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The text below is taken from the Introduction in the book. I’m repeating it here because I hope it’s helpful to explore how the book can be used. In particular I want to reiterate my “Warning”.
Studying consciousness can have all sorts of odd effects. Using mind to study mind is, in any case, a rather peculiar activity. Investigating consciousness means delving into some of the deepest questions about our selves and our minds – and those selves and minds can be changed in the process.

Welcome perplexity

If you think you have a solution to the problem of consciousness you haven’t understood the problem. That’s not strictly true, of course. You may either be a genius and have found a real solution, or be sufficiently clear-sighted to understand why there was no problem in the first place. More likely, however, is that you are falling into a number of tempting traps that help you evade the real issues.

Thomas Nagel, the American philosopher, wrote “Certain forms of perplexity—for example, about freedom, knowledge, and the meaning of life—seem to me to embody more insight than any of the supposed solutions to those problems.” (Nagel 1986 p 4). This is equally true of the problem of consciousness. Indeed the perplexity can be part of the pleasure, as philosopher Colin McGinn points out “… the more we struggle the more tightly we feel trapped in perplexity. I am grateful for all that thrashing and wriggling.” (McGinn 1999 p xiii).

If you want to think about consciousness, perplexity is necessary—mind-boggling, brain-hurting, I can’t bear to think about this stupid problem any more—perplexity. For this reason a great deal of this book is aimed at increasing your perplexity rather than reducing it. So if you do not wish your brain to hurt (though of course strictly speaking brains cannot hurt because they do not have any pain receptors – and, come to think of it, if your toe, which does have pain receptors, hurts, is it really your toe that is hurting?) stop reading now or choose a more tractable problem to study.

My motivation for wishing to stir up perplexity is not cruelty or cussidness, nor the misplaced conviction that long words and difficult arguments are signs of cleverness or academic worth. Indeed I think the reverse; that the more difficult a problem is, the more important it becomes to use the simplest words and sentences possible. So I will try to keep my arguments as clear and simple as I can while tackling what is, intrinsically, a very tricky problem.

Part of the problem is that ‘consciousness’has no generally accepted definition in either science or philosophy despite many attempts to define it (see Nunn 2009). The word  is common enough in everyday language, but is used in different ways. For example, “conscious” is often contrasted with “unconscious”, and is taken as more or less equivalent to “responsive” or “awake”. “Conscious” is used to mean the equivalent of knowing something, or attending to something, as in “She wasn’t conscious of the embarrassment she’d caused” or “He wasn’t conscious of the rat creeping up quietly under his desk.” In addition, consciousness is used to mean the equivalent of “subjectivity” or personal experience, and this is the sense in which it is used throughout this book.

Another problem is that consciousness studies is a new and multidisciplinary subject. This means we can draw on a rich variety of ideas from neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, biology and other fields, but it can also make life difficult because people from these different disciplines sometimes use the same words in completely different ways. In this book I have tried to cover all of the major approaches in consciousness studies, including psychology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, neuroscience, first-person methods and spiritual approaches. Even so, the emphasis is on a science of consciousness based on empirical findings and testable theories.

When people have tried to fit consciousness neatly into brain science they find they cannot do it. This suggests that somewhere along the line we are making a fundamental mistake or relying on some false assumptions. Rooting out one’s prior assumptions is never easy and can be painful. But that is probably what we have to do if we are to think clearly about consciousness.

The organisation of the book

This book is divided into nine relatively independent sections containing three chapters each. Each section is designed to stand alone,  for use as the topic for a lecture, or several lectures, or to be read independently as an overview of the area. However, all of them depend on the ideas outlined in Section 1, so if you choose to read only parts of the book, I would recommend starting with Section 1, on the nature of the problem.

There is an accompanying website at [ADD URL here]. This provides a complete list of references with links where possible, suggested questions for class- or self-assessment, and other information, links, and updating to provide backup to the printed book.

Each chapter contains not only a core text, but profiles of selected authors, explanations of key concepts, exercises to do and suggestions for exercises and discussions that can be done in groups.

At the end of each chapter is a list of suggested readings. These are chosen to be short and readily accessible and to give a quick way in to each topic. . They should also be suitable as set reading between lectures for those whose courses are built around the book, or as the basis for seminars. Full references are provided throughout the text, and whenever possible links are given on the website.

Interesting quotations from a wide variety of authors appear in the margins. Some are repeated from the text, while others are just added to provide a different perspective. My advice is to learn those that appeal to you by heart. Rote learning seems hard if you are not in the habit, but it gets quickly easier with practice. Having quotations at your mental fingertips looks most impressive in essays and exams but, much more important, it provides a wonderful tool for thinking with. If you are walking along the road or lying in bed at night, wondering whether there really is a ‘hard problem’ or not, your thinking will go much better if you can bring instantly to mind Chalmers’s definition of the problem, or the exact words of his major critics. At the risk of succumbing to a sound-bite mentality, often a short sentence is all you need.

Putting in the practice

Consciousness is a topic like no other. I imagine that right now, this very minute, you are convinced that you are conscious—that you have your own inner experience of the world—that you are personally aware of things going on around you and of your own inner states and thoughts—that you are inhabiting your own private world of awareness—that there is something it is like to be you. This is what is meant by being conscious. Consciousness is our first-person view on the world.

In most of our science and other studies, we are concerned with third-person views—with things that can be verified by others and agreed upon (or not) by everyone. But what makes consciousness so interesting is that it cannot be agreed upon in this way. It is private. I cannot know what it is like to be you. And you cannot know what it is like to be me.

So what is it like to be you? What are you conscious of now?

Well … ? Take a look. Go on. I mean it. Take a look and try to answer the question ‘What am I conscious of now?’.

Is there an answer? If there is an answer, you should be able to look and see. You should be able to tell me, or at least see for yourself, what you are conscious of now, and now, and now—what is ‘in’ your stream of consciousness. If there is no answer, then our confusion must be very deep indeed, for it certainly seems as though there must be an answer—that I really am conscious right now, and that I am conscious of some things and not others. If there is no answer then at the very least we ought to be able to understand why it feels as though there is.

So take a look and first decide whether there is an answer or not. Can you do this? My guess is that you will probably decide that there is; that you really are conscious now, and that you are conscious of some things and not others—only it is a bit tricky to see exactly what this is like because it keeps on changing. Every time you look things have moved on. The sound of the hammering outside that you were conscious of a moment ago is still going on but has changed. A bird has just flitted past the window casting a brief shadow across the window sill. Oh, but does that count? By the time you asked the question ‘What am I conscious of now?’, the bird and its shadow had gone and were only memories. But you were conscious of the memories weren’t you? So maybe this does count as ‘what I am conscious of now’ (or, rather, what I was conscious of then).

You will probably find that if you try to answer the first question, many more will pop up. You may find yourself asking ‘How long is ‘now’?’ ‘Was I conscious before I asked the question?’, ‘Who is asking the question?’. Indeed you may have been asking such questions for much of your life. Teenagers commonly ask themselves difficult questions like these and don’t find easy answers. Some go on to become scientists or philosophers or meditators, and pursue the questions in their own ways.  Many just give up because they receive no encouragement, or because the task is too difficult. Nevertheless, these are precisely the kinds of questions that matter for studying consciousness. That is why each chapter includes a “practice” task with a question to work on.

I hope these will help you. I have been asking these questions many times a day for about twenty years, often for hours at a stretch. I have also taught courses on the psychology of consciousness for more than ten years, and encouraged my students to practice asking these questions. Over the years I have learned which ones work best, which are too difficult, in which order they can most easily be tackled, and how to help students who get into a muddle with them. I encourage you to work hard at your own inner practice, as well as studying the science.

Getting the balance right

Most of this book is about third-person views. We will learn about neuroscientific experiments, philosophical inquiries, and psychological theories. We will learn to be critical of theories of consciousness, and of the many ways of testing one against another. But underlying all of this is the first-person view, and we must strike a balance between studying one and studying the other.

That balance will be different for each of you. Some will enjoy the self-examination and find the science and philosophy hard. Others will lap up the science and find the personal inquiry troubling or trivial. I can only say this—both are needed—and you must find your own balance between them. To those few lecturers who used the first edition, and complained that self-questionning is a waste of time or even “childish”, I can only say this – since we are studying subjective experience we must have the courage to become familiar with subjective experience.

As you become acquainted with the growing literature of consciousness studies, and if you have managed to strike a balance between the inner and outer work, you will begin to recognise those writers who have not. At one extreme are theorists who say they are talking about consciousness when they are not. They may sound terribly clever but you will soon recognise that they have never looked into their own experience. What they say simply misses the point. At the other extreme are those who waffle on about the meaning of inner worlds or the ineffable power of consciousness while falling into the most obvious of logical traps—traps that you will instantly recognise and be able to avoid. Once you can spot these two types you will be able to save a lot of time by not struggling with their writings. There is so much to read on the topic of consciousness that finding the right things to struggle with is quite an art. I hope this book will help you to find the reading that is worthwhile for you, and to avoid the time-wasting junk.


Studying consciousness will change your life. At least, if you study it deeply and thoroughly it will. As the American philosopher Daniel Dennett says, “When we understand consciousness … consciousness will be different” (1991, p 25). None of us can expect thoroughly to ‘understand consciousness’. I am not even sure what that would mean. Nonetheless I do know that when people really struggle with the topic, they find that their own experience and their own sense of self, change in the process.

These changes can be uncomfortable. For example, you may find that once-solid boundaries between the real and unreal, or the self and other, begin to look less solid. You may find that your own certainties—about the world out there, or ways of knowing about it—seem less certain. You may even find yourself beginning to doubt your own existence. Perhaps it helps to know that many people have had these doubts and confusions before you, and have survived. Indeed, many would say that life is easier and happier once you get rid of some of the false assumptions we so easily tend to pick up along the way—but that is for you to decide for yourself. If you get into difficulties I hope you will be able to find appropriate help and support, from peers, teachers or other professionals. If you are teaching a course using this book, you should be prepared to offer that support yourself, or be able to advise students on how to find help when they need it.

