Consciousness and Its Implications

Course No. 4168
Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
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Course No. 4168
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Course Overview

It's as essential to human existence as water is to a fish. Every night we surrender it gratefully, only to get it back in the morning. We recognize that we have it, but we can never be sure anyone else does. Consciousness, this unique and perplexing mental state, has been the subject of debate for philosophers and scientists for millennia. And while it is widely agreed within contemporary philosophy that consciousness is a problem whose solutions are likely to determine the fate of any number of other problems, there is no settled position on the ultimate nature of consciousness.

  • What is the most promising way to study this subject?
  • What are the implications that arise from the fact that we have consciousness?
  • What are the ethical and moral issues raised by its presence—or its absence?

Questions like these are at the heart of Consciousness and Its Implications, 12 thought-provoking lectures delivered by distinguished philosopher and psychologist Daniel N. Robinson. Rather than merely explain away consciousness, or hide behind such convenient slogans as "it's all in your brain," Professor Robinson reviews some of the special problems that philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and doctors face when taking on such a vexing topic.

What Is Consciousness?

Much of what we do every day is done without our being directly conscious of the steps taken to complete the task: riding a bicycle, taking a walk, humming a tune. But as natural as this state is, it stands as a very serious threat to any number of core convictions and assumptions in both philosophy and science. One of the overarching goals of this intriguing course is to make clear just what about consciousness serves as such a challenge to these convictions and assumptions.

But what makes Consciousness and Its Implications so engaging is more than just the nature of the questions it poses and the issues it tackles. It's the way in which Professor Robinson, the consummate teacher and scholar, conveys this goal in four main points, each of which you explore in depth in these lectures.

  • Consciousness seems to require, for its full understanding, a science not yet available.
  • What distinguishes consciousness from all else is its phenomenology—that is, the act of being conscious is different from all other facts of nature.
  • Conscious awareness is a power that, at times, can be so strong as to greatly affect our senses.
  • The powers of consciousness vary over the course of a lifetime; as such, they can become subject to disease and defect.

Compelling Examples of Consciousness

Throughout the course, Professor Robinson brings this riveting topic vividly to life with real-world examples and striking anecdotes.

  • Review the case of Deep Blue, the IBM computer that in 1997 shocked the world by defeating a human, the chess grand master Garry Kasparov. Does Deep Blue's ability to "outsmart" a human being constitute a kind of consciousness? Or is it a reflection of the human minds that created this complex computer?
  • Consider the case of the sleepwalker, who moves around with purpose and mimics behaviors we see in everyday life, but can remember nothing upon awakening. How does this mental state relate to human consciousness? What would be lost if we lived our entire lives as sleepwalkers?
  • Study the case of a comatose patient who lives in an unbroken sleep state but, after a miraculous recovery, recalls having heard doctors speak about her. How do we interpret this patient's ability to perceive the surrounding world while in a coma? Does the patient's experience reflect some in-between mental state we've yet to define?
  • Look at the case of a child with autism who can perform complicated mental tasks but lacks the most basic human attribute: empathy. How does this inability to imagine other minds affect the child's capacity to enjoy the full experience of human consciousness?

Using compelling examples such as these, Professor Robinson weaves a riveting tale of the human condition that will change the way you think about your own mind.

Probe Life's Most Profound Philosophical Riddles

Professor Robinson also draws on the wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers—from the ancient Greeks to today's top scientists—to shed light on some of the ethical debates involved in any examination of consciousness. These include

  • John Locke, whose famous "Prince and the Cobbler" hypothesis raised questions about the relationship between one's personal identity and one's body;
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose "Beetle in a Box" scenario holds implications for how we define consciousness both inside and outside ourselves; and
  • Aristotle, who led a pointed discussion on the relationship between the physical world and what he referred to as "real being."

You also enter the lab and explore the impact of modern physics and medicine on our understanding of the self. Pondering questions ranging from the most fundamental—"Why are we here?"—to contemporary quandaries about artificial intelligence and the medical decision to prolong life, you'll gain new insights into the complexity of how great minds define consciousness.

Consciousness and Its Implications is a chance for you to view this deep and profound subject from all angles. A distinguished scholar in philosophy and neuropsychology, Professor Robinson incorporates many disciplines—psychology, physics, philosophy, medicine—to explore these abiding questions.

