Self Assessment Questions

Here you will find some questions to help you revise your understanding of each chapter.

The final questions in each section invite you to record your own opinion on a critical issue, and then to reflect on your own experience of the activities and practices suggested in the chapters. This can be fun to do, especially if you are ruthlessly honest and write down what you really think and what happened when you tried the tasks. You will probably find that your ideas and opinions, and even your ways of experiencing yourself and the world, change substantially as you work through the course, and it can be fascinating to look back at what you once believed and took for granted (we say this from experience, having rejected many of our own daft theories of consciousness over the years!). You might start out with your own theory of consciousness that you think solves all the problems, and then end up rejecting it as rubbish, or vice versa. You might find one task useless to begin with and then return to it months later to find it does something entirely different for you now, or find a new technique for personal practice briefly exciting only to conclude it is a distraction from more important tasks. If you notice such changes, we encourage you to use these questions as a template for recording them.

Chapter 1

  1. Describe the mind–body problem. Name some traditional solutions to it.
  2. What was Descartes’s solution to the mind–body problem?
  3. What does the term ‘intentionality’ mean?
  4. List some of the aims and methods of phenomenology and introspectionism.
  5. Why did behaviourism flourish, and why did it ultimately fail?
  6. What is the best definition of consciousness you can find or think of, and what problems does it raise?
  7. Describe the mysterious gap in as many different ways as you can.
  8. How is the development of ‘second-generation’ or ‘4E’ cognitive science relevant to consciousness?
  9. Who described the ‘hard problem’, and what is it?
  10. Are you a dualist or a monist?
  11. What happens when you ask ‘Am I conscious now?’

Chapter 2

  1. Who asked ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ and why?
  2. What is it like to be a . . .? Make up some questions of your own and consider how you would answer them.
  3. What is a quale? Give some examples.
  4. Give two opposing answers to the question ‘What does Mary learn when she comes out of her black-and-white room?’
  5. What is the philosopher’s zombie? List as many people as you can who believe that 1) a zombie could exist; 2) a zombie could not exist. What do you think?
  6. Give at least three reasons for arguing that there is no hard problem.
  7. Do you think the ‘hard problem’ is a real problem that needs solving? If so, how would you set about solving it?
  8. What is it like to be you now?

Chapter 3

  1. What is meant by the phrase ‘grand illusion’?
  2. Give two alternative explanations for the apparent filling-in of the blind spot.
  3. List some kinds of display that are, and are not, filled in across a scotoma.
  4. Why did Dennett imagine a room papered all over with identical portraits of Marilyn Monroe?
  5. Describe two or more methods for demonstrating change blindness.
  6. What implications does change blindness have for theories of vision?
  7. How might change blindness affect us in daily life?
  8. What is inattentional blindness? Give some examples.
  9. Describe three alternatives to the pictorialist theories of vision in which detailed representations of the world are constructed in the brain and generate consciousness.
  10. Why are magicians’ tricks relevant to consciousness?
  11. Describe in your own words how you think vision works. If you are consciously seeing a book, a cup of coffee, or your friend’s face, what do you think it is that makes this visual experience conscious?
  12. How much are you really seeing now?

Chapter 4

  1. What is an NCC?
  2. What does it mean to say that a correlation is not a cause? Think up some examples in which people have wrongly assumed cause from correlation (they are widespread in the media).
  3. Describe two theories which relate the effects of anaesthetics to consciousness.
  4. Why does binocular rivalry provide a useful paradigm for studying NCCs? Describe two experiments using this technique.
  5. What are the differences between locked-in syndrome, the persistent vegetative state, coma, and anaesthesia?
  6. What are the neural correlates of pain? Describe two theories that try to explain why pain hurts.
  7. List several methods for observing brain function and describe their advantages and disadvantages.
  8. What does Ramachandran mean by claiming to have amputated a phantom limb?
  9. Do you think that studying the NCCs is the right way forward for the science of consciousness?
  10. Describe one thing you have learned from observing your own pain.

