The Biology of Human Consciousness

How do our brains give rise to consciousness? Once thought to be a question reserved for the realms of philosophy and psychology, recent advances have begun to unravel the biological mechanisms of consciousness. We will begin with the structure and function of the human brain.  Then we will discuss how sensory systems report information about the outside world to the brain. The central idea here is that our senses do not report an accurate picture of the outside world. Rather they distort incoming information in any way necessary to maximize our chances of survival.  

The evidence for this will lead us into a discussion of whether we have any guarantee that what we perceive is close to what the world actually is.  Finally, we will discuss the symptoms of stroke, brain injury, and epilepsy that afford us insights into specific functions of different parts of the brain.  Three of the most interesting of these are injuries that damage our ability to attach emotion to faces, strokes that selectively remove our ability to perceive motion, and seizures that induce religious belief in patients (beliefs that can be turned on and off by administering or withdrawing medication).

This course is a great fit for students with an interest in the human brain, whether or not they intend to major in a scientific discipline.  Those interested in art, music, and philosophy are especially welcome.

Learn more about the instructor of this course

5 credits of Natural Science coursework towards the Areas of Inquiry requirements.