Discussion Questions

  1. Why has consciousness evolved? Presumably it provides some beneficial capabilities for an organism beyond behaviors that are based only on automatic triggers or unconscious processing. What are the likely benefits of consciousness?
  2. How would you explain to a congenitally blind person the experience of seeing red? Detailed explanations of the physics of light and neurobiology of color processing in the brain would describe the mechanisms that give rise to the experience of seeing red, but would not convey the experience. What would be the best way to communicate the subjective experience itself?
  3. Our visual experiences seem to be a direct readout of information from the world that comes into our eyes, and we usually believe that our mental representations give us an accurate and exact re-creation of the world. Is it possible that what we consciously perceive is not veridical, but is a limited and distorted view, in large part a function of the specific sensory and information-processing abilities that the brain affords?
  4. When are you most conscious—while you’re calm, angry, happy, or moved; while absorbed in a movie, video game, or athletic activity; while engaged in a spirited conversation, making decisions, meditating, reflecting, trying to solve a difficult problem, day dreaming, or feeling creative? How do these considerations shed light on what consciousness is?
  5. Consciousness may be a natural biological phenomenon and a chief function of a brain, but consider the many ways in which it is also contingent on (i) a body linked with a brain, (ii) an outside world, (iii) a social environment, and (iv) a developmental trajectory. How do these considerations enrich our understanding of consciousness?
  6. Conscious experiences may not be limited to human beings. However, the difficulty of inferring consciousness in other beings highlights the limitations of our current understanding of consciousness. Many nonhuman animals may have conscious experiences; pet owners often have no doubt about what their pets are thinking. Computers with sufficient complexity might at some point be conscious—but how would we know?


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UPEI Introduction to Psychology 1 Copyright © by Philip Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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