So embark on a challenging and wholly satisfying exploration of this unique, mysterious, and essential mental faculty. The knowledge you'll gain in this course is not only intriguing—it is crucial to understanding the nature of humanity and the social and ethical obligations that define us all.

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

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Your professor

Daniel N. Robinson

About Your Professor

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

Consciousness and Its Implications is rated 3.3 out of 5 by 126.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great reward <= great challenge Outstanding, detailed, amazing. This is no course for the lazy or dilettante, but rather a true set of university lectures, unlike others (I am sad to say) in the Great Courses collection on cognitive science and philosophy of mind. This course is a wonderful companion to Prof. Grim's course. I have two degrees from Harvard (anthropology/folklore and public policy) and have studied dozens of Great Courses titles as well as MOOC offerings from Udacity and Coursera.
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science and Philosophy This course sees Professor Robinson at his erudite best. As usual he never uses a simple word when a complex one will suffice, but in his discourse they are all correct and add to the substance and tone of the lectures. Unlike one of his other courses, he rarely deviates into extended asides and when he does it adds to the color of the course. And rarely does he insert some of his verbal tics (e.g. I say). In short, his presentation is of the highest order. I was not sure what to expect when I ordered this course, but as I enjoy and learn from Dr. Robinson, even when the course is uneven, I ordered it on a distress sale. And am I glad I did. There are no formulaic answers to questions posed, but rather a thoughtful discourse on the subject of consciousness and its implications. Many of the issues raised by Dr. Robinson had not occurred to me, but were of interest when brought to my attention. And some of the issues about which I had considered, such as the lecture on “Do computers play chess?” gave me some differing aspects to consider. I am still not sure of the answer, nor if there is one, but great food for thought and discussion. For me the highlight (perhaps because of my educational background) was the chapter on consciousness and physics. Bringing together quantum mechanics and the workings of the mind was a real treat. I am aware that “Physics and Philosophy” is a course of study at Oxford, Dr. Robinson’s home university. After listening to this lecture and course, I’d be surprised if several students in that course of study were not exposed to him and his classes. For sure if I could go back (way back) to my university days, I’d love to have studied both. Other reviewers have commented on the difficulties of listening to this course while driving or while otherwise distracted. Fortunately I purchased the video version, so was able to sit quietly while watching, pause for thought and back up occasionally to reconsider or rehear a point. For me this course was worth the effort required, but I must admit that for those not interested in more questions and answers and in this subject should give it a miss.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not the best of Great Courses 1. Don't get the video version. The professor stands motionless and expressionless, not even looking at the camera. The only visual aids presented are the occasional picture of some philosopher he mentions. 2. The professor is not at all engaging in his presentation. Monotonous and makes no effort to explain or clarify the points he is talking about. I've only made it 3 lectures in. I had to go back several times to re-listen to portions I blanked out on. I'm debating whether to get a refund on this one, but I think I will try to power through it.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Intro to the Philosophy of Consciousness These lectures include little about recent research into brain states and nothing about the vast contributions of Eastern traditions to our knowledge of consciousness. If you can accept these two limitations, this is a fabulous course. Professor Robinson is extremely thoughtful, articulate, and wry -- I loved his dry sense of humor. His philosophical approach to the topic was ceaselessly fascinating and extremely thought-provoking.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very nice title i purchased this course several weeks ago and started to listen to the lectures. I stopped in order to take another course in which I was interested. I returned to this course two days ago and completed it today. This course was doubly inter esting to me because when I was a Cub and Boy Scout leader I worked with boys who were diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. I had taken a course on how to work with these boys that was offered by the Scout Council. I found this course amazingly interesting and easy to comprehend the material given. Dr. Daniel N Robinson did a terrific job in presenting the material in an easy to understand manner. His enthusiasm was very addictive.
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Consciousness I have done several dozen Great Courses with the Teaching Company across a broad range of disciplines. This course is one of the few I have found disappointing, mainly due to the professor and his style. He is highly academic, almost exaggeratedly so in his relishing of literary turns of phrase in his discourse that only add distance between himself and the listener.. He is dry, sometimes verging on pomposity or condescension. He lacks the ability to explain yes, complex material, but in clear language. His manner is often arch, his attempts at academic humor often fall flat. Prof Robinson obviously knows his stuff, and is interested himself in the material. But I found it unnecessarily difficult to follow--and I've done a lot of courses with quite difficult content including in philosophy and science. He lacks the common touch and lectures in a distant manner. This is too bad, because he touches on many potentially fascinating themes, but lacks the ability to transmit in clear and succinct terms what he is discussing. A more open and congenial style would help.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Got Better With Each Lecture I had the opportunity to complete three of the courses on consciousness while on vacation, and this was another one of the really good ones! The first couple of lectures are harder to get through, and I would note that each lecture seems to get better than the one before it. These are in a literary style and follow less of a rigid logical flow in terms of order. What was remarkable was the ability to bring relevant scientific data and thinking to reject a purely physicalist reductionistic worldview. I think his reasoning on comparison of computer versus human chess was brilliant. In addition the discussion of consciousness not violating the second and third of Newton's Laws were unique, clear, and well articulated. This lecture series requires a bit of attention as you listen because the topics flow in such a literary style. I found this series truly enjoyable.
Date published: 2016-12-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too obscure This professor is very capable, very articulate and exhibits a sense of arid humor. The subjects and issues are profound and he's up to the task... Sort of. Though the material is inherently nuanced and complex, I found him more obscure than necessary. And precisely because the material is inherently nuanced and complex, that seriously distracted from his presentation and my understanding. In a word, he made an already difficult subject even more difficult than it needed to be. Having said that, I found lectures 6-9 very good. I wish he had explored those more deeply, esp'y the possible connections between quantum physics and the nature of consciousness. Although I don't commend the course overall, I do recommend those few lectures in isolation.
Date published: 2016-12-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Barely Conscious While I am fascinated about the subject of these lectures, I was lost most of the time. The language is far too academic for the average listener, which makes it very difficult to understand the issues, theories, and arguments presented. I have enjoyed over 50 Great Courses – usually listening while walking to and from work. THIS course, however, is one I regret purchasing because it requires more effort than I am willing to give in order to learn – and even IF I gave it the focus it requires, I’m not sure that I would understand much more than I do now - I can barely stay conscious while listening to the lectures! If you are only a casual listener to the Great Courses, give this one a pass.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Would be interesting if not for the presentation. I found the points in the course to be very thought provoking, as well as encompassing many different approaches on consciousness. By far the biggest downfall with this course is the way in which Professor Robinson presents the information. He is very long winded in his speech, and talks in a formal manner that makes it difficult for the listener to discern information. I found myself relying on examples and analogies that he used to understand many of the points he was trying to make, while I feel they could have been summarized much more clearly if he chose to present them differently. Lending to this confusion is the rather abstract nature of this topic as well. If you are willing to put in effort to understand the Professor, this course could be a good buy.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from quality as expected I respect professor Robinson so much. I purchase Philosophy and Psychology courses made by same teacher. If you have more courses from him i think i would buy them, doesn't matter the subject; i know it would be interesting.
Date published: 2016-11-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too Brainy In my humble opinion, I have been very pleased and enlightened by the many purchases of the Great Courses (GC) but this one in particular the Professor (with all good intentions) was too rapid in delivering his presentation which made it harder to follow but more significantly, he was too "brainy". As a college instructor myself, I try to simplify in common language what I am trying to present to the students in front of me. Sadly I cannot endorse this course to my circle of influence but perhaps he could appeal to others from a different perspective than mine. So far my favorite presenters from the GC have been Professor Tyson and Dr. Mimi. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.
Date published: 2016-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile but not one of the best courses taken I felt the content bumped up to the limits pretty quickly in what we can know when we only allow ourselves to use our 5 senses and our minds to observe our consciousness with no additional input. I was hoping the course would push the limits back a little farther. I thought lecture 9 on Jackson's thought experiment about "What Mary Didn't Know" did push the limit out somewhat or at least defined the limit better.
Date published: 2016-07-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I always enjoy Professor Robinson I didn’t understand the finer arguments about what consciousness is, or is not from these lectures. I am such a physicalist that any argument to the contrary is lost on me. That said, I always enjoy Professor Robinson. Like a fine Scotch whisky, you either love him or hate him. If you’re not looking to solve the problem of consciousness (good luck if you are) and you enjoy pondering some pretty heavy philosophical arguments, you will probably enjoy the course. I will say that the professor was less objective on some points than what I am used to from watching his other courses. It didn’t really bother me, even when I didn’t necessarily agree, because he is a very thoughtful person. If you like Dr. Robinson’s other courses, you will most likely enjoy this one too, I did.
Date published: 2016-01-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dogmatic and boring presentation This course presents a very unilateral view of the topic, a kind of eliminativism that seeks to eliminate the problem of consciousness rather than present the multiple difficulties that surround this difficult topic. Moreover, the style of the presentation is poor. The speaker speaks in an unpleasant voice and seems to make little efforts to be lively. His examples are unoriginal and presented rather laboriously. People interested in this topic should look at Exploring Metaphysics, a very lively and much less dogmatic presentation of similar topics.
Date published: 2015-11-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Rambling, Tedious, Unproductive I listened to this whole series and did not emerge with any new definition of consciousness nor any list of implications. Professor Robinson doesn't lecture; he rambles all over the interdisciplinary map, without arriving at any next-level insight nor drawing any compelling connections between any sets of observations. Listening to this man talk was like watching an orangutan sitting in front of a tray full of colorful marbles, picking each one up, examining it, then slowly putting it back down again. If I'd been a student in his auditorium, I would have been sorely tempted to stand up and shout, "Sir, are you ever going to get to the point?" Call me old fashioned, but I like my lectures to proceed from a thesis and arrive at conclusions.
Date published: 2015-03-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Leaves a sour taste I listened to more than 40 courses of The Great Courses and this is only the second I am not really happy with. Much has been said by other reviewers and I agree with many of the negative statements. The language is pretentious and stands in the way of a clear understanding of what the lecturer is up to. But what is he up to? It seems to me as Prof. Robinson is on a tightrope walk trying not to sound too unscientific but at the same time trying to preach his understanding of a religious explanation of the consciousness. He does not admit it, though. His modus operandi seems to be laying out some results of research in order to provide the foundation for a conclusion he does not clearly present at the end. He rather wants to suggest conclusions by giving some hints about what he expects people to think. Strangely enough, it sometimes seems to me like these hints are going into the opposite direction of what one would expect after having heard the evidence. Much could be said about each of the lectures, but let me just pick one out. When trying to answer the question whether computers play chess, it seems what he really wants to do is discussing the question whether computers are able to think and feel and he wants us to answer the question with no. His insufficient method of suggesting this is by doing the following: he tries to answer the question whether chess computers, that is computers specifically designed to play chess, can think and feel. In order to do that he defines "playing chess" in a way that serves his purposes, he chooses a sophisticated definition in order to somehow include thinking and feeling as a human into the definition of playing chess. Then he rejects the computer's ability to play chess and somehow argues that chess computers are just following the rules they are programmed to follow. This does not seem like a useful approach at all. According to my definition of playing chess, chess computers do play chess. No, they do not think and fell like a human, I agree with that, chess playing is the only thing they do and they are designed to do exactly that. Prof. Robinson is obviously missing a certain abstract level in chess computers, that, as he feels, is present in humans. But even if I stick to Prof Robinson's definition of what it means to play chess, I could program a computer on a more abstract level. I would deny it to access a specialized chess engine or module but would require the computer to learn chess "the hard way" instead, by using its abstract engine to learn the rules. If that computer then plays chess and does a lot of other things, too, Prof. Robinson's argument might fall short, such a computer might play chess with all the human and psychological ingredients Prof. Robinson is missing right now. He would probably argue that we don't know how to write such a program, but first, that's not my point and second, he might be wrong about it. He does not deliver any evidence that it is not possible. There are, for instance, research projects that try to create an artificial human mind be simulating a brain on the level of neurons and synapses thereby hoping to generate a machine that simulates the human brain on a very abstract level, it does not even have to understand "the rules" of thinking and feeling. To summarize, in my opinion Prof. Robinson did nothing in his lecture that would prove that computers are not able to play chess even according to his own definition of what it means to play chess. The only statement he really makes is that the current chess computers do not play chess according to his definition. But that is a pointless statement. They can't cook either, provided I define "cooking" in a suitable way. Not each of the lectures provokes strong contradiction, but most of them do. The wording the lecturer chooses sometimes feels as an attempt to obscure the debate rather than to clarify it, I myself feel manipulated into a somehow religious understanding of what consciousness might be, an understanding that does not follow from scientific evidence but seems to be prefabricated. I would recommend the course to people who are interested in studying this method of teaching. All others should keep away from this course.
Date published: 2015-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done! My background is science and math…not philosophy. However, I do enjoy philosophy for ultimately both science and philosophy are in search of the same ideal…truth. Science is grounded in the material world where one can observe, measure, prove and verify in order to attain a material truth. Philosophy is a mental discipline and, in my opinion, with pure philosophy you can never achieve a provable truth of an abstract concept. Philosophy is good at raising questions and doubt. However, its strength lies in the fact that it is also very good at thoroughly examining those questions. Answers provided are only possible and not certain. Philosophers are still arguing about the answers to life’s major questions and have been for over two thousand years. Now consider anyone taking on the subject of consciousness…something that no one really understands. That’s a tough mission. Neither scientists nor philosophers know with certainty what it is, where it originates, how it operates, or even how it exists. They may have ideas but can offer no proof. Consciousness pushes the limits of understanding. So, if you think this course will provide definitive answers, you will be disappointed. The title of the course says it all. It provides implications and not truths. This course cannot be expected to provide definitive answers. Instead, it examines the questions in order to gain insight into possible answers. It defines the limits of what we can truly know. Therein lays the beauty of this course. It is an in-depth exploration of the questions of consciousness. It examines those questions from the standpoint of both science and philosophy. It raises and explores questions that you may have never thought of before. What is consciousness? Is it a function of the brain as science maintains? Is it independent of the brain? Is it even a part of your body? Is it a purely mental process or is it physical as well? Is it a result of quantum mechanics? Can a super computer be conscious? If you think you have answers to those questions…ask yourself how you know for certain. You’ll likely discover that you just think you know. Your consciousness may be misleading you. Based on other reviews, you will either love this course or hate it. Count me in the former. Professor Robinson is a well-organized and articulate lecturer with a commanding presence. His credentials are impressive. It is a college level presentation with delivery primarily from the podium. He does make a point of explaining concepts he feels may be more difficult to understand. However, unless you have a solid background in philosophy, some review will likely be necessary to fully grasp the material. That was true for me. If you enjoy philosophy or if the subject matter intrigues you, I definitely recommend the course. Just be advised you will still not know the unknowable. After viewing it, I have more questions about consciousness than I had before…and no definitive answers to the ones I did have. Per the first two paragraphs, that was to be expected. However, discovering that you know less than you thought you did is still an element of learning. This course was very successful in accomplishing that.
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Love it or hate it. I think that the fact that only 52% of the reviewers would recommend this course to a friend and has an average of 3 stars tells a lot about how people feel about this course -- one extreme or the other -- averaging right in the middle. I don't know what I was expecting with this course, but I don't think I got it. I'm not even sure I know what the title of the course, 'Consciousness and Its Implications,' means. Admittedly I listened to the course while driving #which many other reviewers warned against#, I didn't detect a cohesive plan to the lectures. I stuck with it and did hear tidbits of interest, so I guess i'm right in the middle; I didn't love this course, but I didn't hate it either.
Date published: 2015-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from logic applied to cognition: clunky I confess I didn't get very far into this course and perhaps it improves but I found it tangled in the mire of Western philosophy and it's rhetoric rather like discussing physics and cosmology leaving out 20th/21st century advances in the West and 3000 years of Eastern explorations of consciousness. I majored in philosophy and appreciate it's history but wanted something more from this course.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What? The cognitive perception of discourse manifested in absence, a perceptive hiatusness in consciousness tantamount to imperception. The eventuation of cerebral inconnectivity with universal states of existence causative of of existential gaps of perception fructified: my understanding of everything that the lecturer said except during spells of unwakefulness.
Date published: 2014-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommend When I contemplated this course, I was hesitant due to some of the reviews. I took my chances, loved the course, and further ordered another series by Daniel Robinson. If you are looking to be enlightened, challenged and stretched, this professor is the way to go. If you are not looking to be dumbed down, or vocabulary simplified to a sound bite....if you want growth at the college level, he is truly an outstanding professor. I like to listen to his lectures when I am walking or doing something where I can focus on what is being taught. If you are looking for a light series you can enjoy while in the car -- this course probably is not for you. To do it justice, attentiveness is important. This is not a fluff course, but it is very worth the time. Really enjoy this professor and hope Great Courses will continue more from Daniel Robinson.
Date published: 2014-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another fascinating course from Dr. Robinson This course explores the mystery of how and why each of us perceives that we exist, along with how and why we infer that other living beings have similar perceptions of their own existences. Dr. Robinson examines this question from many different viewpoints, including objective scientific evidence, and the philosophical question of when one becomes responsible for moral agency. He even discusses the extent to which dogs, cats, and other intelligent animals have some manner of self-awareness. Dr. Robinson should be especially appreciated for the tone he conveys to the listener. It is a tone of kindness and respect, in which he evidently believes the listener has the intelligence to follow his reasoning and his gentle humor. There is very little overlap in the content of this course and two of Dr. Robinson's related courses, "Great Ideas in Psychology" and "Great Ideas in Philosophy." Those courses are also highly recommended. If you are interested in thinking deeply about questions that we rarely consider in our ordinary day to day activities, you will be well-repaid to absorb and ponder the content of this course.
Date published: 2014-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It is what it is ! For me, this was an amusing "course", very entertaining. The professor is rather substantial & authoritarian-looking and carried off his presentation with great aplomb. The lectures are quite engrossing, musings of an academician very deeply steeped in his subject of philosophy, given over to the most serious considerations and discussions of matters that most people would hardly deem worth a moment's thought, e.g. Are there other minds apart from mine? At times I thought perhaps I discerned a tongue-in-the-cheek, but it may be that I was mistaken. Whatever, it was fascinating to hear the arguments presented so affably. I'm glad I bought the video version, to see the expressions and gestures of this chap. I will recommend the course, but it is assuredly not for everyone; for example those who are involved and interested in more structured and regimented disciplines would not, imho. get anything out of this series of lectures. On the other hand, those who like to explore the fantasies and ramblings of the human mind will be in their element. Yes, I enjoyed this stuff, though I did not learn anything. And I still don't know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, alas.
Date published: 2014-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought provoking and Stimulating I am a fan of Professor Robinson having completed his excellent courses on philosophy and psychology. The issue of consciousness is one of the most challenging in intellectual terms and challenges disciplines as wide ranging as science and philosophy and theology. In this course Professor Robinson helps us to appreciate the way the fact and nature of consciousness has been approached by quantum physicists as well as philosophers as wide ranging as Hume, Descartes and Locke. He addresses issues of how a mind-assuming it can be shown to exist as something mental only- can affect our physical bodies ie causation issues. He also addresses the theory that our mind is actually reducible to physical explanations. I am actually committing to re-listening to this course as the lectures do delve into these issues in a profound way that require further analysis. My only disappointment is that the lecture series is not 24 lectures as the importance of this area of intellectual history merits a longer treatment. I would certainly purchase a longer version of this course from this excellent Professor.
Date published: 2014-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Beautiful Review of a Very Difficult Subject I join those who praise this course for both its scope and depth. In fact, I have never seen anything like it: A real intellectual workout on a very difficult but fascinating topic. While not mandatory though, as others have suggested, if new to philosophy a background course or two, such as his "Great Ideas in Philosophy" would help a great deal. Although I have no formal training in philosophy myself, I was happy for the background provided in this and related "Great Courses" and delighted with the comments of other reviewers who are academically well versed in philosophy. In any case, while this course is not for the faint of heart, I can assure the newcomer that although a difficult trip to take and even though several lectures will probably bear listening to more than once, it is a real treasure trove of ideas. He introduces us to the delightful complexity of this pervasive study by pointing out the tremendous variety of complex questions, ideas, and answers offered by a wide array of notable thinkers, and that was the real joy for me, as it allowed for needed comparisons, contrasts, and integration into my own understanding from a superbly stimulating teacher. That he attempts this task at all on such an incredibly profound and difficult subject speaks volumes as to his wide ranging intellect, and that he also does it so well impresses me no end. That anyone would suggest that this man has a hidden agenda is to my mind preposterous: He invariably states all positions clearly and objectively, so there is nothing hidden about it! Further, he does so in a way that the the numerous alternative and often conflicting ideas he cites became for me a joyous addition to the mix. Thus I could integrate them into my own thought and happily come to my own conclusions based on a much sounder knowledge of the very difficult and complex subject matter. Thus I give Dr. Robinson unqualified praise for a job well done!
Date published: 2014-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Underrated, Underestimated Course I have not, until now, bothered myself with writing reviews for courses offered by The Great Courses, but given the unduly severe criticisms which Consciousness and its Implications has received, I believe a defense of the course ought to be undertaken. As a starting point, I should mention that I was trained as a philosopher, and in the closing years of my degree I devoted considerable focus to metaphysics and philosophy of mind. I have also purchased multiple courses from The Great Courses, frequently within the field of philosophy. I found this course to be refreshingly rigorous and representative of the contemporary academic discourse. Some reviewers have complained that their comprehension of consciousness was not augmented by the course. This is to some degree a fair assessment. However, this is the nature of philosophy- a problem rarely disappears in philosophy, for once it has, it ceases to be philosophical and is turned over to the science which may further its examination. This is more or less the situation which applies to consciousness. As yet, consciousness cannot be objectively investigated by empirical study (although, as David Chalmers has noted in "The Conscious Mind," there may be a correlative relationship between consciousness in philosophy and awareness in psychology). The reason why simplistic, pat answers are not available for consciousness is due to the ambiguity of consciousness- attempting to discover such answers represents a degree of naivete about the seriousness of the problem. As with any problem of philosophy, the difficulty must be approached seriously, and the thinker investigating it must take care not to jump to any conclusion at the exclusion of all others. In Consciousness and its Implications, I believe that Prof. Robinson has more than adequately surveyed the problem of consciousness, thereby giving the viewer a clear picture of what philosophers trouble themselves about when they study mind and consciousness. No, the subject matter is not simple, straightforward, and easy; if the viewer is interested solely in passive entertainment, I would not recommend this course. But I suspect the same applies to all philosophy. If any problem in philosophy seems easy or simple to me, then it is probable that I have not entirely understood the problem itself. Consciousness as a problem is exceptionally difficult- I had a professor who argued that the advent of consciousness in a material universe is the single most difficult feature of the world to account for in atheistic philosophies (which he held, mind). So please, do not take this course and dock it points for its difficulty: it is a mark of the course's success, not its failure. Other reviewers have accused Prof. Robinson of ulterior, pernicious motivation in advocating a religious perspective. This is unequivocally foolish. First, many of the most important contributors to philosophy throughout history have been devoutly religious. Consider Aquinas, Augustine, Locke, Descartes, Newton, Kant, Berkelely, Kierkegaard, Boyle, Pascal; not to mention more contemporary philosophers such as Plantinga, Swinburne, van Fraassen, Craig, Geach, and others. Discarding the views of any thinker on the basis of their religious convictions is, I believe, the result of a pop-culture bias against religious belief. It is a foolish prejudice, nurtured by overexposure to dazzling intellectuals of Ditchkens' ilk. Second, Robinson's exposition of the problem is, as I have mentioned, clear and accurate. If the problems surrounding consciousness appear to you to incline toward religious conclusions, then perhaps it is time to seriously weigh the evidence, and explore why this might be so. Though this review has been rather cursory, and concerned primarily with criticisms of the course, I would like to conclude by enthusiastically endorsing this course. It is enjoyable, and if you are willing to expend the intellectual energy, informative. If you attempt to seriously understand and engage with the contents of the course, you will augment your capacity for an examined life. Moreover, you will acquire a window into the activities of philosophers, which is too often foreign to lay people. I lent this course to my father, who has had no philosophical experience; he found it informative, and was excited to have a greater comprehension of my field of study. It may offer the same for you.
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Useful First I'll say The Great Courses Company is great ! But this course is not. The professor has a very erudite, correct presentation style, but when you think about it, what he says doesn't make much sense. The part that does make sense could all be summed up in one minute. So, yes buy a course, but not this one. I have bought dozens of courses from the Teaching Co and am happy with nearly all. I returned one I didn't like after several years and got my money back promptly. I was impressed.
Date published: 2013-07-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The worst Teaching Co. lecture I have heard I own over 200 great courses lectures. I am obviously fond of them. But this one is by far the worst I have heard and is painful to get through. There is no foundation whatsoever in hard science, but rather just the poetic rambling of the instructor. After listening to 6 hours of these lectures, twice, I don't feel I know anything more about consciousness than I did before. I wish I had never bought this.
Date published: 2013-06-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Covert Agenda? Prof. Robinson does not disclose his devout Catholicism (e.g., editor of Human Nature in Its Wholeness: A Roman Catholic Perspective), as he slips creationist, spirituality and right to life arguments into his lectures about consciousness. If he wants to argue those faith-based positions, he should do do candidly. Certainly potential customers should know what they are buying.
Date published: 2013-05-23
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