In some of my classes I have had a few students who held religious convictions or believed in God. They usually found that these beliefs were seriously challenged by the course. Some found this difficult, for example because of the role of faith in family ties and friendships, or because their beliefs gave them comfort in the face of suffering and death, or because their religion provided a framework for thinking about self, consciousness and morality in terms of a spirit or soul. So if you do have such beliefs you should expect to find yourself questioning them. It is not possible to study the nature of self and consciousness, while labelling God, the soul, the spirit, or life after death ‘Off Limits’.

Every year I give this same warning to my students—both verbally and in writing. Every year, sooner or later, one of them comes to me saying “You never told me that ….”. Happily most of the changes are, in the end, positive, and the students are glad to have been through them. Even so, I can only repeat my warning and hope that you will take it seriously.

Studying consciousness will change your life. Have fun.


Do you really know what your own conscious experience is like? Since this is what we are trying to understand in consciousness studies I think it’s really important to combine personal investigation  with academic study (though some lecturers disagree!).

Each chapter in the book has an exercise to help you explore your own mind. They are all posted here with some additional comments. First, here’s a short section from the introduction that explains how you can use them.

I hope soon to add a Forum where you can discuss your findings with other students.

Putting in the practice (from the introduction)

So what is it like to be you? What are you conscious of now?

Well … ? Take a look. Go on. I mean it. Take a look and try to answer the question ‘What am I conscious of now?’.

Is there an answer? If there is an answer, you should be able to look and see. You should be able to tell me, or at least see for yourself, what you are conscious of now, and now, and now—what is ‘in’ your stream of consciousness. If there is no answer, then our confusion must be very deep indeed, for it certainly seems as though there must be an answer—that I really am conscious right now, and that I am conscious of some things and not others. If there is no answer then at the very least we ought to be able to understand why it feels as though there is.

So take a look and first decide whether there is an answer or not. Can you do this? My guess is that you will probably decide that there is; that you really are conscious now, and that you are conscious of some things and not others—only it is a bit tricky to see exactly what this is like because it keeps on changing. Every time you look things have moved on. The sound of the hammering outside that you were conscious of a moment ago is still going on but has changed. A bird has just flitted past the window casting a brief shadow across the window sill. Oh, but does that count? By the time you asked the question ‘What am I conscious of now?’, the bird and its shadow had gone and were only memories. But you were conscious of the memories weren’t you? So maybe this does count as ‘what I am conscious of now’ (or, rather, what I was conscious of then).

You will probably find that if you try to answer the first question, many more will pop up. You may find yourself asking ‘How long is ‘now’?’ ‘Was I conscious before I asked the question?’, ‘Who is asking the question?’. Indeed you may have been asking such questions for much of your life. Teenagers commonly ask themselves difficult questions like these and don’t find easy answers. Some go on to become scientists or philosophers or meditators, and pursue the questions in their own ways.  Many just give up because they receive no encouragement, or because the task is too difficult. Nevertheless, these are precisely the kinds of questions that matter for studying consciousness. That is why each chapter includes a “practice” task with a question to work on.

I hope these will help you. I have been asking these questions many times a day for about twenty years, often for hours at a stretch. I have also taught courses on the psychology of consciousness for more than ten years, and encouraged my students to practice asking these questions. Over the years I have learned which ones work best, which are too difficult, in which order they can most easily be tackled, and how to help students who get into a muddle with them. I encourage you to work hard at your own inner practice, as well as studying the science.

1. Am I conscious now?

For this first exercise I shall give you more detailed guidance than for future ones. All the rest build on the same foundation, so you should find that if you practice this one frequently all the others will be easier.

The task is simply this.

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now?“.

The idea is not to provide an answer – for example ‘Yes’ – twenty or a hundred times a day, but to begin looking into your own consciousness. When do you answer ‘Yes’? and when ‘No’? What does your answer mean?

You might like to ask the question and then just hold it for a little while, observing being conscious now. Since this whole book is about consciousness, this exercise is simply intended to get you to look at what consciousness is, as well as to think and argue about it intellectually.

This sounds easy but it is not. Try it and see. After a day of practising, or – if you are working through the book, before you go on to the next chapter – make notes on the following.

How many times did you do the practice?

What happened?

Did you find yourself asking other questions as well? If so, what were they?

Was it difficult to remember to do it? If so why do you think this is?

You may have found that you had intended to do the practice but then forgot. If you need reminding you might try these simple tricks:

Ask the question whenever you hear or read the word ‘consciousness’.

Always ask the question when you go to the toilet.

Write the question on stickers and place them around your home or office.

Discuss the practice with a friend. You may help remind each other.

These may help. Even so you may still find that you forget. This is odd because there is no very good excuse. After all, this little practice does not take up valuable time when you could be doing something more useful. It is not like having to write another essay, read another paper, or understand a difficult argument. You can ask the question in the middle of doing any of these things. You can ask it while walking along or waiting for the bus, while washing up or cooking, while cleaning your teeth or listening to music. It takes no time away from anything else you do. You just keep on doing it, pose the question and watch for a moment or two.

You must be interested in consciousness to be reading this book. So why is it so hard just to look at your own consciousness?

Are you conscious now?

2. What is it like being me now?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “What is it like being me now?”. If you practised the previous exercise ‘Am I conscious now?’ you will have got used to remembering the task, and perhaps to opening your mind for a little while to watch your own awareness.

This question is important because so many arguments assume that we know, unproblematically, what our own experience is like; that we know our own qualia directly, and that of course we know what it is like to be ourselves, now. The only way to have an informed opinion on this important point is to look for yourself. What is it really like for you, now?

3. Did I do this consciously?

You might get out of bed, put on a T-shirt, pick up your toothbrush, or carry out any number of small actions. After any of these ask the question.

Does asking the question itself make a difference?

4. Where is this experience?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now? Where is this experience?”

For example, if you are walking along looking at the street, ask “Am I conscious now?”. Then take whatever it is you seem to be conscious of and ask “Where is it?”. Where are these experienced cars? Where are the sounds I hear? Where is this feeling of anxiety at crossing the street? Does it feel as though things come into consciousness and go out of it again? What does this mean?

Keep a record. How many times did you do this exercise? What happened?

5. Did I direct my attention or was my attention grabbed?

You might begin by asking the question whenever you realise that you are attending to something and don’t know why. With practice you may find that you can do it for much of the time. This way you can learn to watch the process and come to appreciate how and when your attention shifts. Make a note of the effect this has on your awareness.

6. How much am I seeing now?

You may be looking at anything at all, from a busy city scene or a beautiful garden, to a piece of text or the back of your own hand. In each case you may at first get the impression that you can see everything at once; that there is an entire, detailed scene in your awareness. Now look again, harder. What are you actually seeing right now?

If you do this a few hundred times you may be in a better position to assess the various theories covered in this chapter. Eventually you may notice some profound changes. Can you describe what has happened?

7.  Who is conscious now?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself the familiar question “Am I conscious now?”. You will probably be sure that you are – for example you may be conscious of the road you are walking along, the room around you, or the music you are listening to. Now turn your attention to whoever or whatever is having this experience. This is presumably what Hume was doing when he made his famous realisation about self. Can you see or feel or hear the experiencer, as opposed to the experienced world? At first you will probably be sure that there is an experiencer but it may be difficult to see any further than that. Keep looking. Keep asking “Who is conscious now?”

This is not an easy exercise but it will repay practising over many weeks or months. Try to see whether there is a separation between the experienced and the experiencer, and if so what the experiencer is like. This practice forms the basis of the next two exercises as well.

8. Am I the same ‘me’ as a moment ago?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself the familiar question “Am I conscious now?” and then keep watching. As ‘now’ slips away, and things change around you, try to keep steadily watching, and wondering who is watching. Is there some kind of continuity of self as you remain aware? Can you see what that continuity is like? Or is there none?

The question is “Am I the same ‘me’ as I was a moment ago?”. What is really required is not asking (or answering) the question in words, but looking directly into how it seems.

9. Am I doing this?

When you find yourself asking “Am I conscious now?” observe what you are doing and ask yourself “Am I doing this?” . You might be walking, drinking a cup of coffee, or picking up your phone to ring a friend. Whatever it is, ask yourself what caused the action. Did you consciously think about it first? Did your own conscious thoughts cause it to happen? Did it just happen by itself?

You might like to take a short time – say ten minutes – and try to observe the origins of all your actions during that time. In each case ask “Did I do that?”.

10. Where is this pain?

Look out for any pain you may experience this week, whether a pounding headache or a knocked toe. Now look straight into the pain. Experience it as fully as you can. Ask where is this pain?

Odd things can happen when you stare into the face of pain. Make a note of what happens for you.

11. Is this experience unified?

You might like to begin, as usual, by asking “Am I conscious now?” and then explore what you are conscious of, all the time attending to whether the experience is unified. You might try this:- pay attention to your visual experience for a few seconds. Now switch to sounds. You will probably be aware of sounds that have been going on for some time. Has the sight just become unified with the sound? What was going on before? What role does attention play in this? You can do the same with verbal thoughts and sensory experiences. Is your consciousness always unified? Is it now?

12. “Is this phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, or both?”

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now?”. Stay with that experience for a little while and then ask “Is this phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, or both?”. You will almost certainly start with a self-reflective state. Can you drop the self-reflection, stop accessing anything for reasoning, inner speech or action, and become purely P-conscious? Does this help you decide whether Block’s distinction is valid or not?

If you can drop inner speech and reasoning, you might like to go on to a further question “Is there more in phenomenal consciousness than can be accessed?” This is a tricky one.

13. Am I conscious now? Does this awareness have a function?

As many times as you can every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now?”. If you have been practicing you will know that asking this question seems to make you more conscious for a little while. Take this time to watch and wonder. Does my awareness have any function of its own? Would my behaviour be any different without consciousness? If so, is this the kind of difference that natural selection could work on?

14. Is this a meme?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now?”. Take whatever you were conscious of and ask “is this a meme”. Anything you copied from someone else is a meme, including thoughts in words and imaginary conversations. Anything that is purely your own and not copied is not. How often is your awareness free of memes?

