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Consciousness and Its Implications

Consciousness and Its Implications

Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University

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Consciousness and Its Implications

Course No. 4168
Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
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3.3 out of 5
116 Reviews
46% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4168
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring nearly 70 photographs and illustrations. The photographs are those of key contributors to the field, including Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Locke, Searle, and even Deep Blue, the IBM computer that defeated grand chess master Garry Kasparov. While we recommend the video version and believe that the included visuals greatly enhance Professor Robinson's presentation, audio customers report being highly satisfied with their experience as well.
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Course Overview

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.

Compelling Examples of Consciousness

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.

Probe Life's Most Profound Philosophical Riddles

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.

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12 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Zombies
    Our exploration of consciousness begins with a consideration of a potent hypothetical case: the zombie. A physical entity that seems human but lacks consciousness, this imaginary construct helps outline the function and characteristics of the mind. x
  • 2
    Self-Consciousness
    If our bodies change continuously—if cells die and are replaced throughout our lives, how do we keep a sense of self? In this lecture, we probe the notion of personal identity and its relationship to our bodies. x
  • 3
    The "Problem" of Consciousness
    We examine the claim that physics holds the answer to the meaning of existence, and we explore the relationship between the material realm outside us and the immaterial, internal world of the mind. x
  • 4
    The Explanatory Gap
    Is it possible to prove that the workings of the nervous system "create" our experience of consciousness? Will we ever bridge the gap between neurons and the conscious mind, or must we resign ourselves to the possibility that the relationship will remain elusive? x
  • 5
    Mental Causation
    Does your desire and decision to raise your arm "cause" your arm to be raised? In this lecture, we explore what can be known about the connection between a mental experience and the physical reactions that seem to result from them. x
  • 6
    Other Minds
    We cannot directly perceive any mind but our own, so how can we be sure other minds exist at all? The problem of "other minds" gets to the heart of how we as human beings can be certain we know anything at all about existence. x
  • 7
    Physicalism Refined
    In this lecture, we return to the relationship between mental events and the physical world. Here, we consider two perspectives: the Identity Thesis and the Supervenience Theory, which says that changes in a mental state require changes in one's physical state. x
  • 8
    Consciousness and Physics
    Here we examine the laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics. Will they offer a solution to the puzzle of the relationship between the mental and material worlds? Is it possible that an explanation of consciousness may demand a new physical science beyond our current reach? x
  • 9
    Qualia and the "Mary" Problem
    Is scientific knowledge about a phenom­enon the same as experiencing that phenomenon? Using a model developed by philosopher Frank Jackson, we ask: Can personal experiences be reduced to the scientific attributes of the objects we perceive? x
  • 10
    Do Computers Play Chess?
    From IBM's chess-playing computer, Deep Blue, to the hypothetical analogy of the "Chinese Room" posited by philosopher John Searle, we consider whether computational power equates to our idea of human intelligence. x
  • 11
    Autism, Obsession, and Compulsion
    To attempt to determine the contours of normal human consciousness, we examine what happens when that faculty is impaired, as in cases of autism, brain trauma, and neurotic disorders. x
  • 12
    Consciousness and the End of Mental Life
    In this lecture, we consider the conditions of comatose patients and raise vexing and crucial questions about the rights of those whose consciousness has been compromised due to trauma, illness, or age. x

Lecture Titles

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  • Illustrations
  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Daniel N. Robinson

About Your Professor

Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
Dr. Daniel N. Robinson is a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he has lectured annually since 1991. He is also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University. Professor Robinson earned his Ph.D. in...
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Reviews

