What's it
like to be
an animal?

About this website

The philosopher Thomas Nagel once proposed that the feeling of being alive must be very different for a bat than for a human. Bats are tiny and winged, with sonar-like capabilities. Nagel tried to imagine what it would be like to be a bat, but concluded: "In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat."

Nagel was thinking about the mind-body problem, so his approach to animal experience was through consciousness. This website approaches it through speed. Some animals are lightning fast. Others are pitifully slow. But slow and fast are relative terms. Four miles per hour doesn't feel very fast to a human: it's approximately one body-length per second. But to a small insect it's approximately 100 body-lengths per second. A human traveling that fast would be going 20,000 miles per hour! This is why some animals' brains process visual stimuli much faster than ours, and why they have better reflexes (think about how hard it is to swat a fly). What does it feel like to comprehend the world at such speeds? This website tries to help you imagine it.

Why you should be skeptical

While I've done my best to find accurate data, this website is primarily intended to be a fun way of thinking about the subjective experience of animals. Here are two reasons to question the numbers on this site:

1. The site's author (me) is not a primary source (eg, a zoologist). I have no training in this field, I'm just a guy that likes animals and sometimes tries to imagine being one.

2. An animal is not a car. "Top speed" here is a vague concept. Very few of my data sources explain whether top speed is a peak velocity measured in one exceptional specimen or whether it's attainable by any healthy member of the species. Or how long the animal was able to maintain its top speed. Or whether there were any special conditions (eg, wind) present at time of measurement. World class human sprinters can reach 30 MPH, but the average healthy adult tops out at around half that. So, what's the top speed of a human? Basically, the whole premise that a species has a top speed is kind of shaky.

A final note. Perhaps owing to a dearth of animal speed data on the internet, this site has become a popular source, appearing in links and footnotes of much more serious websites. If anything, this demonstrates how skeptical you should be of what you read on the Internet.

With those caveats out of the way, please enjoy the site!

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Site concept, design, and creation by Alex Reisner. Animal descriptions are from Wikipedia and some silhouettes are from All Silhouettes.

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