15. What is it like to be that animal?

This practice is rather different from usual. As you go about your daily life look out for other animals and watch what they are doing. They might be pet dogs and cats, farm cows or pigs, or wild birds, squirrels or rabbits. Look out as well for insects, spiders, worms and fish. In each case ask yourself “What is it like to be this cow?” “What is like to be that spider?”. Can you imagine it? What does this mean?

16. Am I a machine?

The idea of this exercise is to watch your own actions and consider them in the light of the ideas presented here. Are you like a simple autonomous robot? Could an artificial machine ever do what you are doing now? If so would the machine feel like you do? You may discover that asking these questions while going about your ordinary life makes you feel more machine-like. What is going on here?

If you find an inner voice protesting “But I am not a machine!” investigate who or what is rebelling against the idea.

17. Is this machine conscious?

This exercise is different from previous ones because it is directed outwards not inwards. Whenever you use a phone, laptop or TV, or depend on air traffic control or satellite navigations systems, ask “Is this machine conscious?”. You can do the same with fridges, cars and electronic games, or indeed anything you like. Explore your own intuitions. Can you discern the reasons why you are more tempted to attribute some inkling of consciousness to some machines rather than others?

18. “What is it that is conscious?”

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Am I conscious now? What is it that is conscious?”

By now you should be used to asking “Am I conscious now?” and finding that you are. Now turn your attention to looking for the thing that is conscious. This time the aim is not to look for the inner experiencing self (as in Chapter 7), but to wonder about the physical substrate. Is it your whole physical body that you feel is conscious? Is it your brain? Is it something that could be downloaded into another machine and still be conscious as you are now? Are you still conscious now? If so, what is still conscious?

19. Was this decision conscious?

Going about your ordinary activities you make countless large and small decisions, from exactly where to put your foot as you walk upstairs, to where to go for your holiday or whether to take that job. But perhaps it might be more accurate to say that your whole body is making decisions rather than that “you” are. Watch these decisions as they happen and for each one that you notice ask yourself “Was this decision conscious?” As you begin to notice more and more decisions being made, what happens? Is it obvious which are made consciously and which unconsciously? Are there certain types of decision that are more often conscious? Does anything happen to your sense of agency? What?

20. Staying awake while falling asleep

The easiest way to explore the borderland between reality and imagination is to hover on the edge of sleep. Do this exercise for a week and you may be rewarded with fascinating hallucinations and insights. The visions and sounds may be frightening for some people, and you should not pursue it if you find it too unpleasant.

Go to bed as usual, lie in your normal position, but then try to keep your mind clear and empty. When any thoughts arise, gently let them go, as you did when practicing meditation. Look into the darkness in front of you and watch for patterns. Listen attentively for sounds. When you see or hear things, or feel odd twitches in your muscles, do not let them startle you but try to stay relaxed and keep watching.

There are two difficulties. The exercise may keep you awake when you want to sleep, or force you to have a clear mind when you would rather indulge in fantasy or worry. I can only suggest that the visions may be worth the loss of sleep, and that in fact you will not take much longer to go to sleep than normal, however it feels.

Alternatively you may find that you drop off to sleep too fast. One suggestion from the Western occult tradition is to lie on your back, holding one lower arm vertical. As you fall asleep the arm drops and wakes you. This way you can oscillate between sleep and waking. In any case, lying on your back makes hypnagogic imagery and sleep paralysis more likely. Like many of these exercises, this one gets rapidly easier with practice.

21. Living without psi

The possibility of ESP is comforting. We might sense when a loved one is in danger, share our deepest feelings with others, or find ourselves guided by a supernatural power. For this exercise, try living without such comfort.

If you believe in psi, or angels, or life after death, or spirits, take this opportunity to live without them. You need not abandon your beliefs for ever. Just set them aside for a few days and see how the world looks when you know you are completely on your own.

Sceptics should do this too. You may be surprised to find yourself willing something to happen even though you know you cannot affect it, or hoping someone will just know when you need them. Ask yourself this. Do we live better or worse for a belief in the paranormal? Don’t give a glib, intellectual answer. Look and see what happens when you try to root it out completely.

22. Is this my normal state of consciousness?

As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself “Is this my normal state of consciousness?”. When you have decided, you might like to ask some other questions. How did you decide ? What is normal about it? Is it always obvious what state you are in, and if so why? If not, what does this tell you about ASCs?

23. Becoming lucid

If you are taking part in the class activity (see Activity 23) try whichever induction technique is assigned to you. Otherwise practice this one.

Take a pen and write a large D on one hand, for Dreaming, and a large A on the other, for Awake. As many times as you can, every day, look at these two letters and ask “Am I awake or am I dreaming?”. If you get thoroughly into the habit of doing this during the day, the habit should carry over into sleep. You may then find yourself looking at your hands in a dream and asking “Am I awake or am I dreaming?”. This is a prelucid dream. All you have to do is answer correctly and you’re lucid.

Did it work? What happened in the dream? What happened to your awareness during the day?

24. What survives?

As many times as you can, every day, take a good look at your own body and ask yourself “When this body is gone, what will remain?” Try to strip away everything that you know will turn to ashes or dust and then imagine or think or feel what might be left.

25. Is there more in your phenomenal consciousness than you can access?

As many times as you can, every day, look into your present experience and ask the following question “Is there more in my phenomenal consciousness than I can access?”

You might like to look out of the window at a complex scene, take it all in consciously and then try to access parts of it, for example by describing to yourself the objects you see, or counting the number of trees or people in the scene. Do you get the sense that when you access some parts of your experience, others disappear or become unavailable?

This exercise may have some strange effects. Try to get used to doing it before you consider the more intellectual question – can this first-person exercise tell us anything useful for a science of consciousness?

26. What is this?

Read the story about Hui Neng and the monk. Think about the question he asked “What is this thing and how did it get here?”. Think about it as applied to the monk, standing there at the monastery after days of walking in the mountains. Think about it as applied to yourself, sitting here, walking there, realising you haven’t thought about the question for half an hour and now standing here. Think about it whatever you are doing. “What is this thing and how did it get here?”. Go on asking the question all the time. The words do not matter. As you carry on practising they will probably fall away until you begin the question and “Wh ….  ?”

27.  Mindfulness

Your last task is to be mindful for a whole day (or forever if you prefer). If possible, choose a day when you will have time on your own, and when you might be walking, doing house work, gardening, or taking part in sports, rather than reading, writing and socialising. Decide that you will stay fully present in every moment and then begin. You must begin with this moment and not think about how well you have done so far, or how long you still have to go. Just attend, fully and clearly, to what is going on now. You will probably find that it seems easy to begin with, and that everything seems bright and clear when you do, but then you will suddenly realise that you have gone off into some train of thought and lost the mindfulness. Do not get cross with yourself but just return to the present moment. That’s all you have to do.

It is very difficult. Don’t get discouraged.

You might like to make notes on how you got on, or discuss the following questions later with friends. What made it harder or easier to maintain mindfulness? Were you ever frightened? Did being mindful interfere with what you were doing? How does this task relate to all the previous ones? Can you imagine committing yourself to being mindful all your life?

What is it like being mindful?

Where now?

If you have done all these exercises over a fairly long period – such as during a whole course – you will probably have realised how they have built up your concentration and attentional skills. You may also have suspected that they are all aspects of training in mindfulness.

I hope you have enjoyed them, even when they are terribly difficult, and that you will appreciate the new skills you have learned.

Has this helped you to understand the problem of consciousness any better?

(I hope to add a Forum where you can discuss all this).


Under Construction

These are the activities from the book. I intend to add more information to help people doing them, with links and illustrations, in August 2010

Exercises to do in class or with friends from each chapter

1. Defining consciousness

There is no generally recognised definition of consciousness, which is why I have not given one here. See whether you can find your own.

First get into pairs. One person first proposes a definition of consciousness. Then the other finds something wrong with it. Don’t be shy or think too long — even the silliest suggestions can be fun to try. So just throw up one idea and wait for it to be knocked down. Then swap over. Do this as quickly as you reasonably can until each of you has had several turns.

Get back together into the group and find out what kinds of objections you all came up with.

Why is defining consciousness so hard when we all think we know what it is?

2. Mary the colour scientist

When Mary comes out of the black and white room will she learn anything new? Will she be surprised at what colours are like? Or does she already know? Acting out the story in class should help you make up your mind.

Get two volunteers to act as Mary, and make a corner of the room as black and white as possible. You might give them a white table cloth, a newspaper, a toy grey rat, a doll to do brain scans on, some black and white diagrams of brains, or dress them in white lab coats – whatever you have to hand. Ask the ‘Mary’s to sink themselves into the role of futuristic colour scientist while you explain what is happening to the rest of the group. The ‘Mary’s know everything a scientist can learn about the brain, the visual system, and colour: Everything.

Now let them out in turn to do their best possible impersonations. ‘Mary-amazed’ acts completely surprised at what she sees, gasping at the delightful colours. ‘Mary-know-it-all’ explains why she is not surprised at all – how she understood everything in advance. Mary-know-it-all is the far harder role, so it may be best to choose someone who is familiar with the arguments for this one. I once tried this at a Tucson conference only to discover afterwards that my volunteer Mary-know-it-all was Michael Beaton, inventor of RoboDennett, an unforgettable performance, especially as he  was representing the side of the argument he disagrees with!.

Afterwards everyone else can ask questions of the Marys, discuss their answers and make up their own minds. Write down your own decision. You may be interested to find that it changes as you learn more about the nature of consciousness.

3. Does consciousness do anything ?

Get into pairs, or small groups, or ask two volunteers to do the exercise in front of the whole class. The task is this: the first person suggests an example of something that consciousness does. They might say, for example, that a conscious decision made them get up this morning, or that consciousness helps them play computer games, or that they could not fall in love without it. The second person then refutes the suggestion as thoroughly as possible.

Proposers should try to come up with a specific example rather than generalities. The refuter must then try to explain the action or decision without requiring consciousness in the explanation. For example, they might use behaviourist arguments, or call on the influence of genes or education.

Note that you do not have to believe your own arguments. Indeed it may be more useful to put forward arguments you do not believe in. So, if you are the proposer and you think that consciousness does nothing, you should still invent some example that other people might think requires consciousness. If you are the refuter you may actually believe consciousness is required for the proposed action, but you must do your best to find a way out. This will sharpen up your beliefs about the causal power of consciousness. Don’t agonise over your arguments. It does not matter if they are wrong, or fanciful. The point is to throw up some ideas to think about.