Chapter 5

  1. In what ways does being conscious feel like being in a theatre?
  2. List some of the major developments in the study of mental imagery since the early 1970s.
  3. What’s the problem with homunculi?
  4. How do theories of consciousness use theatre imagery?
  5. Who coined the term ‘Cartesian Theatre’ (CT), and what is meant by it?
  6. What is wrong with the idea of the CT?
  7. How do Baars and Dehaene use the theatre metaphor in their global workspace theories? Is their theatre a CT?
  8. Summarise Penrose and Hameroff’s theory. Does it help to explain consciousness?
  9. Name three theories that avoid theatre imagery altogether.
  10. Explain, in your own words, Dennett’s theory of multiple drafts.
  11. Do you think the metaphor of the theatre is helpful or unhelpful for studying consciousness?
  12. Are theatre metaphors relevant to asking the question ‘what is conscious?’

Chapter 6

  1. What is meant by ‘the unity of consciousness’? Why is it a problem?
  2. Describe the binding problem(s).
  3. What is the relationship between binding and attention?
  4. Describe two theories of binding by neural synchrony.
  5. Explain Zeki’s theory of micro-consciousnesses.
  6. How does Integrated Information Theory account for unity and diversity in consciousness?
  7. What is synaesthesia, and how can it be tested?
  8. Describe a typical experiment for testing the two hemispheres of a split-brain patient independently.
  9. Give examples of confabulation in both clinical and everyday conditions.
  10. How many conscious minds are there in a split-brain patient: one, two, or none? Describe at least one theory that gives each answer.
  11. What is amnesic syndrome? Which kinds of memory are lost and which are retained?
  12. Describe two or more amnesic patients. What do their cases tell us about consciousness?
  13. Describe some experiments that reveal the nature of the deficits in hemifield neglect.
  14. Describe three phenomena that seem to show anomalies in time.
  15. According to Dennett, what is the difference between Orwellian and Stalinesque revisions?
  16. Do you think the unity of consciousness is an illusion?
  17. Does your experience seem more unified or less the more you attend to it?

Chapter 7

  1. Do you agree with James, Pashler, or Anderson about attention?
  2. What evidence is there for and against spotlight theories of attention?
  3. How do the brain systems for voluntary and involuntary attention differ and interact?
  4. What is the ‘attentional blink’ and how can it be demonstrated?
  5. What are some of the main problems theories of attention have to tackle?
  6. Describe three theories of attention with different claims about the relation between consciousness and attention.
  7. Name three kinds of involuntary attention.
  8. Do Sperling’s experiments provide evidence for the distinction between P and A consciousness?
  9. How are open and concentrative meditation relevant to understanding attention?
  10. Describe three methods for supporting meditative practices.
  11. Describe three experiments involving meditation which shed light on attention.
  12. What is the significance of the default mode network and mind-wandering for thinking about attention and consciousness?
  13. How often do you direct your attention relative to how often it is grabbed? Does practising meditation change this?

Chapter 8

  1. Describe at least two experiments in which a dissociation was found between conscious and unconscious perception.
  2. How do studies of anaesthesia help us think about thresholds of consciousness?
  3. In which ways have emotional responses to unconscious stimuli been demonstrated?
  4. What potential problems are there with the idea that consciousness has causal efficacy?
  5. Describe one theory that claims a causal role for consciousness, and one that denies such a role.
  6. How do dualist theories explain the interaction between consciousness and the brain?
  7. What functions does consciousness have according to Global Workspace Theory?
  8. What evidence suggests a dissociation between visuomotor control and visual perception?
  9. Describe at least two kinds of representational theory of consciousness.
  10. What is functionalism, and can it explain phenomenal consciousness?
  11. Does the 1991 experiment by Castiello and colleagues prove that consciousness comes too late to play a role in fast reaching movements?
  12. What do subliminal perception and blindsight have in common?
  13. What is blindsight? How is it caused, and how can it be detected?
  14. Compare the arguments that have used blindsight to support the possibility of zombies with those that use blindsight to undermine it.
  15. What is sensory substitution and why might it be relevant to consciousness?
  16. What is intuition?
  17. Describe some of the processes involved in creativity and how they relate to nonconscious processing.
  18. If events and stimuli you fail to notice nevertheless affect your emotions and behaviour, what does this tell you about your own consciousness? Does this bother you?
  19. Do you believe that consciousness has any causal power?
  20. Do you perform conscious actions and make conscious decisions in your everyday life?
  21. How does practising incubation affect your views on conscious versus unconscious problem-solving?

