What is it like to be a bat (or Britney Spears, or me, yesterday)?

I was re-reading the classic Thomas Nagel paper “What is it like to be a bat?”. First, of course, one need to accept the premise that there is something like “subjective consciousness”. But, let us take this premise and run with it.

What Nagel is arguing is that there is no way for me, a human, to know what is it like to be a bat, because we cannot recreate the experiences of a bat. We have a different brain and body structure, we do not have a wing, we do not have a sonar, and so on.

I think that he is right, but he is missing the real gap.

What about trying to understand what is it like to be Britney Spears? I don’t have her gender, age, experiences. One might claim that structurally I am closer to Britney than to a bat, so maybe my understanding of how it is to be her might be “closer” (provided I can create a distance measure on such a thing).

But now an easy one (for me). What was it like to be me, this morning? The facts are there: the sun was shining, and I was having a headache. My perceptions of the external world and the internal world created something which Nagel would call “experience”. Right now, the headache is gone and it is nighttime. I can describe my feelings this morning, verbally, but I can not trick my mind to feel a headache or my eyes to see sunlight.

I do not know how it was to be me this morning. The gap between the actual moment of experience, and the attempt to reproduce it later is much larger, than the gap between my experiences, Britney’s experiences, or the bat’s.

PS: Of course, I know what it is for me to finish writing this blog entry. But wait… it is gone.