them up but cannot show.
“This is the heart, and this the brain,
where all bat thoughts ought to remain.”
But batness in itself resides somewhere not found on tiny slides.
It seems that qualia you see, is an emergent property.
It does not rest in one small part,
nor in the whole does it impart
its secrets about what it’s like,
to be a bat or be a pike.
“These things, to us, are no concern”
say scientists who scoff and spurn
the notion of something which can’t be cut,
can’t be sliced and can’t be touched.
“We built a robo-bat, you see.
It’ll tell us what it’s like to be.”
But what can their robot really say?
It just screeches at them every day.
It seems they can’t communicate
the natureof the batly state,
no more than I can tell someone
what rhyming feels like when it’s done.
How eagles feel when gods behold,
why Martians don’t chase pots of gold.
It seems one world perceived by us,
but it creates an awful fuss
when our visions fail to mesh,
when our thoughts soar beyond the flesh.
And into something new they come,
something beyond, which science shuns.
This consciousness of which we’re aware,
this audacity with which we dare
to dream of how it is tobe,
a bat, out in the night sky, free.
We do so with our human minds,
our human thoughts, which humans find
a matter of some great import,
this great imaginary sport.
The real question to be answered, if we can,
is “What’s it like to be a bat who imagines being man?”