In "What Is It Like To Be A Bat? ", Thomas Nagel offers a challenge to reductionist accounts of mind by highlighting what he calls "the subjective character of experience". In this paper I will be describing what Nagel meant by the term "subjective character experience" as well as provide a breakdown of his famous example of "what it is like to be a bat? ". I will also be focusing on the reasons why Nagel believes consciousness cannot be scientifically explained and reflect my point of view on Nagel's theory on subjective character experiences and consciousness.
To begin with, Nagel argues that every creature that is capable of having experiences there is something it is like to be that creature. "An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism -- something it is like for the organism... We may call this the subjective character of experience. "To take a closer look at this passage, we need to briefly direct our attention to other theorists such as Smart. Smart's theories suggest that everything in this world could to be described with a scientific or mechanical explanation.
Thus, consciousness could also be described scientifically, since our experience of things is just a brain state.  The problem with materialism or reductionism of Smart's view is that they ignore what is special about mind-body problem, they ignore subjective consciousness. They provide an explanation of how the mind works scientifically at the expense of excluding consciousness from the picture. Nagel challenges this supposition in order to show the special mental property that connects one's mind and body.
Consciousness makes the mind-body intractable. " It seems as consciousness doesn't belong anywhere in the concept of a universe of physical objects. Humans appear in that physical world, as do their brains, but consciousness doesn't seem to have a location or a substance. Therefore, in my opinion Nagel has the right idea to accept consciousness as a non physical thing and implying a different approach to evaluate consciousness. Further, Nagel continues to demonstrate his point using the example of a bat's perceptions to explain subjective character.
The bat is a useful example because it is biologically complex enough for us to imagine that it has complex experiences. Importantly, though, the bat is sufficiently different from us for us to suppose that its experiences are quite alien to our own. Since the bat’s primary mode of perception of external world is by sonar or echolocation , which is unlike human vision and hearing.
Its conceivably presents the bat with an experiential world quite unlike the human world, thus there is no reason to suppose this is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine. 622] When we want to understand bat experience we want to know, not just how a bat works, but what it is like to be a bat, in other words we are trying to determine the true subjective character experience of a bat. Even if we knew how the bat’s high-frequency shrieks were projected, and their reflections and deflections translated into a cognitive or behavioral schema — even if we knew all the objective facts that there were to know about bat sonar and bat behavior — that would not bring us any closer to knowing what it is like to be a bat.
The problem is that we can extrapolate from our own case only so far: imagining ourselves capable of flight, eating insects and using echolocation may tell us what it is like for us to behave like bats, but it will not describe what it is like for the bat to be a bat. As Nagel describe in his paper that we cannot even entertain the correct hypothesis about the subjective character of bat experience. Agreeing with Nagel's argument, we can try our best to imagine and understand what it is like to be a bat, however, we have a vast subjective difference between our experiences and the subjective character of bat's experience.
Our structure as a specie is so different we cannot attain a true understanding of what it is like for a bat to be a bat. It is similar to the old saying "put yourself in my shoes", however in this case we lack the imagination, knowledge, and understanding to grasp what it is like for a subject to be that subject. The aim of Nagel's argument is to show that there are facts about the world that are not open to objective and scientific understanding; facts that can only be known from a particular point of view. The bat is an example of this.
Nagel argues that science has been able to provide us with facts and explanations such as, how bat's fly, how they behave, and even how their sonar works. However, the one thing that the science cannot uncover is how all these domains which are exclusive to bats ultimately feel to bats. Objectivity is about moving away from individual or specie-specific points of views and moving towards the object of investigation.  In order to get to objectivity, we need to move away from human views and experiences because we all see the world in one point of view.
He argues that the feel of human mental experiences and feelings cannot be reduced to physical and objective concepts. Nagel distinguishes experience from more objective phenomena, for example, lightning. He argues that lightning could be understood from a number of points of view. A Martian, for example, who did not perceive through vision could still understand lightning because “lightning has an objective character that is not exhausted by its visual appearance”.
Lightning is a phenomenon that can be expressed in the language of physics, i. e. by the use of descriptions of electrical forces, etc. without the need to appeal to the way lightning looks and sounds to us humans. In contrast, "It is difficult to understand what could be meant by the objective character of an experience apart from the particular point of view from which its subject apprehends it. After all, what would be left of what it was like to be a bat if one removed the viewpoint of the bat? "I believe this is one of the points that appear to be difficult to understand but are key to Nagel's view because in order to attain a subjective view of another conscious mind, we need to move away from individual or specie-specific view.
It seems imposable objectively to have a subject experience since we are moving away from the very thing we are trying to understand. We always look at the world through subjective lenses, so we cannot really know what it is like to look at something objectively. Since science observes its subject in an objective manner, it seems impossible for it to provide a convening explanation for consciousness. However, when it comes to understanding experience, striving for this kind of objectivity can only move us further from our object of study.
It appears unlikely that we will get closer to the real nature of experience by leaving behind the particularity of a single point of view. Given that our experience is always connected with a particular point of view, it will always result in a irreducible experience. It is irrational to pursue "a more objective understanding of the same phenomena by abandoning the initial subjective viewpoint. " After all, we only build up an understanding of the objective world through the evidence of our subjective experience.
It seems much more rational to take subjective experience as the given because it is simply there in our immediate consciousness. In my opinion one of the strong points about Nagel's argument is that if on a flip side we apply the same principle to a Martian who is completely inconceivable to us and different from the way we understand the world. As a result, we would come to a realization that there is a vast difference between the way the world is physically and objectively, and the way it is perceived consciously, subjectively.
Thus, providing a reinforcing argument to prove that consciousness cannot be explained by sciences because it relies on a subjective view. In addition, I believe the issue of consciousness is part of a larger picture with lots of other unknown pieces. Nagel attempts to tackle such issue with a dualistic approach towards mind-body problem and accepts other beings as "conscious" minds. Consequently, my only concern with Nagel's argument is that he assumes that bats or for that matter other beings are conscious. For all we know we could all be "brains in a vat" as Hilary Putnam suggests.
Given the fact that provided is not a strong argument for the critic, I believe Nagel has a valid and sound argument for why consciousness cannot be proven scientifically. Agreeing with Nagel's perspective, I believe everything cannot be proven by science, there are some things that require a different vocabulary or fall under a different methods of observing. Other arguments such as the Argument for Design by William Paley and the Cosmological Argument by Richard Taylor, aim towards a non-scientific explanation for our existence that devours any scientific explanation.
Given that fact that we do not possess the knowledge and understand about everything in this universe, it is acceptable to have explanations that are outside the realms of science and our imagination. Nagel's What Is It Like To Be A Bat presents his view on the mind-body problem along with how they interact and connect through consciousness. In doing this, he provides an strong argument explaining why consciousness cannot be explained scientifically like any other substance.
The subjective experience of a bat is an excellent example to demonstrate the scientific perspective in pursuit of a objective view. I believe Nagel has a valid and sound argument for why consciousness cannot be proven scientifically. Agreeing with Nagel's perspective, I believe everything in this universe cannot be proven by science, there are some things that require a different vocabulary or fall under a different methods of observing. As so, Nagel's argument illustrates precisely that science falls short and doesn't not yet have the vocabulary, knowledge and understanding to explain such phenomenon.