What is it like to be a bat?

Ted Hiebert & Jin-Kyu Jung

In an early essay focusing on the study of consciousness, cognitive scientist Thomas Nagel argued that there is exactly nothing that it is like to be a bat. That is, if you are not a bat, then you have no point of reference, and thus can never actually know what being a bat is like. It seems a valid argument. Nagel went on, however, to argue that:

At present we are completely unequipped to think about the subjective character of experience without relying on the imagination. ... This should be regarded as a challenge to form new concepts and devise a new method--an objective phenomenology not dependent on empathy or the imagination.

--Thomas Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?" The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974).

Where Nagel wants to disqualify the imagination as a useful way to make connections across subjective boundaries, this project insists on the opposite. We believe the imagination is uniquely capable of helping to provide encounters with that which cannot be known directly--and can thus only be known imaginatively! Thus, in defense of the imagination, this project--What is it like to be a bat?--is a response to, and an embodied critique of, Nagel's assertions. Conducted by artist Ted Hiebert and qualitative geographer Jin-Kyu Jung, the project asks participants to imagine what it is like to be a bat, and by imagining gesture towards the imagination as a possible way to speculate about the unknowable. We do not expect anyone to become a bat--we only seek to provide space to imagine what it might be like, to the best of human capacity.

Responses from the project will be compiled into "imagination portraits" that feature aspects of each participant's reaction to the challenge. This may include video and photographic documentation, written responses to a questionnaire, and data gathered from EEG (brainwave) recordings of a session where participants are asked to imagine what it might be like to be a bat?



Photography & video: Allen Liu, Will SaeChao, Kristina Jorgensen, Veronika Tang, Gonzalo Cruz, Sydney Haynes.
Production assistance: Mohammed Almousa
Event documentation: Marissa Macqueen

Imagination Stations