Consciousness is our subjective experience of the world, including both perceptions and internal states. It is a faculty that is shared by all humans, and possibly other animals, but not by inanimate entities, machines, and (presumably) computers. It is present during wakefulness and dreams, but absent in deep sleep and under anesthesia. It is not equivalent to cognition, as many kinds of information processing can take place without conscious awareness. Does neuroscience have anything to say about this most elusive of topics? In this seminar, we will explore the burgeoning scientific literature on the neural basis of consciousness. We will focus in particular on two topics. First, what is the neural basis of visual awareness – in other words, what makes a visual stimulus conscious or unconscious? Second, what are the mechanisms that control the progression of conscious contents to create our stream of thought? Although philosophical issues will be considered, the primary material will be empirical data from cognitive neuroscience.
Prerequisite: Psych 149 or permission of instructor.
Preference given to junior and senior psych majors. Department permit required.