Topic 10: Consciousness

[Back to the course overview]

We introduce the broad and challenging topic of consciousness by noting that the word has many senses, and that we will need to try to keep these several senses separate. An initial distinction between access consciousness and phenomenal consciousness is introduced, which we will pursue.

We explore the notion of access consciousness, by first looking at a metaphor for cognition based on the idea of a theatre, a stage, and a spotlight of attention, then we see how this metaphor gave rise to Global Workspace Theory, and we review some experimental exploration of this specific approach.

One way in which the notion of access consciousness has been abused is the hoax that goes by the name of subliminal advertising. We review the history of this concept.

We meet the contrast between the many “easy” questions of consciousness, that are addressable using existing scientific means, and the “hard” question of consciousness, which pertains to the intrinsically subjective and private nature of experience. This is explored in the required reading for this week.

We take a brief look at how the notions of awareness and attention become relevant to our attempts to understand the many senses of the term “consciousness”

In which we reach the end of the course! Thank you for taking part.

Required reading

The self as a center of narrative gravity is a short essay by Daniel Dennett. It ties together several themes.

Dave Chalmers has a good introductory article about consciousness which appeared in Scientific American in 2002. Please read the whole thing!