Objectivity’s appeal, the philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote in his famous essay What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, is that it moves us “toward a more accurate view of the real nature of things. This is accomplished,” Nagel concluded, “by reducing our dependence on individual or species-specific points of view toward the object of investigation. We describe it not in terms of the impressions it makes on our senses, but in terms of its more general effects and of properties detectable by means other than the human senses.”

To put it another way, objectivity isn’t a kind of transcendent view from nowhere. It’s actually a universal view from anywhere. A water molecule will ultimately appear the same from the point of view of either a hypothetical silicon-based life form or an actual carbon-based one. Likewise, it will remain unchanged from the vantage point of a species with one eye, two eyes, a compound eye, or no eyes whatsoever. In every case, it will consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom because that’s what a water molecule is. All that matters is that the species analyzing it has developed the capacity to detect it.

But the purpose of Nagel’s essay was neither to praise nor bury objectivity. His point was that the one thing we can never be truly objective about is our own experience. Beyond a certain level of complexity, it’s like something to be whoever we are. Consciousness means that even if who we happen to be is Spock or Data, our self-assessments will still have the quality of being subjective. There is no point of view from which our own experience can be truly understood for what it is. Nagel wrote:

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?

Quoted from:

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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