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What Is It Like to Be a Male?

As I said above, I think women have no idea what it's like for men to experience female beauty. I'll try to justify that statement later, with particular reference to why the experience isn't the same as the reverse; for now, all I want to do is try to describe the experience.

The title comes from the article What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, which I like to refer to even when it's not relevant. (It's actually about how the subjectivity of experience creates problems for any theory of consciousness.) It's only slightly relevant here imagine the following written by industrious female scientists.

I assume we all believe that bats have experience.


Bats, although more closely related to us than those other species, nevertheless present a range of activity and a sensory apparatus so different from ours that the problem I want to pose is exceptionally vivid (though it certainly could be raised with other species). Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life.

I wouldn't say men and women are alien to one another, but I would say we sometimes underestimate the differences.

So, anyway what about the experience of beauty? I could just say that it's pure pleasure, but that wouldn't really do it justice. Instead, let me explain how I imagine it works, in two steps.

First, there's a set of neurons, part of the visual system rather than the conscious mind, that recognizes beauty. That's implied by what I said in Vision, but I think it deserves to be spelled out and emphasized.

Second, the output of that part of the visual system is connected more or less directly to the pleasure center.

Does that last sentence remind you of anything? A famous experiment with rats, perhaps? I haven't looked up the details, but I can tell you the general idea. If you take a rat, connect an electrode to its pleasure center, and put it in a cage with two buttons, one that dispenses food and one that turns on the electrode, it will spend all its time pressing the second button, even to the point of starvation. The experience of beauty is something like that.



  See Also

  Liking What You See
  One Thing Leads to Another
  Reverse, The

@ August (2003)