4/18: Consciousness

Please post a question on the readings. Emphasis on Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.




  1. Nagel defines consciousness as the awareness that occurs between the mind and the body.In Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”, death and despair overwhelm the time period that the Ramsey family is living in. How has the awareness of the gloom of World War II effect the conscious minds of Mr. Ramsey and his wife?

  2. How does Virginia Wolf’s to the lighthouse connect to the reading of what is it like to be a bat by thomas Nagler?

  3. Throughout “To the Lighthouse,” moments of reflection give deep insights into the “true” personalities of the characters and their deepest, darkest secrets. How is this story different in that it is mostly narrated by the conscious of the characters? Do the conscious thoughts of the characters contribute to their development? Is this true consciousness if the characters cannot control their thoughts? Consider the oedipal complex in young James or the delusional reflections from Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.

  4. Is Woolf saying reality is in your mind? The characters in her novel have different perspectives of the same event. She seems to emphasize this point by constantly having the different characters thoughts presented. This is unlike most novels that have a constant narrator throughout.

  5. “An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism – something that it is like for the organism to be itself.”

    How does this quote from “What is it Like to be a Bat?” relate individually to each main character in “To the Lighthouse”?

  6. At the end of the novel, we discover Lily Briscoe escapes the anxiety and reoccurring memory of Charles Tarsley by painting her artistic achievement. In what ways does Lily represent consciousness? And how does her artistic achievement reunite her with Mr. Ramsey?

  7. In “What is it Like to be a Bat?” , Nagel discusses the idea that consciousness has a subjective aspect. With that in mind, when looking at the separate characters in “To the Lighthouse” and their respective streams of consciousness, how do we grow to trust or empathize with each character? Does the arguably subjective view of consciousness affect how we attach ourselves to certain characters or is the minimal dialogue between them enough to provoke a bias?

  8. Virginia Woolf’s novel has no plot and has a free rambling style within her prose. She enters completely into her characters, one by one, and traces their thoughts and actions with free lyrical expression. Noticing the most trivial detail she invests it with significance. But it is always her significance which it assumes in the mind of the character. This attention to detail into the mind of her characters and what they choose to layer with meaning, is this an accurate representation of human consciousness?

  9. Negel refers to his bat observation and says, “we cannot form more than a schematic conception of what it is like [to be a bat]” (6). This can be related to humans as well. It’s almost impossible to know the consciousness of others unless explicitly stated. In the light of Woolf’s book, as well as in real life, how does this quote support the ideas about the characters’ own consciousness, as well as others’?

  10. In “What is it like to be a Bat?” Thomas Nagel states, “It would be fine if someone were to develop concepts and a theory that enabled us to think about those things; but such an understanding may be denied to us by the limits to our nature”. What he means by this is we can do our very best to understand a being’s subjective experience but we may never know what it’s truly like to be that being because we are limited not by choice but simply by being human. We simply cannot understand what it is like to be a bat because we are not a bat and cannot walk in it’s shoes metaphorically speaking. This being said, is it ignorant to say we will never overcome this problem? Could we eventually evolve and develop the skills to understand or will we always be wondering what it is like and unable to overcome this physical capping point?

  11. Thomas Nagel discusses consciousness and its relationship to the mind-body problems. He uses an example of a bat to bring light into the problems embedded in the mind-body. Angel states that we, as humans, cannot describe the conscious experience of a bat without being objective because our own mental state is very much different compared to a bat. Because of this, the mind-body problems emerge and we cannot fully explain another species’ behavior since our consciousness operates different. I questioned the authority of scholars who attempt to discuss others behavior and consciousness. How do we accurately work to attempt to explain phenomenas in other species without being objective? Furthermore, how do we educate others about the species of our world and their behavior?

  12. In the piece, “To The Lighthouse”, Woolf says, “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilization impossible with all their “charm” and their silliness… he liked her; he admired her; he still thought of the man in the drain-pipe looking up at her; but he felt it necessary to assert himself.” (Woolf, 85-86). In the conflicting nature of Mr. Tansley’s largely misogynistic view of women in conjunction with his draw toward Mrs. Ramsay, what could his compulsion to assert his dominance in the dialogue reveal about his conscious or unconscious motivation in doing so, while bearing in mind the dissonance Mrs. Ramsay causes him? What can we draw from this projection? Also, what is the significance of Woolf’s mentioning Mr. Tansley’s recurring memory of Mrs. Ramsay being the focus of another’s [male] gaze?

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