Finally, discuss what you have learned. Was there any proposal which no one could knock down? Did you find some irrefutable thing that consciousness is required for? Were there patterns in the suggestions people came up with?

Can you now answer the question “What does consciousness do?”? You might like to write down your own answer at this point, or make your own list of things that you think consciousness does. It is likely to change.

4. Cartesian Materialism

Almost no one admits to being a Cartesian materialist, yet the literature about consciousness is full of theatrical metaphors and phrases implying that things are “in” or “out” of consciousness. It is worth trying to sort out what these mean before making up your own mind about the theatre of consciousness. If you are doing this as a class exercise, ask each person to find examples in advance and bring them for discussion.

Theories  Take any theory of consciousness and ask “Does this theory use theatre imagery or metaphors? If so, is a Cartesian theatre involved? Is this theory a form of Cartesian materialism?”

Tell-tale phrases  Look out for theatre imagery, or phrases that imply CM, in any area of psychology. Here are a few examples. In each case ask whether this imagery is helpful, or a sign of problems with the theory concerned.

“There seems to be a presence-chamber in my mind where full consciousness holds court” (Galton 1883 p 203)

“ideas … pass in rapid succession through the mind.” (James 1890 p 25-6)

“… this may help to pin down the location of awareness in the brain.” (Crick 1994 p 174)

“… just for that particular moment, it all comes together as a glorious symphony of consciousness” (Greenfield 1995 p 32)

“The range and variety of conscious phenomenology … is everyman’s private theatre.” (Edelman & Tononi, 2000a p 20)

“all the senses do come together in consciousness – at any particular moment there is just one unified scene.”  Gray 2004 p 37

“visual information that is processed in the dorsal stream does not reach conscious awareness” Milner 2008 p 195

5.  The cutaneous rabbit

The cutaneous rabbit is easy to demonstrate and a good talking point. To get it to work you will need to choose the right tool. This can be a very sharp pencil or a not-too-dangerous knife point – something that has a tiny contact point but is not sharp enough to hurt. Practice the tapping in advance, and ensure that you can deliver the taps with equal force and at equal intervals.

Ideally use a volunteer who has not read about the phenomenon. Ask the volunteer to hold out one bare arm horizontally and to look in the opposite direction. Take your pointed object and, at a steady pace, tap five times at the wrist, three times near the elbow and twice on the upper arm, all at equal intervals.  Now ask what it felt like.

If you got the tapping right, it will feel as though the taps ran quickly up the arm, like a little animal. This suggests the following questions. Why does the illusion occur? How does the brain know where to put the second, third and fourth taps when the tap on the elbow has not yet occurred? When was the volunteer conscious of the third tap? Does Libet’s evidence help us understand the illusion? What would Orwellian and Stalinesque interpretations be? Can you think of a way of avoiding both of them?

6. Filling-in

With some simple experiments you can experience filling-in and explore its limits. In figures 6.4 and 6.6, shut or cover your right eye and fixate the small black dot with your left eye. Hold the picture at arm’s length and then move it gradually towards you until the larger circle disappears. Do you see a gap or a continuation of the background? Is the black line completed across the gap? What happens to the pebbles?

You can also try the effect with real people. It is said that King Charles II, who was a great promoter of science, used to ‘decapitate’ his courtiers this way. To do this in class, ask someone to stand in front while everyone else aims their blind spot at the victim’s head. If you have trouble doing this try the following. Hold up figure 6.4 so that the circle disappears. Now keeping the book at the same distance away from you line up its top edge below the person’s chin with the circle directly below. Now fixate whatever you can see above the black dot and remove the book. Your blind spot should now be on the person’s head. Does the whole head get filled in? If not why not? Does it matter how well you know the person?

You can explore what can and cannot be filled in by using your own pictures. Cut out a small fixation spot and a larger circle or find suitably sized stickers, and stick them on. Alternatively fix them to a computer screen and experiment with moving displays. If you are doing several experiments it is worth putting a patch over your eye rather than trying to keep it shut. With a stop watch you can time how long filling-in takes for different displays.

Can you deliberately prevent filling-in? Can you speed it up by making an effort? Does what you see in the gap ever surprise you? Can you explain the difference between those things that do and do not get filled in?

7. Split Brain Twins

Ask for two volunteers; one to play the role of a disconnected left hemisphere (LH) and the other the right (RH). Ask them to sit close together on a bench or table. You might like to put a sticker on each, labelling them as LH and RH. To reduce confusion we’ll assume for this explanation that LH is female and RH is male.

LH sits on her left hand; her right hand is free to move. RH sits on his right hand; his left hand is free to move. Their two free arms now approximate to those of a normal person. RH cannot speak (although we will assume that he can understand simple verbal instructions). You might like to tape his mouth over, but make sure the tape will not hurt when removed.

Now you can try any of the split brain experiments described in this chapter. Here are just two examples.

1. You will need a large carrier bag or a pillow case containing several small objects (e.g. pen, shoe, book, bottle).

Out of sight of LH, show RH a drawing of one of your objects. Ask him “What can you see?”. Only LH can speak and she did not see the drawing. Press her to answer (if RH tries to give her non-verbal clues this only adds to the fun). Now give RH the bag containing the various objects, ask him to put in his left hand and select the correct object. He should do this easily.

8. The teletransporter

Imagine you want to go to the beautiful city of Capetown for a holiday. You are offered a simple, free, almost instantaneous, and 100 per cent safe, way of getting there and back. All you have to do is step inside the box, press the button, and …..

The box is, of course, Parfit’s teletransporter. In making the journey every cell of your body and brain will be scanned and destroyed, and then replicated exactly as they were before, but in Capetown. Would you press the button?

To create a memorable exercise you might like to use a few chairs or tables to make the box and provide a colourful “Go” button for a volunteer inside to press. Would this volunteer press it? Does everyone else think they should? You can then ask everyone else to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Do not allow any ‘Don’t know’s (if people do not want to answer publicly then get them to write down ‘Yes’ or ‘No’). Do not allow students to quibble over safety or any other details – if they do so they have failed to understand the nature of thought experiments. In this one the box is 100% safe and reliable. If they won’t go in, this has to be for some other reason than that it might go wrong.

Now ask for a volunteer who said ‘Yes’ and ask them to explain why. Others can then ask further questions to work out, for example, why this person is not worried about having their body completely destroyed. Next ask for a ‘No’ volunteer and let others ask why she or he will not go. Bear in mind that people’s reasons for not going may involve their deepest beliefs about their soul, spirit, God, or life after death. It is helpful to remember this even while pushing people hard to explain what they mean.

After the discussion find out how many people have changed their minds. In a course on consciousness it is instructive to ask this same question again after a few weeks or months of study, and for this purpose it is helpful for people to keep a record of their answers. They may change.

9a. Getting out of bed on a cold morning

Try William James’s famous meditation (as he called it) and watch what happens when you get out of bed on a cold morning. If you don’t live somewhere cold enough, just choose a morning when you really don’t want to get up. Alternatively try getting out of a bath when the water is going cold and you’ve been in there too long.

Watch what happens. What thoughts go through your mind as you struggle to get out? What emotions do you feel? Do you speak to yourself or try to persuade yourself? If so, who or what is struggling against whom or what? What happens in the end? You might like to write a short description as James did (see James 1890 ii p 524-5). Comparing descriptions can make for a lively class discussion. What does this tell you about free will?

9b. Libet’s voluntary act

Libet’s experiment is complex, and the arguments about its interpretation are fierce. It will help you understand them if you practise the role of one of his subjects. Students who have done this are much more likely to think up, for themselves, all the classic objections to Libet’s conclusion.

So, as a class demonstration, ask everyone to hold out their right arm in front of them and then, whenever they feel like it, consciously, deliberately, and of their own free will, flex their fingers or wrist. They should keep doing this for some time – ideally until they have done it 40 times (as in Libet’s experiment) – but since people vary in how frequently they do the action (and some may freely choose not to do it at all) about two minutes is usually enough.

Now ask your subjects whether the action really seemed free or not. What was going through their minds when they ‘decided to act’. Could they have done otherwise? Is this a good model for a ‘spontaneous voluntary act’?

Now you need to time ‘W’; the time at which they decided to act. Stand in front of the group, hold your arm straight out, and use your own hand to represent the rotating light spot (if you have a large audience hold a bright object in your hand to make it more visible). Make sure your hand rotates clockwise from the viewers’ point of view and steadily at roughly one revolution every two seconds (Libet’s spot went a little slower but 1 in 2 works well; practice first). Now ask the audience to do the same flexing task as before but this time they must, after they have acted, shout out the clock position at the moment when they decided to act. You now have a room full of people shouting out different times all at once. The question is, could they easily do this? Most people find they can.

Libet measured three things: the start of the action itself, the start of brain activity leading to the action, and the decision to act. Ask yourself which you expect to come first, or get everyone to put up their hands.

You are now ready to discuss Libet’s experiment and what his results really mean.

10. The rubber hand illusion

This demonstration requires two paint brushes and a dummy hand. The hand can be a life-like rubber model bought specially, as used in the original experiments (Botvinick & Cohen 1998), or a cheap rubber glove filled with water, or blown up and tied like a balloon. There are even claims that it works with objects that look nothing like a hand at all (Ramachandran & Blakeslee 1998). This illusion is one of many that provides insight into our body image (Tsakiris and Haggard 2005, and see Chapter 24).

The demonstration needs a subject and an experimenter and can be done at home or as a class demonstration. The subject sits and rests their arms on a table, with a screen of some sort to conceal one hand. The dummy hand is then placed in full view, either above or to the side of the real hand. The experimenter takes two paint brushes and gently strokes both the subject’s concealed hand and the dummy hand in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. The experimenter should practice this first and then keep doing it, trying to keep the strokes identical, for a few minutes. The subject, who can see only the dummy hand, should soon begin to feel the sensations as though in the dummy, instead of in their own real hand.

