Teaching Consciousness

Tutorial Workshop at ASSC8
25 June 2004, 13.45-16.45


Many participants at ASSC8 already teach consciousness courses to undergraduate or graduate students. Others may be considering doing so. This workshop provides a chance to try out some novel demonstrations and to discuss teaching methods.

I have taught a third-year undergraduate course on the Psychology of Consciousness for over ten years and during that time have developed many methods for explaining difficult ideas, and class activities to bring abstract arguments to life. In this workshop I shall enlist the participants as students (and critics) to try out some of the activities.

The first half is mainly philosophical exercises, such as a re-enactment of “Mary the colour scientist”, an exercise in defining consciousness, and the teletransporter thought experiment. After a break, the second half focuses on scientific exercises, including Libet’s experiment on spontaneous deliberate action, the cutaneous rabbit, and the Imitation Game. These, and many other activities, are described in Consciousness: An Introduction (2003).

While being fun to do, these exercises are time-consuming and some lecturers may think that they waste of time or trivialise the subject. Trying them out will enable us to evaluate this. I will also describe the exercises that I give students to practice at home, and some of the ethical issues that arise when students’ deepest beliefs are challenged. I hope that the workshop will be fun, as well as providing a chance for us to share expertise on the teaching of consciousness studies.


Each activity takes about 15 – 20 minutes.

They are all described in Consciousness: An Introduction. The numbers in brackets after each activity are the page numbers in the book.

1. Introduction

Are you conscious now? Explanation of the exercises (3-4)
Interacting with the students.

2. Some philosophical exercises

Defining consciousness – an exercise in pairs (14)
Mary the colour scientist – mock up of the thought experiment (27)
The teletransporter – would you press the button? (111)
The sentience line – which objects or creatures are conscious? (154)

Coffee break

3. Some scientific demonstrations

The cutaneous rabbit (61)
Libet’s experiment on spontaneous deliberate action (127)
The imitation game (192) (this may be left out if time is short)
Positioning the theories (377-380)

4. Discussion

Ethical issues arising in consciousness courses
Which worked best, or worst, and how could they be improved?
The value of the home-work exercises.
Questions and general discussion