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Consciousness and Its Implications by Daniel N. Robinson

Consciousness and Its Implications

by Daniel N. Robinson

Product Details

Unabridged Edition
Running Time
6 Hrs.
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It's as essential to human existence as water is to a fish, and yet every night we surrender it gratefully. As human beings, we recognize that we have it, but we can never be sure anyone else does. It has been the subject of debate for philosophers and scientists for millennia, but we've yet to pin down or even understand its true essence and purpose.

It's consciousness, and if you think you grasp the nuances of this unique mental state, then take a moment to consider ... the zombie.

Most of us are familiar with this wretched star of B-grade horror films: a once-human creature dead but not truly dead. In its state of suspended life, it performs many of the tasks we do every day. It can move, it can carry things, it finds its way around. In some movies, it even seems motivated by a purpose—the inexorable quest for living flesh.

But can we say, therefore, that a zombie has consciousness? Does a zombie feel empathy? Is it aware of its existence? Can it judge its behavior according to a moral or ethical standard? Of course not, we are inclined to answer.

And yet—how can we judge whether or not a zombie has these experiences—feelings we usually interpret as elements of consciousness? If a zombie acts like a conscious human being—if it performs the kinds of functions we perform in our daily lives—do we have any ground for denying it a consciousness very much like our own?

Join distinguished philosopher and psychologist Daniel N. Robinson as we explore these and other fascinating questions that get to the heart of human identity in Consciousness and Its Implications. Over the course of 12 thought-provoking lectures, you'll probe the depths of this mysterious mental state from the perspective of the philosopher, the psychologist, the scientist, and the doctor.

Can a Computer Play Chess?

A master storyteller, Professor Robinson brings this riveting topic vividly to life with real-world examples and striking anecdotes.

You'll review the case of Deep Blue, the IBM computer that in 1997 shocked the world by defeating a human, the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Does Deep Blue's ability to "outsmart" a human being—to make strategic decisions and respond to Kasparov's moves—constitute a kind of consciousness? Or is it a reflection of the human minds that created this complex computer?

You'll also look at the lives of real people and explore what happens when normal human consciousness seems to slip away, laying bare the contours of our mental world.

You'll consider, for example, the case of the sleepwalker. She moves around with purpose and mimics behaviors we see in everyday life, but upon awakening, she can remember nothing of her nighttime activities. How does this liminal mental state relate to human consciousness? What would be lost if we lived our entire lives as sleepwalkers?

This exploration of human consciousness will also take you into the world of the dramatic—and the tragic. You'll hear poignant tales of lives lived in a sort of twilight between consciousness and unconsciousness, and you'll ask difficult and provocative questions about what these cases mean for our understanding of human life.

For example, a comatose patient lives in an unbroken sleep state and doesn't respond when her name is spoken. But after a miraculous recovery, she recalls having heard her doctor say she'd never awaken. How do we interpret her ability to perceive the world around her while in a coma? Was she truly unconscious? Or does her experience reflect some in-between mental state we've yet to define?

And what of an autistic child? He may be able to perform complicated mental tasks—for example, sorting toys according to a complicated organizational system—yet lacks the most basic human attribute: empathy. How does this inability to imagine other minds affect his capacity to enjoy the full experience of human consciousness?

Using compelling examples such as these, Professor Robinson weaves a riveting tale of the human condition that will change the way you think about your own mind.

Probing Life's Most Profound Riddles

Throughout the lectures, Professor Robinson balances a range of viewpoints to plumb the depths of human nature. Drawing on the wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers from the ancient Greeks to today's top scientists, he poses age-old conundrums and sheds light on ethical debates that dominate headlines.

You'll ponder, for instance, the riddle of the "Prince and the Cobbler." In John Locke's famous hypothesis, a cobbler and a prince each retire for the night. While sleeping, the cobbler's mind is placed in the body of the prince. On awakening, are they still the same people as before? What is the relationship between their identities and their physical bodies?

And you'll consider Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous example of the "Beetle in a Box." Imagine a number of people, each holding a small box. Each person can see what is inside his own box but not into the others. Suppose when queried, each of them reports what's inside the box: "A beetle!" Unless all of the participants are members of what Wittgenstein calls the same "language game," we have no way of knowing what the utterance, beetle, refers to. In other linguistic communities the utterance—beetle—might refer to a stone, or it might be the term for "empty." So all we actually know is no more than that two people are using the same words. What are the implications of this problem for defining consciousness both within and outside ourselves?

Take part as Professor Robinson examines Aristotle's discussion of the relationship between the physical world and "real being," and as he contemplates Thomas Hobbes's queries into the nature of identity. Then enter the lab and explore the impact of modern physics and medicine on our understanding of the self. Pondering questions ranging from the most fundamental—"Why are we here?"—to contemporary ethical quandaries about artificial intelligence and the medical decision to prolong life, you'll gain new insights into the difficulty but necessity of defining consciousness.

With Professor Robinson's expert guidance, you'll view this intriguing topic from all angles. A distinguished scholar in philosophy and neuropsychology, Professor Robinson incorporates many disciplines—psychology, physics, philosophy, and medicine—to tell the epic story of the human mind.

Journey with us on a challenging exploration of this unique, mysterious, and essential mental faculty. The insights you'll gain in Consciousness and Its Implications are not only intriguing; they are crucial to understanding the nature of humanity and the social and ethical obligations that define us.

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