11. Are you a synaesthete

If you have a large class, or other group of people that you can easily test, you can ask people whether they ever experience one sense in response to another, or whether they used to do so as a child. Some people can describe vivid memories of seeing coloured music, or experiencing tastes and smells as having a particular shape, even though they can no longer do so. You may find people who claim all sorts of extravagant associations and florid experiences. Here are two simple tests that might help detect whether they are making it up or not.

1. Retesting associations. This test needs to be done over two separate sessions, without telling participants that they will be retested. In the first session read out, slowly, a list of numbers in random order (e.g. 9, 5, 7, 2, 8, 1, 0, 3, 4, 6) and a list of letters (e.g. T, H, D, U, C, P, W, A, G, L). Ask your group to visualise each letter or number and write down what colour they associate with it. Some will immediately know what colour each number is, while others may say they are just making up arbitrary associations. Either way they must write down a colour. Collect their answers and keep them. In a second session (say a week or several weeks later), read out the same letters and numbers but in a different order (e.g. 6, 3, 8, 1, 0, 9, 2, 4, 5, 7: P, C, A, L, T, W, U, H, D, G). Give them back their previous answers and ask them to check (or to check a neighbour’s) and count how many answers are the same. True synaesthetes will answer almost identically every time they are tested.

2. Pop-out shapes. Tell the group that you will show them a pattern in which a simple shape is hidden. When they see the shape they are to shout out “Now”. Emphasise that they must NOT say the name of the shape and give the game away, but must just shout “now”. As soon as you show the pattern (figure 17.6) start timing as many of the shouts as you conveniently can. If you have any synaesthetes in the group they will see the pattern much sooner than everyone else. Even if you have no synaesthetes these figures can help everyone else to imagine what synaesthesia is like.

12. Blind for an hour

This is a simple exercise designed to give a hint of what it is like to be blind. You need to work in pairs and can take it in turns to be blindfolded or to be the guide. You need a good blindfold that does not allow you to peep. It is possible just to wear dark glasses and to keep your eyes closed, but the temptation to open them is too great for most people, so a blindfold is easier.

Take an hour for the exercise and plan what you will do. For example, you might go shopping, or take a walk, or go to a party or visit friends. Try to do as much as you can without help, but be careful to avoid dangerous activities such as cooking. Your guide must take responsibility for crossing roads and other obvious dangers, and should stay close to you all the time.

Afterwards, think about what surprised you. Which things were easier or more difficult than you had expected? What happened in social situations?

If you are blind this exercise is no use to you, but you can be of great help to others. You might teach them to use a long cane, discuss the ways in which you cope without vision, or explain how other people can help or hinder your independence.

For a devastating and insightful description of what it is like to go blind see Hull (1990).

13. No activity for this chapter

14. The Sentience Line

Is a stone conscious? Is a rose bush? Is a tadpole or a sheep? Is a baby? Are you? Where do you draw the line?

Gather together a collection of objects that you think span the range from definitely unconscious to definitely conscious. If you are doing this at home you may have a pet to represent the animals, and house plants or a bunch of flowers for the plant kingdom. Indeed you may be able to see enough examples just sitting in your own kitchen. Lay them out in front of you from the least to the most conscious and take a good look.

If you are doing this in class you will need to be more inventive, but it is well worth having actual objects there to force people into making decisions and to bring their arguments to life. You might ask members of the class to bring in some of the following:

1. A stone or pebble

2. A weed pulled up from the garden, a houseplant, or a piece of fruit

3. A fly, spider, or woodlouse (put them back where you found them).

4. Tadpoles or pet fish.

5. An electronic calculator.

6. A human volunteer.

Ask everyone to draw their own sentience line. Select the two people with the most extreme lines and ask them to defend their decisions against questions from the rest of the class. Does anyone move their line after the discussion?

15.  Zoo choice

In a “Balloon debate” every participant has to convince the others that they should not be thrown out of the balloon for ballast. In this debate the same horrible choice is made between species.

Imagine that just one animal is going to be released from its cage in the zoo, or from cruel conditions in a pharmaceutical laboratory, and returned to the wild. Which species should it be?

Choose several different species and someone to defend each one, or let students pick their own favoured species. Each person is given a set length of time (e.g. 2 or 5 minutes) to make their case. Afterwards the audience votes on which animal is released. If the choice proves easy vote on which should go second and third.

This debate can be held without prior planning. Alternatively, ask students to prepare their case in advance. They might bring photographs, videos or other kinds of evidence. They might learn about the social and communicative skills of their chosen species, or about its intelligence, capacity for insight, memory, sensory systems or pain behaviour. The aim is to explore the nature of animal suffering.

16. The Imitation Game

Without a brilliant machine at your disposal you cannot try out the Turing test, but you can play Turing’s original “imitation game” (Turing 1950), which is fun to do and works well as a demonstration of what the Turing test involves. The main skill for the judges consists of working out what sort of questions to ask; a similar challenge whether the contestants are both people, or a person and a machine.

The organiser must choose a man and a woman to act as contestants. Ideally they should not be known to the class. If this is impossible, at least avoid people who are very well known to everyone. The contestants go into a separate room, or behind a solid opaque screen, where they are secretly labelled X and Y. The rest of the class act as judges and have to ask questions. Their task is to determine which is the woman.

The real woman has to help the judges, while the man pretends to be a woman.

Low-tech version. The judges write questions on pieces of paper. They may address their questions to X, Y, or both. The organiser selects a question and takes it into the next room, gets the answer and then reads it out to the class. For example, the question might be “To X and Y, how long is your hair?”. The organiser gets both X and Y to write answers and reads out “X says ‘my hair is shoulder-length’; Y says ‘I have long brown hair’”. Obviously the man may lie; if he is asked “Are you a man?” he will say “no”, and if asked “What is your ideal partner like?” or “Are you good at reading maps?” he will have to answer as he thinks a woman would. When enough questions have been answered the organiser asks everyone to say whether X or Y was the woman. X and Y then come out and show their labels.

One problem is that the organiser may unwittingly gives away clues about which person is which. Even so, this version works well, even if done with only a screen in the corner of the room. However, if you want a tighter method, and are willing to prepare in advance, try this:

High-tech version. Provide each contestant with a computer and a projector that makes their typed answers visible to the class. The contestants can be hidden, either in another room or behind a screen. It is important that however the answers are projected, they are clearly labelled X and Y. The organiser collects the written questions as before and the contestants type their answers on their computer. At a pinch, one computer can be used and the contestants can take it in turns, but this is slower and can lead to confusion if not well organised. The game can also be played on-line.

The imitation game provides an ideal introduction to discussing the most important aspect of the Turing test; what questions should you ask the machine, and why?

17. The Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s perfection led to no good.

The Seventh Sally is a story from The Cyberiad by the Polish writer and philosopher Stanislaw Lem, reprinted with a commentary in Hofstadter & Dennett (1981). Here is a brief outline.

Trurl, who was well known for his good deeds, wanted to prevent a wicked king from oppressing his poor subjects. So he built an entirely new kingdom for the king. It was full of towns, rivers, mountains and forests. It had armies, citadels, market places, winter palaces, summer villas and magnificent steeds, and he “… threw in the necessary handful of traitors, another of heroes, added a pinch of prophets and seers, and one messiah and one great poet each, after which he bent over and set the works in motion.” There were star-gazing astronomers and noisy children, “And all of this, connected, mounted and ground to precision, fit into a box, and not a very large box, but just the size that could be carried about with ease.” Trurl presented this box to the king, explaining how to work the controls to make proclamations, program wars, or quell rebellions. The king immediately declared a state of emergency, martial law, a curfew and a special levy.

After a year had passed (which was hardly a minute for Trurl and the king) the king magnanimously abolished one death penalty, lightened the levy, and annulled the state of emergency “… whereupon a tumultuous cry of gratitude, like the squeaking of tiny mice lifted by their tails, rose up from the box”. Trurl returned home, proud of having made the king happy while saving his real subjects from appalling tyranny.

To his surprise Trurl’s friend was not pleased, but was horrified that Trurl could have given the brutal despot a whole civilisation to rule over. But it’s only a model, protested Trurl, “… all these processes only take place because I programmed them, and so they aren’t genuine… these births, loves, acts of heroism, and denunciations are nothing but the minuscule capering of electrons in space, precisely arranged by the skill of my nonlinear craft, which—”. His friend would have none of it. The size of the tiny people is immaterial, he said, “And don’t they suffer, don’t they know the burden of labor, don’t they die? … And if I were to look inside your head, I would also see nothing but electrons”. Trurl, he says, has committed a terrible crime. He has not just imitated suffering, as he intended, but has created it.

What do you think? Has Trurl committed a terrible crime?

For a group discussion

This story can provoke heated and insightful disagreements. Ask everyone to read the story in advance and to write down their answer to the question “Has Trurl committed a terrible crime?” “Yes” or “No”. Check that they have done so, or ask for a vote.

Ask for two volunteers who have strong opinions on the question, one to defend Trurl; the other to accuse him. This works best if the participants really believe in their respective roles. Trurl’s defender first presents his case that the tiny people are only an imitation. His accuser then argues for the reality of their pain and suffering. Others can ask questions and then vote. Has anyone changed their mind? If so, why? Is there any way of finding out who is right?

18. No activity for this chapter

19. Incubation

Incubation is the process of putting a problem “on the back burner”, or just allowing a solution to come by itself – if it will. Three steps are required. First you have to do the hard work of struggling with the problem or acquiring the necessary skills. Second you have to drop the struggle and leave the problem to itself, perhaps by engaging in some other activity, or just sleeping on it. In this second stage, any conscious effort is likely to be counterproductive. Third you have to recognise the solution when it appears.

Here are three simple brain-teasers that you can use to practice incubation. If you are working on your own, have a good go at trying to solve them, until you get really frustrated. Then forget all about them and read more of the book, or do something else for half an hour or so. When you come back to the problem you may find that the solution just “pops into your mind”. If you are working in a group, you can start a lecture or discussion with five minutes working on the problems and then return to them at the end. In this case make sure that those people who solve the problems quickly, or who have seen them before, do not give the answers away and spoil the experience for everyone else.

