Virtual Phenomenology: In The Eyes of The Animal

Insofar one assumes that: “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is be that organism – something it is like for the organism.” (Nagel, 1974), and that the subjective character of every organism is distinct, then what it’s like to be any organism can therefore only be understood to a certain extent from a specific point-of-view with a measure of specific mental resources. What is posed in this article then is what a schematic conception, which comes in the form of a virtual reality simulation of animal perception and experience, can offer to the conception of what it is like to be another and perceive the world differently.

In the eyes of the animal is a Virtual Reality installation by Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF), the viewer can experience Grizedale Forest in England, through an immersive virtual reality filter that simulates a lush, living forest from the eyes of one of its inhabitants.

Through the use of binaural audio – a technique for emulating a three dimensional sound experience – and extensive Lidar (Laser), and CT (X-ray) scans that renders the virtual environment, MLF’s installation can be considered an artefact that attempts mimic the life of animals through simulation, which can be considered a system of experience that is set from our point of view and from our understanding of their perceptual apparatus through a digital experience, which is not sufficient to describe: what is it like to be a bat according to Nagel, or any other being for that matter, as it’s merely a schematic conception of what it is like and excludes the subjective character of being.

Instead, if one supposes that: “The less it depends on a specifically human viewpoint, the more objective is our description” (Ibid.), it seems that virtual reality and technological embodiments in general serve as potential means for transforming our perceptual apparatus to that of other organisms more convincingly. In this context, it’s worthy of our attention to consider not only the alterations technology causes to our conception of phenomenology, and e.g. how we experience the external world with and through technology, but also how technology can potentially alter the point of view of the experiential subject, which points to questions regarding the potential altering or enhancing effects technology can have on our experiences in- and of the world, possibly due to an increasingly posthuman condition.


Nagel, Thomas: “What is it like to be a Bat?”, The Philosophical Review; Vol. 83, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450


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Eva Krarup
Eva Krarup
Thank you for this interesting essay, Frederik, I think your comment on how the experiences in virtual reality are “set from our point of view and from our understanding of their perceptual apparatus through a digital experience” is spot on; it might only, to use Nagel’s expression, allow us to come one step closer to what is like for us to be another animal (in our imagination of what it is like to be that animal). Regarding your last paragraph, I think the question is whether VR can potentially transform our experiences in- and of the world (and thus our… Read more »