Psychology 391D: Scientific Studies of Consciousness

Fall, 2004

Tuesday and Thursday, 2:30-3:45 pm
Tobin 520

Instructor: Kyle Cave

office: 432 Tobin
phone: 5-2787

(This page last updated 6 December, 2004.)

Pages are now available below for most of the topics we discussed in class.

There will not be web pages for Unconscious Processing, Visual Awareness and Brain Damage, and Dreams. These topics are well covered in the Blackmore book, and I sugest you pay careful attention to the relevant chapters.

Research in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience is constantly revealing new facts about how we see, hear, speak, move, recognize, remember, learn, and reason. The goal of these scientific studies is to explain these mental processes thoroughly and completely. However, many people feel that there is something about our consciousness or inner mental life that can never be explained by any scientific theory, no matter how advanced. In this seminar, we will ask what consciousness is, and will assess what current science can tell us about it. We will consider the different ways in which philosophers have tried to explain consciousness and the relationship between mind and body. Then we will examine how far science has progressed in explaining the workings of the mind, considering evidence from many different sources, including psychological experiments, brain imaging, neuronal recordings, and the effects of brain damage and drugs on experience and behavior. Finally, we will examine what is still unexplained, and will ask whether Science can ever explain everything about the mind.


The textbook for this course is Consciousness: An Introduction by Susan Blackmore. It is available at the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop and at the Textbook Annex. Other required readings may be added later.

In addition to the required readings from the textbook, a number of other readings are suggested in the textbook and on the class web pages. A few of these readings are available in the reserve room on the third floor of the W.E.B. Dois Library, and others are available on the Internet. These readings, along with others that you find on your own, can serve as sources for your presentation and your paper.


Below is a schedule showing the topic, and the required readings from the textbook for each class. Be sure that you have completed the readings before class, so that you can understand the material presented during class and can participate in the discussion. If you are confused about any part of the reading, try to formulate questions and ask them at the beginning of class.




Sep 9



Sep 14


Chap. 1


Sep 16


Chap. 2


Sep 21


Chap. 3


Sep 23


Chap. 4


Sep 28

The Cartesian Theater

Chap. 5


Assignment 1 due today.

Sep 30

Perceptual Experience

Chap. 6


Presentation: Perceptual Filling In
Cara Lombardi and Kat Chang

Oct 5

Attention and Consciousness


Oct 7


Chaps. 7 & 8


Presentation: Split Brains
Kerry Mathews and Scott Merriam

Oct 12

Free Will

Chap. 9


Presentation: Jaynes' Theory on Origin of Consciousness
Aaron Baker and Jen Leahy

Assignment 2 (exam questions) due today.

Oct 14


Chaps. 10 & 11


Presentation: Memes
Katie Devaney and Katie Veatch

Oct 19

no class - study for exam

Oct 21

midterm exam


Oct 26

Consciousness in Animals

Chap. 12


Presentation: Empathy in Animals
Charles Holmes and Chris McTerman

Oct 28

How do We Know You're Conscious?

Chap. 13


Nov 2

Machine Consciousness

Chap2. 14 & 15


paper topic due at beginning of class

Nov 4

Unconscious Processing

Chap. 19


Presentation: Perception Without Awareness
Colin Jones and Mylynn Nguyen

Nov 9

The Brain

Chap. 16


Presentation: Anesthesia
Heather Barrett and Dan Sullivan

NOTE: No meeting on Nov. 11.

Nov 16

Measuring Brain Activity


Presentation: Amnesia
Tanya Taylor and Caitlin Nicholson

Nov 18

Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Reading Available from Library Website


Guest Lecture: Prof. Ethan Gahtan
Reading: Rees, Kreiman, & Koch, Nature Reviews Neuorscience, 3, 261-270.

Nov 22

The Binding Problem

Chap. 17


Nov 23

Visual Awareness and Brain Damage

Chap. 18


Presentation: Blindsight
Lennis Gonzalez

NOTE: No meeting on Nov. 25.

Nov 30


Chap. 22


Presentation: Prozac and other SSRI's
Samantha Clark and Jamie Rapoza

Dec 2


Chap. 23


paper due at beginning of class

Presentation: Physiological Basis of Religious Experience
Laura Weiland and John LaValley

Dec 7

Near-Death Experiences

Chap. 24


Presentation: Can NDE's be Explained Scientifically?
Peter Blandino and Nick Cammuso

Dec 9



We may decide to change the schedule as the class progresses.



Communicating Outside of Class:

If I need to reach you in between classes, I will send you e-mail. There is also a World Wide Web site for this class with this syllabus, class notes, and other materials. If there are notes available for a particular class beforehand, you may want to print them out and bring them to class. The address for the Web site is at the bottom of this page.


There will be a midterm exam during the semester and a final exam at the end.

The exams will cover both material from class and material from the reading.

The final will cover the entire class, including material that may have been on the midterm.

The exams may include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching questions, along with short answer/essay questions requiring answers between one sentence and half a page.

No make-up exams will be given. The midterm exam can be made up with a paper.


Many of the classes will include a student presentataion. Each presentation will be given by a pair of students working together, and each student will contribute to one presentation. You can find the topic for each presentation on the schedule above.

Your presentation should be based on sources beyond the textbook. There are some suggestions for relevant sources on the class web pages and at the end of each chapter in the textbook. There are also links to web sources on this page.

You should send me a list of your sources two weeks before your presentation. If you find other sources after you send me the list, you are free to include them as well.

Each presentation should be about 20-30 minutes long.

A computer and projector will be available for your presentation, if you wish to use it.


You will write a paper on some topic within the scientific study of consciousness. Your paper must show a good deal of research and thought, and it must draw on a sizable amount of material beyond the class readings and lectures. Consult with me about appropriate topics before you start. It should be no more than 12 pages. Papers can be turned in at any time before December 2.

Your paper can be on the same topic as your presentation. It should be written independently of the other student that you work with on your presentation. You can include ideas that came from your presentation partner, as long as you give appropriate acknowledgement.

See the Guide to Writing the Paper.

Other Assignments:

There may be other assignments throughout the class. They will include your written thoughts and questions about one of the readings or a class discussion, other short written assignments, and perhaps an occasional short quiz. I may encourage you to discuss these assignments with other students (except, of course, the quizzes). However, unless I specifically say otherwise, the work you turn in for the assignments must be entirely your own.

Avoiding Plagiarism:

All students are expected to adhere scrupulously to the University policy concerning academic honesty in their written assignments and in their presentations. For guidelines about plagiarism, see If you are ever in doubt about when and how to give credit for the ideas and experimental results you include in your written assignments and presentations, consult me.

Experimental Participation:

By participating in experiments done within the Psychology Department, you can learn first hand how experimental psychology is done, you can contribute to the advancement of the field, and you can improve your grade through extra credit.

You will receive one credit for each half-hour of experimental participation. Each credit will add one-half of one percent to your total number of points.

The total amount of extra credit you can receive is 8 credits, which will take 4 hours, and will add 4% to your point total.

If you sign up to participate in an experiment and do not show up, you lose one credit for each credit you would have received.

Extra credit cannot make a failing grade into a passing grade.

Final grade:

paper and other assignments: 35%
presentation: 5%
midterm: 25%
final exam: 35%

extra credit is available through experimental participation. See above.

An updated version of syllabus is available on the World Wide Web at:

Psych 391D: Consciousness Kyle Cave Psychology Dept. U. Mass.