20. Discussing hypnagogia

The exercise in Practice 21 lends itself well to group work. Ask everyone to practice “staying awake while falling asleep” for several days, to keep a pencil and paper by the bed, and to write down anything they experience. It may be impossible to record the experiences immediately when they happen because the most interesting ones happen right on the edge of sleep, but they can be written down, or drawn, in the morning. Ask participants to bring any notes and drawings to the discussion.

Were there common themes? Are the form constants discernible in the descriptions? Is there any pattern to who did and did not have hallucinations? Did anyone experience sleep paralysis or body distortions? Was the experience pleasurable?

21. Telepathy Tests

1.         An impressive demonstration

Stand in front of the group (or ask someone who is good at acting the part of a psychic to do so) and say something like this: “I have the special power of being able to transmit my thoughts to others. I am now going to draw two simple shapes, one inside the other and I want you to pick up my thoughts.” Out of sight of the audience, draw a triangle inside a circle, fold the paper carefully and hide it away in a pocket. “I am sending my thoughts into your mind. Please try to feel my thoughts and draw what you see.” When everyone has done their drawing, show them the original.

Typically, about 25% of the audience will have a direct hit, and others will have come close. Ask them how they think it worked.

The answer is population stereotypes. There are, in fact, rather few simple shapes to choose from; triangles and circles are most popular. If you want to rule out the possibility that telepathy was involved as well, you could think about a hexagon inside a square while the audience are drawing. Other examples to use can be found in Marks (2000 p 311-317).

2.         A poor experiment

Ask for a volunteer to act as sender, ideally someone who claims telepathic ability. Give them a pen and paper and ask them to leave the room and draw “at random” whatever comes to mind. Agree on a time limit, say two minutes, for the drawing. Everyone else must relax quietly and think about the sender. After two minutes they all try to draw what the sender drew. When they have finished, ask the sender to return and reveal the drawing.

This is the basic method used in “thought transference” experiments in the 1890s. You can use it to explore all the methodological issues that modern parapsychology has grappled with.

(a) Sender choice. If the sender chooses the target, hits can occur because the people know each other, or because they both pick up cues from the environment or from the experimenter. Targets must be randomly chosen.

(b) Judging the result. When two drawings look similar it is impossible to judge chance expectation (you can try using drawings you have collected). Solutions include forced-choice methods using cards or preselected sets of objects, and the more complex free-response methods used for ganzfeld and remote viewing.

(c) Sensory leakage. Could anyone have heard or seen the drawing being made? Could they have changed their own drawing after the target was revealed?

(d) Fraud. Could the sender have told friends in advance, or arranged a code for tapping the answer on the floor? Could the experimenter have set the whole thing up?

3. A (reasonably) controlled experiment

Advance preparation: remove the court cards from a pack of playing cards, leaving 40 cards of four suits. Use an RNG to decide the target order (many true and pseudo-RNG programs are available online).  Assign 1- hearts, 2 – spades, 3 – clubs, 4 – diamonds. Make a record of the target order. Arrange the cards in that order with the first card on the top when the pack is face down. Place an unused card on the bottom to conceal the last card. Seal the pack in an opaque envelope. Seal the list in another envelope. Find a suitable room where the sender can work alone. Get two stopwatches. You can use this simple answer sheet.

The experiment: Choose a sender as before. Give her a watch and the sealed pack, and arrange the exact time at which she will turn over the first card. The sender then goes to the appointed room, opens the envelope and places the pack face down on the table. At the prearranged time she turns over the first card and concentrates on it, turning the rest of the cards at 15 second intervals. The whole test will take 10 minutes. Meanwhile, you call out the numbers 1-40 at the correct times and the receivers write down which suit they think the sender is looking at.

When the test is complete, ask the sender to return. Call out the target sequence and ask each person to check their neighbour’s scores. If you have a large enough group (say 20 or more) the best way to show the results is to build up a histogram for all to see. Ask each person in turn to call out how many hits they got, and add their result to the growing picture. At first the results may seem impressive, or strange, but they will tend ever closer to a normal distribution with a mean at 10. If the results deviate from 10 and you wish to test them statistically, use a normal approximation to binomial, or a one sample t-test using 10 as the expected value (see sample histogram).

This method solved most of the problems of test 2, but others remain. Because many receivers guessed at the same target sequence, their scores are not independent and most statistical tests are invalid. This is called the stacking effect and can be avoided by using individual target sequences or by taking only the majority vote from the whole group. Sensory leakage or fraud might still have taken place, and you may discuss whether they could ever be completely ruled out. Also note that the test is not a pure test of telepathy because clairvoyance could be used directly on the cards. This makes it a GESP (General ESP) test.

Other easy psi experiments, with more detailed instructions, can be found in Blackmore and Hart-Davis (1995).

22. Discussing ASCs

People who have had experience of ASCs often enjoy talking about them, whether to share their insights, laugh about their exploits, or explore their fears. This needs a supportive and safe environment and you, as leader of any discussion, must decide whether you can provide it or not. In Europe cannabis has been decriminalised in many countries, and many other recreational drugs are tolerated, but in North America anti-drugs laws are stringent. If you cannot talk freely, restrict the discussion to alcohol, sleep and spontaneous ASCs. You might ask:

Why do you induce ASCs? What do you gain from them?

How can you tell when you have entered an ASC?

Is one person’s ASC (such as being drunk, or stoned) the same as someone else’s?

Another exercise requires advance preparation but avoids problems of prohibition. Ask participants to bring along a short description of an ASC. This can either be someone else’s, for example from a book or website, or their own. They read this out and ask everyone else to guess which ASC is referred to. Discussing how they decided leads naturally to all the other interesting questions about ASCs.

23. Inducing lucid dreams

As a class activity divide the group into three and give everyone a week to try to have a lucid dream. It is best to assign people randomly to the groups, and if you have several good lucid dreamers in the class spread them equally across the groups. Compare the number of lucid dreams achieved in each group and discuss the results (if you have enough data use ANOVA based on the number of lucid dreams per subject. Alternatively, compare two groups using an independent t-test). Even if the groups are too small for statistical analysis the experiences of trying, the frustrations of failing, and the pleasures of successful lucidity will provide plenty of scope for discussion.

The groups are as follows

1. Control group. Use no special technique. People often report having lucid dreams after simply hearing or reading about them, so this group provides a better baseline than people’s previous levels of lucidity. If you have fewer than about 30 participants drop this group and use only 2 and 3.

2. Daytime awareness. Use letters drawn on the hands as in the practice below.

3. Nighttime intention. The idea is to go to sleep thinking about dreams and intending to notice the next time you have one. Before you fall asleep at night, try to remember the dream you had the night before, or any recent dream. Go through your memory noticing odd features, the way things behaved, or anything that is characteristic of your dreams. Tell yourself “Next time I dream this I will realise I’m dreaming.”

A more arduous version of this is LaBerge’s MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming) technique (for more details see LaBerge 1985, LaBerge and Rheingold 1990). Wake yourself with an alarm in the early hours of the morning. If you have been dreaming, mentally rehearse the dream or, better still, get up and write it down. As you go to sleep again, visualise yourself back in the dream but this time you realise it is a dream. Keep rehearsing the dream until you fall asleep.

24. The survival debate

The topic of survival after death is emotionally charged. In this exercise students are asked to put the case against their own prior beliefs.

Some will find this extremely hard and some may refuse to do it. Some will get embarrassed and some will keep saying things like “I don’t really believe this but …”. There is no need to put pressure on anyone to take part, but you may point out that anyone who really understands a difficult issue should be able to explain the arguments on either side equally well. You need to explain the exercise very clearly to everyone at the start. This is a very good exercise in thinking objectively about emotional issues.

The whole exercise should be kept light-hearted if possible. The objective is not to come to an answer about this impossible question, nor even to find out what people think. It is to loosen up everyone’s thinking, to get them to face the arguments against their own beliefs, to laugh at their own inconsistencies, and to consider the validity of other people’s opinions. It can be done with or without prior preparation.

If you have a manageable sized group the exercise can be done with the whole class. Otherwise divide the students into small groups (about 4 to 10). Ideally, ensure that each group contains some people who believe in life after death and some who do not. In each group choose two people to speak; one a believer and the other not. First the non-believer presents the case for believing in life after death (for, say, five minutes maximum). Then the believer presents the case against. You can remind them that everyone else knows they think the opposite; their job is to do the best presentation they can. Everyone else then asks them questions which they have to answer within their assigned role.

In discussion afterwards, explore why this exercise is so difficult for some people, and ask the presenters what they have learned from their task.

25. Positioning the theories

Varela has positioned some of the best-known theories of consciousness on a simple two-dimensional diagram. Before looking at where Varela himself places the theories, try to use his diagram to do this task yourself.

For a class exercise give each student a copy of the empty diagram and ask them to place on it every theory of consciousness they can think of, or you can do the exercise together on the board. This is a useful revision exercise and a good way of drawing together ideas from the whole course. Point out that there are no right answers. Although Varela devised the scheme, he is not necessarily right about where each theory should go. When everyone has filled in as many theories as they can, show them Varela’s version.

How well do they agree? Every discrepancy can be used to discuss the theories and to test students’ understanding of them. In addition you might like to criticise the scheme itself. For example, are there really theories of consciousness for which first-person accounts are not essential? Can you come up with a better scheme?

26. Meditation

Meditation can be done by yourself or in a group. First sit down comfortably. You should have your back straight but be able to relax. If you know how to sit in a meditation position do so. If you wish to try one, make sure the floor is not too hard or use a rug or blanket, and choose a firm cushion to sit on. Cross your legs in the way that is easiest for you and make sure that you can keep your back upright and straight without pain. Otherwise, sit upright in a straight chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands gently resting on your lap. Look at the floor about two feet in front of you, but don’t concentrate hard on one spot, just let your gaze rest there gently. If it wanders, bring it back to the same place.

Set a timer to ten minutes.

Begin by just watching your breath as it flows in and out. When you are ready begin counting. On each out-breath count “one” silently, and then on the next out-breath “two” and so on. When you get to ten, start again at one, and continue until the timer sounds. That’s all.

