What is it Like to be a Bird?
June 11, 2012
Posted by on
Tim Birkhead (Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield) doesn’t know, and he thinks we can’t know. A review of his book, Bird Sense: What it’s Like to be a Bird, can be found in the NY Times here.
He acknowledges that in the end science cannot actually say what it’s like to be a bird. His subtitle was drawn from the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote an essay about consciousness called “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The scientist has no more luck than the philosopher in answering the fundamental question, and for the same reason. We have no way to know the subjective experience of bat or bird, nor neighbor or spouse, no matter how much information we have on how their senses work or on the structure of their brains. The only subjective experience we have is our own. But the attempt to get at what a bird sees, hears, feels and thinks is more than worth the effort because there are so many intriguing facts and stories that the reader learns along the way.