Tag Archives: Tacit Knowledge and Consciousness

What is it like to be a baby?

As I sneak gingerly into the thicket of consciousness studies I cannot help but remember a famous quote from Thomas Nagel, the philosopher, “there is something that it is like to be a bat.”

From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974):


The statement implies application of what we call consciousness to this question. Surely bats have some sort of consciousness but as it is largely based on echolocation, we humans struggle to imagine what that might feel like. The effort is interesting but I choose instead to wonder what it is like to be a baby. Our family is blessed with a fresh, new baby, now over a year old, and examination of the behavior of this little girl reinforces my suspicion that what we call consciousness is being built from the ground up in real time by the efforts of a baby whose job appears to be creating its consciousness. Psychologists and philosophers conduct extensive and valuable research into the nature of consciousness while under their noses the baby makes it from scratch.

Ameria is continually examining the environment asking non-verbal questions like, “What is this?” “How does this work?” “Can I control this?” And so on. Answers come slowly but only with experience. Grabbing, dropping, mouthing, banging, throwing, all actions that correlate object behavior with motions of arms, fingers, seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. At the same time neuronal structures are gradually forming memories in a manner we do not yet understand. The coherence of muscle movements with these consciousness building exercises tells us that another phrase for this process could be the development of tacit knowledge.