For centuries, scientists and philosophers have struggled to understand and explain the phenomenon of human consciousness. Even the definition of consciousness is controversial. Over the past few decades, the dramatic advances in neuroscience are bringing us closer to answering the question: What is consciousness? In this course, we will explore the major theories from a historical, biological and evolutionary perspective. A recent book by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga (The Consciousness Instinct) will serve as the primary focus for a guided reading and discussion. Steven Pinker describes the book as “…An intriguing and mind-expanding narrative…Gazzaniga enlightens us about some of the deepest questions the mind is capable of asking.” No prior knowledge of neuroscience is required or expected and the goal will be to make the essential scientific underpinnings accessible to all participants. In addition, we will be able to track the real-time progress of a major international experiment involving thousands of volunteers designed as a competition between two of the major theories of consciousness.

This course will be a guided discussion of a single book accompanied by brief lectures on specific topics involving the underlying neuroscience, with approximately two hours of reading each week.