Your attitude towards everything that arises should be the same “Let it come, let it be, let it go”. When you realise that you have slipped into a train of thought, just let it go and return to watching your breath and counting. Do not fight the thoughts or try to force them to stop. Just let go. Do the same with sounds or sights or bodily sensations, just let them be. This way they won’t be distracting at all.

Just one session may show you something about your own mind. If you wish to do more, commit yourself to meditating every single day for a week, perhaps first thing in the morning, or twice a day if you think you can manage it. It is better to sit for ten minutes every day without fail, than to try to do more and give up.

27. The headless way

Here are two little tricks to do all together in class, or on your own. Some people can be flipped into an entirely new way of experiencing, but others just say “So what”. So the tricks may, or may not, work for you. Take them slowly and pay attention to your own immediate experience. Don’t rush.

Pointing. Point at the window, and look carefully at what you see there. Note both your finger and the place it points at. Point at the floor, and look carefully at where your finger is pointing. Point at your foot and look carefully at what you see. Point at your tummy, and look carefully at what is there. Point at yourself and look carefully at what you see there.

What did you find there?

Head to head. Find a friend to work with. Place your hands on each others’ shoulders, and look steadily at your friend’s face and head. Now ask yourself – how many heads are there? Don’t think about what you know, or what must be true, but about your own direct experience now. How many heads can you see? What is, in this present experience, on the top of your shoulders?


Here are some links to other sites that you might find useful. These are just some suggestions from my own explorations and this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. However, I shall add more as and when I can.

Chapter 1

There are many good sites with introductions to the problem of consciousness including Wikipedia  and the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Consciousness.

Dave Chalmers’ website is a rich source of information on consciousness studies, find out about the people who have published on consciousness and enjoy his Photo gallery. He also maintains an extensive list of Online Papers on Consciousness. You might even enjoy his Philosophical Humor

The Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson Arizona has many resources. They host the TSC Conference every two years. See the 2012 conference taster video.

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Find out more about the attentional blink  – try a demo for yourself. Other demos can be found here and here. Also Motion Induced Blindness

Look at the flash-lag illusion, and with explanations and overview.

Find out about the cutaneous rabbit illusion and watch some demonstrations.

See the Phi Phenomenon, in different versions, in early photography. See also colour phi,  and demo

For more on William James try Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Wikipedia


Chapter 6

 For more on Vilayanur Ramachandran visit Wikipedia or his own website which has not only a full list of publications but lots of examples of illusions.

You can watch his TED talk ‘A journey to the centre of your mind’

Information about the Flash lag illusion is available on Wikipedia and more information and experiments can be found here and here.

There are many sites on stage magic, conjuring and The Magic Circle .

Here is a psychology experiment using the Vanishing Ball Illusion

Find a variety of tricks for the human brain.

Change blindness, with many videos, can be found on Dan Simon’s website

For more change blindness and sensorimotor theory see Kevin O’Regan’s site.

Chapter 12

Find out what brain damage can reveal about the connection between cerebral tissue and the mind by watching: Ramachandran on your mind.

Chapter 15

Deception definition

Watch examples of self recognition in apes

Research study on deception using a wii remote

The rouge test: self recognition video

Marian Dawkins Website

Chapter 16

Alan Turing website

Information on Wikipedia about the The Turing Test and watch video

Alan Winfield‘s site has information on swarm robotics and artificial culture, also see his blog. And for more on robots see Owen Holland,

MIT has several robot projects including humanoid robots, personal robots, and space robots.

Chapter 17

Machine Consciousness Overview Website

Machine consciousness lab videos

Humanoid robots video

There is lots of John Searle, the Chinese Room Argument and the Robot Reply

Watch Ray Kurzweil and David Gelernter debate The mind, machines and mathematics in apublic debate


Chapter 18   

Rodney Brooks Website

Rodney Brooks: How will robots invade our lives Ted lecture

Rodney Brooks: Thinking robots video

Kismet the robot information on Wikipedia

Kismet robot in action video

Conscious Robots website

IEE Spectrum website

More on the CogAff architecture

Self Assessment

Under Construction

The rest will be posted in August 2010

Here are some questions to help you revise your understanding of each chapter.

The last question in each section invites you to record your own opinion on a critical issue. This can be fun to do, especially if you are ruthlessly honest and write down what you really think. You will probably find that your ideas and opinions change substantially as you work through the course and it can be fascinating to look back at what you once believed (I say this from experience, having rejected many of my own daft theories of consciousness over the years!) You might start out with your own theory of consciousness that you think solves all the problems, and then end up rejecting it as rubbish, or vice versa.

Chapter 1

1.    Describe the mind-body problem.
Name some traditional solutions to it.

2.    What was Descartes’ solution to the mind-body problem?

3.    Why did behaviourism flourish and why did it ultimately fail?

4.    What does the term ‘intentionality’ mean?

5.    Describe the mysterious gap in as many different ways as you can.

6.    Who described the ‘hard problem’ and what is it?

7.    Are you a dualist or a monist?

Chapter 2

1.   1.  Who asked ‘What is it like to be a bat?’? and why?

2.   2.  What is it like to be a …. ?  make up some questions of your own and consider how you would answer them.

3.   3.  What is a quale? Give some examples.

4.   4.  Give two opposing answers to the question ‘What does Mary learn when she comes out of her black and white room?’

5.   5.  What is the philosopher’s zombie? List as many people as you can who believe that (a) a zombie could exist (b) a zombie could not exist. What do you think?

6.  Give at least three reasons for arguing that there is no hard problem.7.  Do you think the Hard Problem is a real problem that needs solving? If so, how would you set about solving it?

Chapter 3

1  What potential problems are there with the idea that consciousness has causal efficacy?

2.  What evidence suggests a dissociation between visuomotor control and visual perception.

3.  Does the experiment by Castiello et al prove that consciousness comes too late to play a role in fast reaching movements?

4.  How do dualist theories explain the interaction between consciousness and the brain?

5.  What is functionalism and can it explain phenomenal consciousness?

6.  Describe the two main kinds of representational theory of consciousness.

7.  What functions does consciousness have according to Global Workspace Theory ?

8.  Do you believe that consciousness has any causal power?

Chapter 4

1.  In what ways does being conscious feel like being in a theatre?

2.  How do theories of attention use theatre imagery?

3.  Who coined the term ‘Cartesian Theatre’ (CT) and what is meant by it?

4.  What is wrong with the idea of the CT?

5.  How does Baars use the theatre metaphor in his theory? Is it a CT?

6.  Name three theories that avoid theatre imagery altogether.

7.  Explain, in your own words, Dennett’s theory of multiple drafts.

8.  Do you think the metaphor of the theatre is helpful or unhelpful for studying consciousness?

Chapter 5

1  Name three kinds of involuntary attention.

2.  What did James mean by the ‘cause theory’ and the ‘effect theory’ of attention?

3.  What is the evidence that half a second of neural activity is required for ‘neuronal adequacy’?

4.  What is ‘subjective antedating? And how does it work?

5.  What is the ‘attentional blink’ and how can it be demonstrated?

6.  Describe three phenomena that seem to show anomalies in time.

7.  According to Dennett, what is the difference between Orwellian and Stalinesque revisions?

8.  Do you believe that consciousness lags behind the events of the physical world?

Chapter 6

1.  What is meant by the phrase ‘grand illusion’?

2.  Give two alternative explanations for the apparent filling-in of the blind spot.

3.  List some kinds of display that are, and are not, filled in across a scotoma.

4.  Why did Dennett imagine a room papered all over with identical portraits of Marilyn Monroe?

5.  Describe two or more methods for demonstrating change blindness.

6.  What implications does change blindness have for theories of vision?

7.  How might change blindness affect us in daily life?

8.  What is inattentional blindness? Give some examples.

9.  Why are magicians’ tricks relevant to consciousness?

10.  Describe in your own words how you think vision works. If you are consciously seeing a book, a cup of coffee, or your friend’s face, what do you think it is that makes this visual experience conscious?

Chapter 7

1.  Describe the difference between ego and bundle theories. Where did each get its name?

2.  What role does memory play in cases of multiple personality?

3.  What is the evidence that Sally Beauchamp’s body was inhabited by more than one conscious self at a time?

4.  What is the status of multiple personality disorder in psychiatry today?

5.  Describe a typical experiment for testing the two hemispheres of a split brain patient independently.

6.  Give examples of confabulation in both normal and abnormal conditions.

7.  How many selves are there in a split brain patient: one, two or none? Describe at least one theory that gives each answer.

8.  Are you a bundle theorist or an ego theorist? How does this affect the way you live?

Chapter 8

1.  What is the point of the teletransporter thought experiment?

2.  What did William James mean when he said that the thoughts themselves are the thinkers?

3.  Describe some neuroscientific approaches to the nature of self.

4.  What does Hofstadter mean by describing himself as a strange loop?

5.  How does Metzinger’s self-model theory account for subjective experience?

6.  In your own words explain Dennett’s theory of the self.

7.  If there is a continuum between bundle and ego theories, where along it would you place the theories covered in this chapter?

8.  Do you feel as though you are, or have, a self? if so, how do you explain this feeling?

Chapter 9

1.  What is the problem of free will?

2.  Describe Libet’s experiment in your own words. What three things did he measure and how?

3.  List three methodological criticisms of Libet’s experiment.

4.  What was Libet’s own interpretation of his results? Give one other interpretation.

5.  Explain Dennett’s objection to the experiment.

6.  Describe Wegner’s  ouija board experiment in your own words.

7.  According to Wegner, what causes the experience of will?

8.  Do you have free will?

Chapter 10

1. What is a NCC?

2. What does it mean to say that a correlation is not a cause? Think up some examples in which people have wrongly assumed cause from correlation (they are widespread in the media).

3. Describe two theories which relate the effects of anaesthetics to consciousness.

4. Why does perceptual rivalry provide a useful paradigm for studying the NCC? Describe two experiments using this technique.

5. What are the neural correlates of pain? Describe two theories that try to explain why pain hurts.

6. List several methods for observing brain function and describe their advantages and disadvantages

7.  What does Ramachandran mean by claiming to have amputated a phantom limb?

8.  Do you think that studying the NCCs is the right way forward for the science of consciousness?

Chapter 11

1.  What is meant by “the unity of consciousness”? Why is it a problem?

2.  Describe the binding problem(s).

3.  What is the relationship between binding and attention?

4.  Describe two theories of binding by neural synchrony.

5.  Explain Zeki’s theory of microconsciousnesses.

6.  How does Edelman and Tononi’s theory account for unity and diversity?

7.  What is synaesthesia, and how can it be tested?

8. Do you think the unity of consciousness is an illusion?

Chapter 12

1.  What is amnesic syndrome? Which kinds of memory are lost and which are retained?

2.  Describe two or more amnesic patients. What do their cases tell us about consciousness?

3.  What is Anton’s syndrome and how might it be explained?

4.  Describe some experiments that reveal the nature of the deficits in hemifield neglect.

5.  What is blindsight? How is it caused, and how can it be detected?

6.  Compare the arguments that have used blindsight to support the possibility of zombies with those that use blindsight to undermine it.

7.  What is sensory substitution and why might it be relevant to consciousness?

8. Do you think that Block’s distinction between Access Consciousness and Phenomenal Consciousness is valid, or not?

Chapter 13

1.    What was the “argument from design” supposed to prove? Why is it false?

2.    In your own words, explain how natural selection works. List three or more phrases that describe the process.

3.    Describe some theories in which consciousness directs evolution. What is wrong with them?

4.    What is a selfish replicator?

5.    Describe some differences between sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.

6.    If you believe in the possibility of zombies, what is the function of consciousness?

7.    How does a functionalist set about explaining the evolution of consciousness?

8.    Do you personally believe that consciousness evolved by natural selection?

Chapter 14

1.    Suggest some turning points in evolution which might have marked the appearance of consciousness.

2.    Describe Humphrey’s “Just-so story” in your own words.

3.    Compare Humphrey’s and Mithen’s theories of how consciousness evolved.

4.    On what grounds does Barlow criticise Humphrey’s theory? What other criticisms can you think of?

5.    Describe two or three theories in which consciousness has no biological function.

6.    Think of as many ways as possible in which Darwinian processes may be involved in the evolution of mind.

7.    What are memes? Compare two theories that make use of memes in understanding consciousness.

8.   Do you believe consciousness has a function? If so what is it?

Chapter 15

1.    What does a frog see?

2.    How might you tell whether an animal (e.g. a cow, a fish on a hook, or a battery hen) is suffering? Can you be sure?

3.    Which animals can recognise themselves in a mirror? What does this tell us about self consciousness?

4.    List three or more skills which suggest that an animal has a theory of mind.

5.    Describe two experiments designed to find out whether an animal knows what another animal can see.

6.    Which species are capable of imitation? What implications does this have for consciousness?

7.    Do other species have language? Why is this relevant to consciousness?

8.   Which living things do you think are conscious, and why?

Chapter 16

1.  List some landmarks in the history of intelligent machines.

2.   Describe Turing’s original machine. What is a universal Turing machine?

3.   What is GOFAI and what principles is it based on?

4.   What is the difference between Strong and Weak AI?

5.   Describe how a simple ANN works. How does this differ from traditional computing?

6.   Give an example of emergent intelligent action in a simple animal and a simple machine.

7.   Describe the Turing Test. If a machine passed the unrestricted Turing test, what would you conclude about the machine?

8.  Are you happy to think of yourself as a machine? If so, how does this affect the way you live? If not, why not?

Chapter 17

1.  List the main arguments against the possibility of conscious machines.

2.  What problems would you face in designing a test for whether a machine is conscious?

3.  In what ways is biology thought to be important for consciousness?

4.  What things do people claim machines could never do?

5.  What things do you think machines could never do?

6.  Describe the Chinese Room thought experiment. What is it supposed to show?

7.  Summarise Penrose and Hameroff’s theory. Does it help to explain consciousness?

8.  Do you think the question “Could a machine have phenomenal consciousness?” is meaningful or not? (you might like to return to this question after studying Chapter 18 as well.)

Chapter 18

1.  People are generally bad at judging whether machines or other creatures have goals, desires or intentions. Give two or three examples that illustrate this.

2.  Describe Kismet. What has been learned about machine consciousness from Kismet’s behaviour?

3.  Do thermostats have beliefs? Compare McCarthy’s and Aleksander’s views.

4.  Choose any theory of consciousness. How would you set about creating a conscious machine on the basis of that theory?

5.  Why is it so difficult to give true language to machines?

6.  What are the implications of machine imitation?

7.  What is the relevance of embodiment to machine consciousness?

8.  Compare Kurzweil’s and Brooks’s visions for the future of conscious machines.

9.  How would you set about building a conscious machine? (assume you could have any components or apparatus you needed.)

Chapter 19

1.  Give some examples of “Eureka moments”. Why are they relevant to nonconscious processing?

2.  What do subliminal perception and blindsight have in common?

3.  Describe at least two experiments in which a dissociation was found between conscious and unconscious perception.

4.  In which ways have emotional responses to unconscious stimuli been demonstrated?

5.  Describe Lewicki’s experimental method.

6.  What is intuition?

7.  Describe some of the processes involved in creativity.

8.  If events and stimuli you fail to notice nevertheless affect your emotions and behaviour, what does this tell you about your own consciousness? Does this bother you?

Chapter 20

1.  What factors are involved in reality monitoring?

2.  What are the differences between perceptions, imagery, hallucinations, and pseudo-hallucinations?

3.  Describe some of the ways in which hallucinations can be induced.

4.  What are the form constants and how can they be explained?

5.  What is sleep paralysis? What are its most common features and why is it so frightening?

6.  Describe some of the drugs used by shamans and the worlds they claim to see.

7.  What experiences have you had that hover on the boundary (if there is a boundary) between reality and imagination. Do any of these help you in thinking about the nature of consciousness?

Chapter 21

1.   If paranormal phenomena exist, what are the implications for science?

2.   Why was psychical research founded, and what were its main aims?

3.   Define all the main terms used in parapsychology.

4.  Why is the randomisation of targets so important in psi experiments? What are the best methods?

5.  Describe two or more experiments that use free-response methods for testing ESP.

6.  Outline the ganzfeld controversy. What conclusion do you draw?

7.  How is micro-PK tested? What are the implications for consciousness?

8.  Do you believe there are any paranormal phenomena?

Chapter 22

1.  What is an ASC? Should ASCs be defined objectively or subjectively?

2.  What is altered in an ASC?

3.  Describe two or more ways of mapping ASCs. Why is this so difficult?

4.  Explain the idea of state specific sciences.

5.  List the main categories of psychoactive drugs.

6.  Describe the mode of action and psychological effects of MDMA.

7.  List as many psychedelic drugs as you can. In what ways are their effects similar and different from each other?

8.  Do you think that future research on psychedelics will be valuable to the science of consciousness?

Chapter 23

1.  What are REM and non-REM sleep and how are they identified?

2.  Describe Hobson’s AIM model.

3.  Are ordinary dreams experiences? Are they ASCs? Provide arguments for and against.

4.  Explain the retro-selective theory of dreams.

5.  Define the following: flying dream, false awakening, metachoric experience, lucid dream.

6.  Describe the method of signalling from lucid dreams. Give three or more examples of experiments made possible by this technique.

7.  Do dreams have an evolutionary function? List three types of answer.

8.  What is the difference between the state and non-state theories of hypnosis?

9.  Have you ever had a lucid dream? What do you think your own dream experiences tell you about consciousness or the nature of self?

Chapter 24

1.  What are EHEs? Make a list of experiences that might be included.

2.  How is an OBE defined? Under what conditions do OBEs occur and to whom? How can they be induced experimentally?

3.  What is the evidence that something leaves the body during an OBE?

4.  How common are NDEs and what are their main features?

5.  What are the two main theories used to account for NDEs.

6.  Can you define a mystical experience? Describe two or more schemes that list the components of mystical experiences.

7.  What is the evidence that genuine mystical experiences can be induced by drugs?

8.  Do you believe that EHEs can provide genuine insights into the nature of self, consciousness or the universe? Have you yourself had any such insights, or glimpsed what appear to be deeper truths?

Chapter 25

1.  What are first-person, second-person, and third-person approaches to consciousness? Give examples of each.

2.  What is the difference between a first-person science and first-person methods?

3.  Explain the argument between the A team and the B team.

4.  What is the phenomenological reduction?

5.  Explain the principles of neurophenomenology. How might it contribute to a science of consciousness?

6.  What is the reflexive model of perception?

7.  Explain what Dennett means by heterophenomenology. What are the three steps involved, and what is the end product?

8.  Do you personally believe that first-person methods are important in consciousness studies. Are you pursuing any yourself and, if so, what have you learned from them?

Chapter 26

1.  What are the basic principles common to all forms of meditation?

2.  Describe the differences between open and concentrative meditation.

3.  What is mindfulness? How is it practiced and it what ways has it been applied?

4.  What is a koan? Give some examples.

5.  What are the main methodological problems in research on meditation?

6.  Is meditation relaxing? Is it an ASC? Is it a form of sleep? Describe some of the evidence.

7.  What is the role of attention in meditation?

8.  Do you meditate? If so, what have you learned about your own mind from doing so?

Chapter 27

1.  Describe the life of the Buddha.

2.  Give possible reasons why so many psychologists have chosen to study Buddhism.

3.  What is Zen? And what is meant by awakening?

4.  What are the similarities and differences between psychotherapy and spiritual practice?

5.  Why is the notion of a spiritual path problematic?

6.  Who found that he had no head, and what is meant by the headless way?

7.  Compare and contrast the illusions discussed in consciousness studies with those found in Buddhism.

8.  Do you believe that enlightenment is possible? If you were enlightened would you then understand consciousness and escape the hard problem?


1. Do you have your own theory of consciousness?
If so, try to describe it as clearly as you can. Do any of the traditional problems for consciousness studies remain?

2.  Do you feel more or less bemused by the problems of consciousness after studying this book?

3.  What still bothers you most about consciousness?


This is the reference list from the book with links given to the books and full papers wherever possible. Some of these are freely available versions, others will require login through your university or a subscription.

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Other useful links

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,