Consciousness: The WebCourse

June 12 – September 5, 2005


Bernard J. Baars, PhD Katharine A. McGovern, PhD

Graduate Discussion Leader

Thomas Z. Ramsøy, Neuropsychologist, Cand.psych.aut. (MA), PhD

Guest lecturer

Stuart Hameroff, MD

The course will use the University of Arizona D2L platform. The course is non-credit, but a certificate of completion will be awarded

Computersystem and software requirements/recommendations for participants may be found here.

Required Reading: B.J. Baars, In the theater of consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997 (Available new at for $17.95, used for $10.00).

Highly recommended: William James, The Principles of Psychology (NY: Holt, 1890); and/or William James, Psychology: Briefer Version. Both are free on the web.

Course Description

We can explore our own consciousness (First Person); empathize with others (Second Person); and look at conscious beings from the outside (Third Person). These three philosophical perspectives organize our course. Weekly Phenomenology Labs will adopt the First Person perspective, using personal consciousness diaries and psychological demonstrations. Our Lectures will focus on new scientific findings about vision, emotional feelings, mental effort, volition and the unconscious. The Second Person emerges in ethical relations to others, interpersonal experiences, and the brain regions of mother-baby attachment. Discussion Groups will encourage participants to engage with the course leaders and with each other.

The three basic perspectives can be understood in the framework of Global Workspace Theory, a well-known scientific approach to consciousness. Other theoretical views will also be included. We will not settle the philosophical question “what is consciousness?” but we will acquire a better understanding of consciousness in modern psychology, brain science and the wisdom traditions.

We hope this Web Course will be fun and exciting as well as thought-provoking.

On Sunday of each week we will post lectures, readings, slide-shows and movies.

On Tuesday the Phenomenology Lab will be posted, with activities for that week.

The Discussion Groups will focus on the most recent postings throughout the week.

We encourage you to participate as much as possible. The D2L website is very flexible, and allows for interactions between participants as well as the instructors.

All instructors will answer questions, with BJB & KAM emphasizing lectures and readings, KAM & BJB the Phenomenology Lab, and TZR Discussion Groups. However, we will jump around as needed.




Prior to May 31

After May 31
Registration $245 $315
Students $115 $145

A limited number of scholarships will be available.


Registration (click here)

 *Please note: If you register after Thursday June 9 you will receive your

 password and course access Monday June 13*


Week 1

First, second and third person perspectives: Approaches to evidence.

Lecture. How can we explore our own experience without first solving metaphysical questions?

Contrastive analysis. The Theater of Consciousness A helpful metaphor.Metaphors are not facts!

Meditation and higher states of consciousness. Other ways of altering conscious experience.



Baars (1997), Prologue and Chapter One.
James (1890). Chapter on The Stream of Thought.
Online readings: John Searle, 2004. A classic piece of introspection. Martin Buber.

Phenomenology Lab I

How to keep a Consciousness Diary: Gathering evidence about our own consciousness. Meditation, noting, and the stream of consciousness. Data to be gathered: what happens when you try to focus consciousness? What is “boredom”?

Discussion Group 1

First thoughts and personal experiences.

Week 2

In the Theater: The bright spot of consciousness has limited capacity.

Lecture. Why multi-tasking has limits. Some interesting implications.


Baars, Chapter 2.

Phenomenology Lab 2

Variations on the dual channel experiment: Visual and auditory. Evidence to gather. The complementarity between personal experience and experimental studies. Your Consciousness Diary – what happens when you are loading your mental capacity? Uncontrollable automatisms during mental tasks.

Discussion Group 2

Debugging your dual-channel experiment. Exploring variations of dual tasks.

Week 3

In spite of its limited capacity, consciousness creates vast access.

Lecture. The astonishing amount of knowledge that is accessible by way of conscious experiences.

Brain evidence for “broadcasting” of conscious contents. The thalamo-cortical brain core as the basis of global “broadcasting.” Why it is believed to underlie conscious experiences.


Baars (1997). Chapter 2.
Baars (1997) summary article in Journal of Consciousness Studies
Baars (2002). The conscious access hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Science.

Phenomenology Lab 3

Demonstrating your immense capacity for long term memories, vocabulary size, accurate feelings of familiarity, skill memory, and learning!

Discussion Group 3

A web tour.

Week 4

In the light of consciousness: Sensation, imagination and ideas.

Lecture. Isaac Newton and the discovery of color theory. The inner and outer senses. Input competition. Some imaging experiments. The compelling power of imagination. Metaphors and persuasive images. Emotions and “heart-felt” experiences.

Plato’s difficulty with abstract ideas. Plato as a psychologist. The Hindu-Buddhist psychology of subtle experiences. Semantic satiation and meditation.

Where in the brain does visual consciousness first become unified?

Top-down and bottom-up processing: Cooperation in the creation of conscious contents.


Baars (1997). Chapter 3.

