Fall 2023 - COGS 310 D100

Consciousness (3)

Class Number: 2381

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Mon, 12:30–1:20 p.m.

    Oct 10, 2023: Tue, 12:30–1:20 p.m.

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Thu, 12:30–2:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 12, 2023
    Tue, 3:30–6:30 p.m.

  • 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. Please contact the instructor if you are unsure whether you are prepared for this course. 

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

Overview: In the 1990’s, cognitive science experienced a surge of interest in the study of consciousness, a research topic that had been largely dormant since behaviourism became the predominant theory of mind in psychology.  New interest in consciousness studies was the result of a series of article in philosophy.  Ironically, each of these articles argued that consciousness could not be studied or explained by science.  Although some questions, such as the structure of conscious states, might be accessible to scientific inquiry, it will never be possible to explain something more fundamental about conscious experience, what are often described as the phenomenal or qualitative properties of consciousness—or so these philosophers have argued.

This course will begin with those first seminal but negative philosophical papers, the theories/frameworks that have defined much of the debate since they were first published.  However, one thing we know from the history of science, however, is that it is easier to argue against the very possibility of any explanation at all than it is to resolve such puzzles themselves.  That being the case, this course will cover 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?   Why is there consciousness at all?   But we will also spend time on the ’smaller’ questions about consciousness on which we are making good progress, such as:  What sort of access do we have to our own conscious states—are we ever wrong?  How does attention affect what we experience?  What sort of access to the world do we gain through conscious sensory experiences?  How do we experience ourselves?  What it is like to have a physical body and to act as a physical being?  What can we learn about those experiences from cases in which things break down—when we experience dissociation, minimal states of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, out of body experiences or when we cease to be aware of our own bodies or actions? In other words, in addition to the standard theoretical questions about consciousness at a whole, we will look at particular states of consciousness and in what they consist.


Students may repeat PHIL 332 for further credit if the topic is different.


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


  • Weekly Participation: 10 weeks at 4%. See NOTE below for more details. 40%
  • Long Answer Mid-term Exam (in class.) This will be an essay-type exam for which students will be given a list of potential questions in well in advance. 25%
  • Final Paper. The final paper will be due on the last day of class. Students will be given a list of paper topics but will also be able to choose topics of their own; however, all students who choose their own topics must meet with the professor to discuss them, be given a few resources, etc. 35%


The Weekly Participation grading component:
Students will be given a question each week about the coming week’s reading, a video to be watched as a part of the blended portion of the course, or a seminal scientific reading that changed the direction of consciousness research.  These questions will be given to small student discussion groups, with each student posting an answer that is made available to the group.  Although no grades will be given to individual student answers, each contribution will be marked ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’; marginal contributions will not be counted towards the final grade.  Each week 5 student responses will be selected as ‘exemplary’ and made available to the class without any identifiers.  Each person whose answer is selected will be given 1 bonus point to be added to their final grade (with a maximum of 5 bonus points).  Every student can opt out of 2 questions, on weeks of their own choosing but please save those dates for when you most need them.

Class format (blended, in person and online):
The course is made up of two hours in person on Thursday 12:30-14:20, and one online hour on Monday 12:30-13:20 for group discussions. Because the material for any course on consciousness is highly interdisciplinary, students in this course are unlikely to have the same education in all of these areas. The single hour on Monday will be used to ensure that everyone has an adequate background for the course material.  This will be supplied using a variety of learning tools, including videos of theorists giving talks, explanatory videos on more technical topics in psychology and the neurosciences, as well as written notes from your professor about how to understand multidisciplinary materials. For example, students will be asked to read a ‘seminal’ scientific paper and notes will be given on how to do that, even if you aren’t a major in the relevant area. This format ensures that all students will be free (i.e. not in class) during the Monday ‘lecture’ hour, and thus can meet remotely if they need to discuss a weekly question with their groups. Alternatively, students have the option of meeting their group in the Monday designated room (WMC 2200), without the professor present.



Students must have access to internet and a computer/other device that permits streaming video, word processing and teleconferencing with Zoom.


There will be no formal text for this class.  All written materials will be supplied online, using the syllabus to provide links to the required articles.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.