Chapter 9

  1. What is the problem of free will?
  2. Summarise the neural mechanisms involved in three types of willed action.
  3. What is the evidence that half a second of neural activity is required for ‘neuronal adequacy’?
  4. What is ‘subjective antedating?’ And how does it work?
  5. Describe Libet’s 1985 experiment in your own words. What three things did he measure and how?
  6. List three methodological criticisms of Libet’s experiment.
  7. What was Libet’s own interpretation of his results? Give one other interpretation.
  8. Explain Dennett’s objection to the experiment.
  9. Describe Wegner’s ouija-board experiment in your own words.
  10. According to Wegner, what causes the experience of will?
  11. Do you believe that consciousness lags behind the events of the physical world?
  12. Do you have free will? What would change if you believed you did, or did not?
  13. What happens when you perform a willed action? Does trying out Libet’s experiment change your experience of how your thoughts relate to your actions?
  14. Do you think it is possible to live without the feeling of having free will?

Chapter 10

  1. What was the ‘argument from design’ supposed to prove? Why is it false?
  2. In your own words, explain how natural selection works. Highlight three or more phrases that describe the process.
  3. Describe some theories in which consciousness directs evolution. What is wrong with them?
  4. What is a selfish replicator?
  5. What does a frog see?
  6. How might you tell whether an animal (e.g. a cow, a fish on a hook, or a battery hen) is suffering? Can you be sure? Does suffering mean consciousness?
  7. Which animals (including young humans) can recognise themselves in a mirror? What does this tell us about self-consciousness?
  8. Describe the three main ways of thinking about theory of mind.
  9. List three or more skills which suggest that an animal has a theory of mind.
  10. Describe two experiments designed to find out whether an animal knows what another animal can see.
  11. Which species are capable of imitation? What implications does this have for consciousness?
  12. Do other species have language? Why is this relevant to consciousness?
  13. Which living things do you think are conscious, and why?
  14. What is it like to be an octopus?
  15. What is it like to be one of the animals you encountered in your day-to-day life, or the animal you championed in the lab choice debate?

Chapter 11

  1. Describe some differences between sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.
  2. Does consciousness contribute to moral action?
  3. If you believe in the possibility of zombies, what is the function of consciousness?
  4. Suggest some turning points in evolution which might have marked the appearance of consciousness.
  5. How does a functionalist set about explaining the evolution of consciousness?
  6. Describe Humphrey’s ‘Just-so story’ in your own words.
  7. Compare Humphrey’s and Mithen’s theories of how consciousness evolved.
  8. On what grounds does Barlow criticise Humphrey’s theory? What other criticisms can you think of?
  9. Describe two or three theories in which consciousness has no biological function.
  10. Think of as many ways as possible in which Darwinian processes may be involved in the evolution of mind.
  11. What are memes? Compare two theories that make use of memes in understanding consciousness.
  12. Do you believe that consciousness has a function? If so what is it?
  13. Do you personally believe that consciousness evolved by natural selection?
  14. Do you locate the sentience line in different places at different times? If so, what is changing?
  15. When you ask ‘am I conscious now?’, how often do you conclude that what you are conscious of has a function? How often is it a meme?

