It’s as essential to human existence as water is to a fish. Every night we surrender it gratefully, only to get it back in the morning. We recognize that we have it, but we can never be sure anyone else does. Consciousness, this unique and perplexing mental state, has been the subject of debate for philosophers and scientists for millennia. And while it is widely agreed within contemporary philosophy that consciousness is a problem whose solutions are likely to determine the fate of any number of other problems, there is no settled position on the ultimate nature of consciousness.
What is the most promising way to study this subject? What are the implications that arise from the fact that we have consciousness? What are the ethical and moral issues raised by its presence—or its absence? Questions like these are at the heart of Consciousness and Its Implications, 12 thought-provoking lectures delivered by distinguished philosopher and psychologist Daniel N. Robinson. Rather than merely explain away consciousness, or hide behind such convenient slogans as “it’s all in your brain,” Professor Robinson reviews some of the special problems that philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and doctors face when taking on such a vexing topic.
What Is Consciousness? Much of what we do every day is done without our being directly conscious of the steps taken to complete the task: riding a bicycle, taking a walk, humming a tune. But as natural as this state is, it stands as a very serious threat to any number of core convictions and assumptions in both philosophy and science. One of the overarching goals of this intriguing course is to make clear just what about consciousness serves as such a challenge to these convictions and assumptions.
But what makes Consciousness and Its Implications so engaging is more than just the nature of the questions it poses and the issues it tackles. It’s the way in which Professor Robinson, the consummate teacher and scholar, conveys this goal in four main points, each of which you explore in depth in these lectures.
Consciousness seems to require, for its full understanding, a science not yet available. What distinguishes consciousness from all else is its phenomenology—that is, the act of being conscious is different from all other facts of nature. Conscious awareness is a power that, at times, can be so strong as to greatly affect our senses.
The powers of consciousness vary over the course of a lifetime; as such, they can become subject to disease and defect.
Throughout the course, Professor Robinson brings this riveting topic vividly to life with real-world examples and striking anecdotes. Review the case of Deep Blue, the IBM computer that in 1997 shocked the world by defeating a human, the chess grand master Garry Kasparov. Does Deep Blue’s ability to “outsmart” a human being constitute a kind of consciousness? Or is it a reflection of the human minds that created this complex computer? Consider the case of the sleepwalker, who moves around with purpose and mimics behaviors we see in everyday life, but can remember nothing upon awakening. How does this mental state relate to human consciousness? What would be lost if we lived our entire lives as sleepwalkers?
Study the case of a comatose patient who lives in an unbroken sleep state but, after a miraculous recovery, recalls having heard doctors speak about her. How do we interpret this patient’s ability to perceive the surrounding world while in a coma? Does the patient’s experience reflect some in-between mental state we’ve yet to define? Look at the case of a child with autism who can perform complicated mental tasks but lacks the most basic human attribute: empathy. How does this inability to imagine other minds affect the child’s capacity to enjoy the full experience of human consciousness? Using compelling examples such as these, Professor Robinson weaves a riveting tale of the human condition that will change the way you think about your own mind.
Professor Robinson also draws on the wisdom of the world’s greatest thinkers—from the ancient Greeks to today’s top scientists—to shed light on some of the ethical debates involved in any examination of consciousness. These include John Locke, whose famous “Prince and the Cobbler” hypothesis raised questions about the relationship between one’s personal identity and one’s body; Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose “Beetle in a Box” scenario holds implications for how we define consciousness both inside and outside ourselves; and Aristotle, who led a pointed discussion on the relationship between the physical world and what he referred to as “real being.”
You also enter the lab and explore the impact of modern physics and medicine on our understanding of the self. Pondering questions ranging from the most fundamental—”Why are we here?”—to contemporary quandaries about artificial intelligence and the medical decision to prolong life, you’ll gain new insights into the complexity of how great minds define consciousness.
Consciousness and Its Implications is a chance for you to view this deep and profound subject from all angles. A distinguished scholar in philosophy and neuropsychology, Professor Robinson incorporates many disciplines—psychology, physics, philosophy, medicine—to explore these abiding questions. So embark on a challenging and wholly satisfying exploration of this unique, mysterious, and essential mental faculty. The knowledge you’ll gain in this course is not only intriguing—it is crucial to understanding the nature of humanity and the social and ethical obligations that define us all.