Thomas Nagel popularized the question "What is it like to be a bat?". The idea was to show that there is something more than physical involved in consciousness. My question is related but a little different. We cannot relate to bat consciousness as it is a completely different animal and have sensory system that we probably lack. What about a completely "insane human consciousness"? Is it possible from the objective and subjective data to construct a description so that we can all relate and imagine what it is like to be insane?

  • 1
    A dangerous line it is between using gestalt stimulus to imagine insanity, and truly becoming mad. How accurately do you wish to capture the essence of being someone besides yourself, given that you wish to be not-mad after the encounter? Are you sure you can keep them confined within your imagination? Choose carefully =)
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 17:41
  • I'll remember your advice. Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 17:47
  • 2
    @Keelan It remains a real question, it just has infinitely many very detailed answers.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 19:46
  • 1
    It's not entirely clear what "complete insanity" would mean or look like.
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 1:33
  • 1
    We can't just ask ex-bats, nor can we somehow reliably alter our own perception in the direction of a bat's. So half the question disappears. Still, we too seldom ask questions about how known differences between minds should affect our philosophy, especially our ethics.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


It is probably a variety of extreme things, just not at the same time... There is not one way of being sane, much less a single way of being 'absolutely' insane. Like Anna Karenina's view of families, functional minds are all functional in the same way, at least compared to dysfunctional minds, which are much more singular in their dysfunctions.

I am going to go way off in left field here and suggest that this is one of the reasons why recreational drugs are a good thing, even alcohol, and especially LSD.

Even if you cannot actually occupy the mind of a severe depressive, or a mild psychotic, you can gain empathy for it by pushing your own chemical status toward theirs and extrapolating. (As @CortAmmon points out, there are reasons for not really joining them out there at the extreme, unless you are quite sure you are just visiting.)

Being very different from yourself, occasionally, should help you keep in mind those very different from yourself.

There is power in the DMT experience of earnestly addressing See Urchins and Machine Elves, and really feeling what it means to be absolutely sure of something and totally engrossed in it, with no sense of 'game'-ness while the 'real' you knows that you are just flat wrong. There is similar value in the nebulous love of everything and everyone to be had when 'candy flipping'. Or the creepy feeling of living death on mescaline.

There is understanding to be had even in alcohol. People don't understand why the depressed, especially the bipolar, do things that keep themselves that way, and why it is so much work to even identify those things. Well, alcohol is a mild depressant, why do people drink? The reasons are endless, and all those same reasons make sense of mild mood problems.


Here is a possibility: that it is in fact no different than to be sane.

For in Kants theory of mind we can distinguish the Intellect from the Intuition; and it is the Intuition which presents the Intellect with sense-experience.

If the Intuition plays false and presents the Intellect with a false picture of reality, the Intellect has no choice but to construct a new theory of reality.

For example in conventional reality a wolf cannot suddenly jump through the wall into my room; but say that I saw that in fact it does hold; that in fact a wolf did just this once, then in this unconventional reality I can rationally hold that such things do happen.

  • So it isn't "choose your delusion" since the delusion is already chosen for you, but we are all still crazy, though a critical mass are just crazy in a way everyone else can relate to.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 14:35
  • @jobermark: pretty much :). Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 14:39
  • @jobermark: under LSD, I expect the Intellect itself remains rational despite how crazy the outward behaviour looks; what's 'de-ranged' is the sensory manifold presented to it. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 15:09
  • It is more internal than that. Your limbic response is frozen at a point about half-an-hour after dosing. One usually manages to force this point to be a calm one. So this gives you an experience of infinite equanimity characteristic of schizophrenia. It can also give you the feeling of complete investment characteristic of autism. And if you are unlucky, it can give you 19 hours of continuous fear.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 15:14
  • The latter part makes sense; but I don't understand how the limbic system can be frozen if emotions are still experienced: ie '19 hours of continuous fear'. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 15:19

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .