Fall 2020 - COGS 310 D100

Consciousness (3)

Class Number: 3109

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM

    Th 2:30 PM – 3:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    COGS 100 and 200 (or permission of the instructor).



Explores the topic of consciousness, often called "the last great mystery of science," focusing on current scientific theories and empirical investigations from philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.


Selected Topics: Consciousness

Prerequisites: Either one of: PHIL 201 or 203; or one of PHIL 100W or COGS 100, plus COGS 200; or permission of the instructor. This course will be taught at a level suitable to 3rd and 4th year students from a variety of disciplines. 

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with COGS 310.]

Overview: What does it mean to be conscious?  How would one go about studying it?  Are there degrees of consciousness?  And what type of neural functions or capacities are required for consciousness?  What are we, as humans, conscious ‘of’?  What does it mean to have ‘altered’ consciousness—say, in virtue of dreams, hallucinatory drugs, brain lesions or a psychopathology?  Is there a theory that explains consciousness as a whole?  Is it even possible to understand the conscious experience of a mind unlike our own?

As the above questions make apparent, the study of consciousness encompasses a wide swath of issues.  And with the surge of interest in consciousness over the last 40 years or so, there is now a vast research literature, across multiple subjects, on these very questions.  Many courses on consciousness—and I’ve taught a few of them—focus only or largely on ‘the big questions”: How does consciousness arise?  How could it arise out of a physical body/brain? Can we ever know what it is like to be someone else or some ‘thing’ else, such as a bat?   In contrast, this term I’d like to focus primarily on what I will call the ‘little’ questions, questions about particular aspects of consciousness that we’ve managed to make progress on across a variety of disciplines.  It’s an emphasis on what we do know, from studying particular neural systems such as vision and attention, from looking at dreams and altered states, from studying pathologies such as dissociation, hemineglect, minimal consciousness, locked-in syndrome, dissociation and so on.   Most of these topics can be categorized as ‘Consciousness and X’ topics: Consciousness and Vision, Consciousness and the Body, Consciousness and Dreams/Hallucinations/Delusions, Consciousness and Agency, etc.   

We will begin with the question ‘How do we study consciousness?’ and begin to explore a number of these ‘little’ topics.   In the last third of the course we’ll move on to some bigger questions, beginning with general theories of consciousness (how it comes about).  We’ll end with some classical philosophical questions: Is it possible, in the end, to ever understand the conscious states of another conscious being, be that a person or a furry mammal?

Format. There will not be a textbook for this course.  Most readings will be original sources, the purpose of which is to introduce students to how researchers have framed their own ideas and work, and to gain some perspective on what it means to evaluate research work across disciplines.   Class hours will be composed of lectures, plus a variety of in-class group work and discussions.  Students will be asked to turn their cameras on during lectures, so that we can all see to whom we are talking, but exceptions may be possible based upon legitimate reasons for exception.  Please contact the instructor.


Students may repeat this course for further credit under a different topic.


  • To understand how different disciplines approach and theorize about a shared research topic.   
  • To learn how to read original scientific sources and place them within their historical context.  
  • To learn to write concise summaries of and critical questions about original research.


  • A. Question and Answer Assignments (1-2 Pages each @ 7%; 6 submissions total: best 5 count towards grade) 35%
  • B1. Research Project Outline: outline of project topic/debate/landscape with references (3-5 pages). 10%
  • B2. Research Project: final project (8-10 pages). 30%
  • C. Compare & Contrast Assignment 15%
  • D. Attendance/Participation: students must attend 80% of the lectures to get an all-or-nothing attendance grade 10%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous. Students will be required to attend and contribute to lectures which will be given at the scheduled lecture times.


The evaluation for this course involves the following assignments:

A. Reading Questions and Answers
You are required to write 6 questions and answers about the class readings.  First you summarize the main thesis of the article and then either pose a substantive question or answer one.  NO LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED given that we will discuss the answers in class the next week.

B. Research Project 
All students are required to choose a research project around week 7, based upon our course topics to date.  Students will be working in groups on a single topic (of their choosing) but will be graded on their individual contributions.  Work on the research project will occur over the last 7 weeks of class, with instruction on how to research your topic, narrow down your focus, and zero in your main thesis.

C. Compare and Contrast:  Theories of Consciousness   
An assignment that requires you to synthesize knowledge about several general theories of consciousness.



Remote learning for this semester requires a computer or tablet, camera, microphone, and internet access. Headsets are advisable but not necessary. There is one computer lab on campus for limited access. Students have access to free Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud found here https://www.sfu.ca/itservices/remote-study-work-resources.html. It is recommended that students use broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE) internet connection, with bandwidth of at least 1.5Mbps (upload and download). If students do not have reliable access, they should inform their instructor and contact the IT desk to see if a loaner computer can be arranged.


 All readings will be made available on-line.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).