The Nature of Consciousness
These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"
What it Feels Like to be a Bat and the Evolution of Qualia
Virtual-reality products (already commercially available) allow one to experience a different reality in all senses: not only sight and sound, but also taste, smell and touch. I could design a system that would fully immerse you in the world of a bat: it would make you see, hear, smell, taste and touch precisely what a bat sees, hears, smells, tastes and touches. Would that make you feel what it feels like to be a bat? Are qualia inborn or do they evolve during a lifetime based on what we experience? I don't remember having any feelings when i was a toddler. Sure: i was screaming. But the act of screaming does not imply feelings: percussion instruments make noise when hit and we don't assign qualia to them. Is it possible that we are born without qualia and then qualia evolve as we experience the world? The physical constraints on the body determine the kinds of experience that animals experience, and therefore all members of a species tend to develop the same qualia. The life of a person is significantly different from the life of a bat because our bodies are different: we experience the world differently, and therefore our qualia evolve differently. But what if i could experience exactly what the bat experiences? Would my qualia evolve exactly like its qualia evolved? Would i be feeling what a bat feels like? Do qualia change over a lifetime as our body changes, and, unfortunately, ages? I think so. Even if you don't trust my memory of myself, the attitudes of a person can change so dramatically that it is difficult to think that person has the same qualia that it had twenty years earlier. It seems to me that qualia, not only opinions, change over a lifetime as the body changes and what we perceive changes; in which cases it would be possible to feel what it feels like to be a bat if virtual-reality devices made us live the life of a bat.
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