Consciousness and Its Implications is rated 3.3 out of 5 by 116.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not the best of Great Courses 1. Don't get the video version. The professor stands motionless and expressionless, not even looking at the camera. The only visual aids presented are the occasional picture of some philosopher he mentions. 2. The professor is not at all engaging in his presentation. Monotonous and makes no effort to explain or clarify the points he is talking about. I've only made it 3 lectures in. I had to go back several times to re-listen to portions I blanked out on. I'm debating whether to get a refund on this one, but I think I will try to power through it.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Intro to the Philosophy of Consciousness These lectures include little about recent research into brain states and nothing about the vast contributions of Eastern traditions to our knowledge of consciousness. If you can accept these two limitations, this is a fabulous course. Professor Robinson is extremely thoughtful, articulate, and wry -- I loved his dry sense of humor. His philosophical approach to the topic was ceaselessly fascinating and extremely thought-provoking.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very nice title i purchased this course several weeks ago and started to listen to the lectures. I stopped in order to take another course in which I was interested. I returned to this course two days ago and completed it today. This course was doubly inter esting to me because when I was a Cub and Boy Scout leader I worked with boys who were diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. I had taken a course on how to work with these boys that was offered by the Scout Council. I found this course amazingly interesting and easy to comprehend the material given. Dr. Daniel N Robinson did a terrific job in presenting the material in an easy to understand manner. His enthusiasm was very addictive.
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Consciousness I have done several dozen Great Courses with the Teaching Company across a broad range of disciplines. This course is one of the few I have found disappointing, mainly due to the professor and his style. He is highly academic, almost exaggeratedly so in his relishing of literary turns of phrase in his discourse that only add distance between himself and the listener.. He is dry, sometimes verging on pomposity or condescension. He lacks the ability to explain yes, complex material, but in clear language. His manner is often arch, his attempts at academic humor often fall flat. Prof Robinson obviously knows his stuff, and is interested himself in the material. But I found it unnecessarily difficult to follow--and I've done a lot of courses with quite difficult content including in philosophy and science. He lacks the common touch and lectures in a distant manner. This is too bad, because he touches on many potentially fascinating themes, but lacks the ability to transmit in clear and succinct terms what he is discussing. A more open and congenial style would help.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Got Better With Each Lecture I had the opportunity to complete three of the courses on consciousness while on vacation, and this was another one of the really good ones! The first couple of lectures are harder to get through, and I would note that each lecture seems to get better than the one before it. These are in a literary style and follow less of a rigid logical flow in terms of order. What was remarkable was the ability to bring relevant scientific data and thinking to reject a purely physicalist reductionistic worldview. I think his reasoning on comparison of computer versus human chess was brilliant. In addition the discussion of consciousness not violating the second and third of Newton's Laws were unique, clear, and well articulated. This lecture series requires a bit of attention as you listen because the topics flow in such a literary style. I found this series truly enjoyable.
Date published: 2016-12-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too obscure This professor is very capable, very articulate and exhibits a sense of arid humor. The subjects and issues are profound and he's up to the task... Sort of. Though the material is inherently nuanced and complex, I found him more obscure than necessary. And precisely because the material is inherently nuanced and complex, that seriously distracted from his presentation and my understanding. In a word, he made an already difficult subject even more difficult than it needed to be. Having said that, I found lectures 6-9 very good. I wish he had explored those more deeply, esp'y the possible connections between quantum physics and the nature of consciousness. Although I don't commend the course overall, I do recommend those few lectures in isolation.
Date published: 2016-12-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Barely Conscious While I am fascinated about the subject of these lectures, I was lost most of the time. The language is far too academic for the average listener, which makes it very difficult to understand the issues, theories, and arguments presented. I have enjoyed over 50 Great Courses – usually listening while walking to and from work. THIS course, however, is one I regret purchasing because it requires more effort than I am willing to give in order to learn – and even IF I gave it the focus it requires, I’m not sure that I would understand much more than I do now - I can barely stay conscious while listening to the lectures! If you are only a casual listener to the Great Courses, give this one a pass.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Would be interesting if not for the presentation. I found the points in the course to be very thought provoking, as well as encompassing many different approaches on consciousness. By far the biggest downfall with this course is the way in which Professor Robinson presents the information. He is very long winded in his speech, and talks in a formal manner that makes it difficult for the listener to discern information. I found myself relying on examples and analogies that he used to understand many of the points he was trying to make, while I feel they could have been summarized much more clearly if he chose to present them differently. Lending to this confusion is the rather abstract nature of this topic as well. If you are willing to put in effort to understand the Professor, this course could be a good buy.
Date published: 2016-11-16
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