28 October 2016

On the Wings of a Bat

This little bat carries a heavy load on its shoulders.  In a 1974 essay titled  "What is it like to be a bat?" Thomas Nagel uses the bird with the double-jointed wings to argue that reductionist  theories of the mind will never be able to explain consciousness.  When neuroscientists scan the brain, the activity they see is not thought or memory, but the movement of neurons.
Enter Mary Midgley,  a British philosopher who has likened philosophy to plumbing, and has accused her colleagues of habitually "biting off less than they can chew."   She makes a similar argument, this time using an ordinary table as an example: to a carpenter a table is a solid object, while to a particle physicist a table is a group of atoms that is mostly empty space. Meanwhile, Nagel looks forward to the emergence of a  post-materialist philosophy.  And the little bat flies through a sky, suffused by the yellow of an unseen sun, oblivious to the shrinking horizons of the neuroscientists.
And you thought this post would be about about Halloween.

A note about the artist: Florence Lundborg was born in San Francisco in 1871 where she studied art with Arthur Mathews.  After the turn of the century she moved to Paris where she studied with Whistler. Her mural, painted for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915  
received a bronze medalFortified by this success, Lundborg moved to New York City where she illustrated books and became a staff member at a magazine called The Lark,  where her woodblock prints often appeared on its covers.

Read: "What is it like to be a bat?" here.
Read: Are You An Illusion? by Mary Midgley, London, Acumen: 2014.

Florence Lundborg (1871-1949) detail of the cover of The Lark, November 1895, color woodcut, Mettropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.


Hels said...

The Panama Pacific Expo was important for the general population who were able to visit, but I forgot that that it helped launch careers in art etc. Well done, Lundberg!

Jane said...

The list would be a long one, I think. Reading a book on an unrelated subject, I just found out that Alexander Stirling Calder (father of the more familiar Alexander Calder)also exhibited his work at the same expo in San Francisco. Small world.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Could this be the SF Bay at sunset?

Jane said...

Hello, Oakland. I hadn't thought about the location but that seems reasonable. It's a stylized image, so the artist may have left identifying things out. Good guess on your part.