PP3SC-The Science of Consciousness

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Dr James Stazicker

Email: j.stazicker@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:

This module introduces students to methodological and foundational problems about an area of scientific enquiry which engages directly with philosophy: the scientific study of consciousness. Do recently developed brain-imaging techniques enable us to detect conscious awareness in so-called ‘vegetative state’ patients, who cannot communicate by more traditional means? Do scientific theories and experiments enable us to locate the neural correlates of consciousness—the areas of the brain most immediately responsible for consciousness? What theoretical assumptions about the nature of consciousness must we make in order to answer these questions one way or another? To investigate these questions, we will read cutting-edge philosophical work by authors such as Tim Bayne, Ned Block and Elizabeth Irvine, as well as the latest scientific papers by authors such as Victor Lamme.


This module focuses on applied, scientific consequences of philosophical problems about consciousness introduced at Part 2, in particular the problems which face our attempts to understand consciousness in physical terms (PP2MM: Meaning and the mind). This is part of the more general structure in Philosophy’s programme of study, specifically designed to introduce you to progressive intellectual challenges and to consolidate your previous experience at each new level. This module teaches students how the tools of philosophy can be brought to bear in assessing the methodology and the foundations of a specific area of scientific enquiry. Students learn to engage in genuinely interdisciplinary enquiry, assessing the latest work in both philosophy and neuroscience critically and knowledgeably. 

Assessable learning outcomes:

Students in this module learn to articulate rigorous philosophical assessments of experiments in neuroscience, drawing on philosophical problems and theories to criticize constructively both the methodology of experimental work about consciousness, and the conclusions drawn from the results of this work. Students also learn to articulate, criticize and defend foundational claims about how the science of consciousness can and should operate. They develop the skills required to bring philosophy into contact with scientific enquiry, and to make independent use of philosophy in assessing scientific problems. Assignments are designed to ensure that this module fits into our graduated, supervised programme for developing independent-learning skills.

Additional outcomes:

Students in this module will gain an appreciation of how philosophical problems can have consequences outside the philosophy seminar. They will learn how philosophical analysis and argument are essential to progress in the development of some scientific theories, and how careful assessment of philosophical problems can impact on practical medical issues.

Outline content:

Recent work in the science of consciousness claims to exploit scientific theory, together with contemporary brain-imaging techniques, to identify the neural correlates of consciousness, and to discover that some so-called ‘vegetative-state’ patients are consciously aware of events around them. Topics covered in the module include philosophical problems about claims of this kind, and philosophical assessment of the methodology and foundations of consciousness science.

Global context:

Brain-imaging studies of the kind assessed in this module are increasingly cited in legal arguments made in courtrooms around the world, notably in arguments about whether some patients on life-support are conscious, and about what should be done as a result.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 10 hours of lectures and 5 hours of seminars during the term in which the module’s lecture and seminar classes take place. All students are required to write a single essay from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor. The essay assignment will be due in week 5 of the Summer term. In addition, students will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion in each seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the course. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 5
Guided independent study 85
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class. Some classes may involve quizzes. 

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in August/September. 

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 31 March 2017

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