Consciousness and its Place in Physical Reality

In the Spring 2013 semester I initiated a new course at LaGuardia that had the theme Cosmology, Consciousness, and Computation. The basic idea was to explore issues relating to physicalism. Intuitively, physicalism is the view that everything that exists is physical but what is the nature of physical reality? The idea I had was to have the couse divided into three sections. In the first section we would do a conceptual physics course talking about the development of physics from the ancient world to the present day. Then we would turn to issues about consciousness and mind and where they fit in the physical picture we have so far developed. After that we turn to issues about computation; Is the universe computable? Or perhaps does it instantiate some computation? Is consciousness computational? Are we living in a simulation? Is the universe a hologram?

In my quest to have low cost book options for students I have adopted the Terminator book I co-edited and have supplemented that with readings from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other online material. The reception to the course was very good and I am really looking forward to doing it a second time in Fall 2013. I have updated the syllabus and, as usual, would welcome any suggestions or feedback.

Week I: Introduction
• →Richard Brown on What is Philosophy? –

Week 2: Early Attempts to Understand Mind and Physical Reality
• →Terminator Ch 10: The Nature of Time and the Universe
• Time-
• Richard Brown on Pre-Socratic Philosophy-
• Pre-Socratic Philosophy-
• Ancient Theories of the Soul-
• Parmenides-
• Zeno’s Paradoxes-
• Ancient Atomism-
• Democritus-
• Intentionality in Ancient Philosophy-
• Time-

Week 3: Modern Philosophy and Modern Science
• →Terminator Ch 2 –Animal consciousness, Descartes, and Emotions
• Descartes’ Physics-
• Descartes’ Epistemology-
• Descartes’ Theory of Ideas-
• Other Minds-
• Animal Consciousness-
• Locke on Real Essence-
• Locke’s Philosophy of Science-
• Newton’s Philosophy-
• Isaac Newton-
• Newton’s Views on Space, Time, and Motion-
• The Contents of Perception-
• The Problem of Perception-

Week 4: Relativity Physics
• →Terminator Ch 8: paradoxes of time travel
• Einstein for Everyone:
• Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe on NOVA-
• Time Travel and Modern Physics-
• Time Machines-
• The Equivalence of Mass and Energy-
• The Hole Argument-
• David Lewis’ The Paradoxes of Time Travel-

Week 5: Quantum Mechanics
• Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos on NOVA-
• Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics:
• Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics-
• The Uncertainty Principle:
• Quantum Entanglement and Information:
• The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Argument in Quantum Theory-
• Measurement in Quantum Theory:
• Quantum Mechanics-
• Richard Feynman on Double Slit Experiment-

Week 6: The Nature and Origin of the Universe
• →The Scale of the Universe-
• Hubble Deep Field:
• Cosmology and Theology-
• Atheism and Agnosticism-
• Religion and Science-
• Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence-
• Cosmological Argument-
• The Possible Parallel Universe of Dark Matter-

Week 7: The Possibility of Life Beyond Earth
• Life-
• Molecular Biology-
• Finding Life Beyond Earth-

Week 8: Consciousness in the Physical World?
• Consciousness-
• Representational Theories of Consciousness-
• Functionalism-
• The Mind/Brain Identity Theory-
• Dualism-
• Zombies-

Week 9: Beyond Physicalism?
• Eliminative Materialism-
• Folk Psychology as a Theory-
• The Philosophy of Neuroscience-
• Panpsychism-

Week 10: Transhumanism
• →Terminator Ch 4: Extended Mind, Transhumanism
• A History of Transhumanist Thought-
• Biohackers: A Journey into Cyborg America-
• Tim Cannon on Potential Benefits of Sensory Augmentation-
• Aubrey de Grey on Defeating Aging-

Week 11: A.I. and The Singularity
• →Terminator Ch 1: A.I., Chinese Room, Transhumanism
• →Terminator Ch 3: Why always with the killing?
• The Chinese Room Argument-
• The Turing Test-
• The Frame Problem-
• David Chalmers’ The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis-
• David Chalmers on Simulation and Singularity-

Week 12: The Simulation Argument & The Holographic Hypothesis
• Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument Website-
• Nick Bostrom on The Simulation Argument-
• David Chalmers’ The Matrix as Metaphysics-
• Leonard Susskind on The World as a Hologram-


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