The Dennes Room

Philosophy 290-2

Fall 2014

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-2 Graduate Seminar: Explaining Consciousness Lee W 4-6 234 Moses Hall

We know more than ever about the processes in the brain that give rise to conscious experience. This might lead us to hope that one day we might possess a complete “theory of consciousness”. But do we really know what form such a theory would take, or whether it is possible in principle that we could come to know it? In this seminar, we will look at some of the foundational problems that arise when we try to imagine such a theory.

This will include (time permitting): (1) The problem of psycho-physical correlation: can the crude correlational information we currently possess in principle be refined into completely precise psycho-physical laws? (2) Phenomenal properties and quality spaces : many philosophers believe that experiences have “phenomenal” or “qualitative” properties that make experience hard to explain. What kind of claim is this, and could it be wrong? What exactly is it that makes the presence of such properties hard to understand? We will look at the notion of a “quality space” and assess it’s potential for helping us understand the nature of these special properties. (3) The explanatory gap, and other special explanatory problems. Although the well-known “explanatory gap” problem for consciousness won’t be the main focus of the seminar, we will spend at least some time discussing it. (4) The problem of extrapolation : how, if at all, can we extend our understanding of conscious experience beyond the case of humans to other creatures and physical systems? To what extent are questions about the experience of other creatures substantive questions?