“Nagel’s classic “What is it like to be a bat?”must be one of the most influential papers on consciousness of the last century, and it’s still very relevant.
Nagel’s aim is to launch a kind of counter-attack against physicalist arguments, which would reduce the mental to the merely physical, and which were evidently getting into the ascendant in 1974 when the paper was published. Tempting as it may be to fall back on the familiar kind of reductionist approach which has worked so well in other areas, Nagel argues, phenomenal, subjective experience is a special case. Reductive arguments always seek to give an explanation in objective terms, but the essential point about conscious experiences is that they are subjective. The whole idea of an objective account therefore makes no sense – no more sense than asking what my inward experiences are really like, as opposed to how they seem to me. How they seem to me is all there is to them. Any neutral, objective, third-person explanation has to leave out the essence of the experience. The point about conscious experience is that there is something it is like to see x, or hear y, or feel z.”