Phenomenology Lab 4

Ambiguous and multi-meaning figures and words.
Popsicle factory and the Dallenbach Cow. Ambiguous figures.
Feelings and fringe: The tip of the tongue and other feelings.
Connotation and allusion, meaningfulness and meaning.
Illusions of consciousness: The blind spot, reading in peripheral vision, and eye fixations in reading.

Week 5

Elsewhere on the theater stage: Working memory.

Lecture. How focal consciousness interacts with working memory. What is working memory? Inner speech and the visuospatial sketchpad. The magic number. The brain basis of working memory and extended consciousness.


Baars and Franklin (2003). How consciousness and working memory interact. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Phenomenology Lab 5

Demonstrating the magic number. Memory load in everyday life.
Is mental effort like a muscle?
The visuo-spatial sketchpad in everyday life: visual problem solving.
Inner speech, inner humming, inner actions, and inner music.

Week 6

Aiming the spotlight: Attention, absorption and the construction of reality.

Lecture. Selective attention. Eye movements. Voluntary and spontaneous attention.

Brain basis: Tutis Villis brain slideshow for eye movements.

Selection biases in opinion formation, cults and indoctrination. The homeostasis of belief systems.


Baars (1997). Chapter 4.

Phenomenology Lab 6

Dan Simons’ demonstrations. Attention and absorption.
Can we be absent-minded? The Stanford Hypnosis Scale.

Week 7

It is dark backstage: Contexts, intentions, and expectations.

Lecture. Egocentric brain maps and the self. Tip of the tongue and the prefrontal cortex.

Appraisal theories of emotion. “Current concerns” and “Unfinished business” as activecontexts in the stream of consciousness. Interpreting “projection” in scientific terms: unconscious contexts shaping conscious contents. Unconscious activation of moods.

Trauma as an active context.


Baars (1997). Chapter 5.

Phenomenology Lab 7

Fixedness: being blind to the obvious. Priming. Breaking contexts and creativity. Couples counseling: the effects of unconscious contexts on interpersonal activities.

Week 8

Volition: Conscious influence on action.

Lecture. Errors of volition: thought and action. Errors of action and slips of the tongue. Competing plans. Automatisms and effort. What’s free about the will? Ironic effects. Inner conflict and the anterior cingulate cortex.


Baars (1997). Chapter 6.

Errors of action from Reason and Norman.

Phenomenology Lab 8

The devil made me do it! Counter-voluntary acts. Collecting errors of action and speech. Everyday dissociation: accidents, earthquakes, James on fugue. Hypnosis.

Week 9

The Stage Director: Self as the unifying context of consciousness.

Lecture. Split selves, fragmented selves, disordered selves. A theater or a parliament? Brain establishments, dominant coalitions, and revolutions. Our limited self-awareness. Split brain personalities.


Baars (1997). Chapter 7.

Phenomenology Lab 9

Experimenting with a shifting sense of self. A dialogue with Buddhist psychology. Marcel Proust waking up at night.

Week 10

What is conscious about emotions?

Lecture. The interplay of conscious and unconscious processes in emotion. The vexed question of Freudian repression: New brain evidence? Feelings, emotions, and moods --- regulating the contents of consciousness. Richard Lazarus, Joseph LeDoux and the amygadala; Damasio; Luborsky and Pansepp. The mammalian brain.

Phenomenology Lab 10

Exploring unconscious moods. Anthony Greenwald, Banaji and unconscious stereotyping. Conscious and unconscious aspects of personal emotions.

Week 11

Sharing consciousness with others.

Intersubjectivity. “Look, Mommy, airplane!” The origins of shared consciousness: developing empathy. Theory of Mind. Why doesn’t your dog look where you point? Do ravens have a Theory of Mind? Autism as a disorder of empathy. Temple Grandin: Asperger’s Syndrome. Shared contexts of communication.

The ethical contract: Second-person relationships.

Consciousness at the beginning and end of life. When is a fetus conscious?

Consciousness as a standard for personhood. Animal consciousness.


(to be provided)

Phenomenology Lab 11

Imagining how the world seems to others. Empathy and its alternatives. The pitfalls of mindreading.

Week 12

What is it good for? The functions of consciousness.

Lecture: The biological roots of the conscious brain. Many functions, many pathways?

The state of consciousness. Consciousness in animals.


Baars, Chapter 8, 9, and Appendix.

The brain evidence for consciousness in mammals.

Phenomenology Lab 12

What do we lose when consciousness is reduced?

The puzzle of Minimally Conscious State: Terry Schiavo.

Week 13

Theories of consciousness: What is it, really?

Lecture: Quantum Mechanical concepts. Guest Lecturer: Prof. Stuart Hameroff, MD

Lecture: Some brain theories. Converging ideas about conscious experience.

A course review, and a look ahead.

Your thoughts about the course. Some possibilities for the future.

Phenomenology Lab 13

Review your Consciousness Diary. Can you recognize in your own experience the phenomena seen in the Appendix of Baars (1997)?