Chapter 12

  1. List some landmarks in the history of intelligent machines.
  2. Describe Turing’s original machine. What is a universal Turing machine?
  3. What is GOFAI and what principles is it based on?
  4. What is the difference between Strong and Weak AI?
  5. Describe how a simple ANN works. How does this differ from traditional computing?
  6. What is the relevance of embodiment and/or representation to machine consciousness?
  7. Give an example of emergent intelligent action in a simple animal and a simple machine.
  8. Describe the Turing Test. If a machine passed the unrestricted Turing test, what would you conclude about the machine?
  9. What problems would you face in designing a test for whether a machine is conscious?
  10. List the main arguments against the possibility of conscious machines.
  11. In what ways is biology thought to be important for consciousness?
  12. What things do people claim machines could never do?
  13. What things do you think machines could never do?
  14. Describe the Chinese Room thought experiment. What is it supposed to show?
  15. People are generally bad at judging whether machines or other creatures have goals, desires, or intentions. Give two or three examples that illustrate this.
  16. Describe Kismet. What has been learned about machine consciousness from Kismet and other social robots?
  17. Do thermostats have beliefs? Compare McCarthy’s and Aleksander’s views.
  18. Choose any theory of consciousness. How would you set about creating a conscious machine on the basis of that theory?
  19. Why is it so difficult to give true language to machines?
  20. What are the implications of machine imitation?
  21. How would you set about building a conscious machine? (Assume you could have any components or apparatus you needed.)
  22. Do you think the question ‘Could a machine have phenomenal consciousness?’ is meaningful or not?
  23. Are you happy to think of yourself as a machine? If not, why not? If so, how does this affect the way you live?
  24. Are you happy to think of your phone as conscious? If not, why not? If so, how does this affect the way you live?
  25. Does taking part in the Turing test for creativity or reading ‘The Seventh Sally’ alter how you see yourself or your phone?

Chapter 13

  1. What is an ASC? Should ASCs be defined objectively or subjectively?
  2. What is altered in an ASC?
  3. Describe two or more ways of mapping ASCs. Why is this so difficult?
  4. Explain the idea of state-specific sciences.
  5. List the main categories of psychoactive drugs, their mode of action, and their effects on experience.
  6. Describe the mode of action and psychological effects of MDMA.
  7. List as many psychedelic drugs as you can. In what ways are their effects similar and different from each other?
  8. What is the evidence that genuine mystical experiences can be induced by drugs?
  9. Give two arguments for and against the idea that meditation induces an ASC.
  10. What are the consequences of describing mental illness as an ASC? Do they depend on the specific illness in question?
  11. Do you think that future research on 1) psychedelics, 2) meditation, or 3) mental health will be valuable to the science of consciousness?
  12. [see web materials for Ch 13] Can you define a mystical experience? Describe two or more schemes that list the components of mystical experiences.
  13. How easy did you find it to decide which of your ‘states of consciousness’ were ‘normal’? Did hearing about other people’s ASCs change the nature of this task?

Chapter 14

  1. What factors are involved in reality monitoring?
  2. What are the differences between perceptions, imagery, hallucinations, and pseudo-hallucinations?
  3. Describe some of the ways in which hallucinations can be induced.
  4. What are the form constants and how can they be explained?
  5. What can we learn from machine hallucinations?
  6. If paranormal phenomena exist, what are the implications for science?
  7. Outline the ganzfeld controversy. What conclusions do you draw?
  8. Which of your everyday activities straddle the reality–imagination divide?
  9. Describe some of the drugs used by shamans and the worlds they claim to see.
  10. What is the difference between the state and non-state theories of hypnosis?
  11. What is the single most powerful experience you have had that hovers on the boundary (if there is a boundary) between reality and imagination? Does it help you in thinking about the nature of consciousness?
  12. Do you believe there are any paranormal phenomena? If not, do you ever find yourself acting as if you did?

Chapter 15

  1. What are REM and non-REM sleep and how are they identified?
  2. Describe some common kinds of bizarreness found in ordinary dreams, and a possible explanation for them.
  3. Describe two pieces of evidence for and against the correlation between REM sleep and dreaming.
  4. Do non-human animals dream?
  5. Outline Hobson and Friston’s theory of dreaming.
  6. Do dreams have an evolutionary function? List three types of answer.
  7. Are ordinary dreams experiences? Are they ASCs? Provide arguments for and against.
  8. Explain the retro-selective theory of dreams.
  9. Define the following: hypnagogic or hypnopompic imagery, sleep paralysis, flying dream, false awakening, metachoric experience, lucid dream.
  10. What is sleep paralysis? What are its most common features and why is it so frightening?
  11. Describe the method of signalling from lucid dreams. Give three or more examples of experiments made possible by this technique.
  12. How is an OBE defined? Under what conditions do OBEs occur and to whom? How can they be induced experimentally?
  13. What is the evidence that something leaves the body during an OBE?
  14. How common are NDEs and what are their main features?
  15. What are the two main theories used to account for NDEs? Which side do you come down on?
  16. Have you ever had a lucid dream? What do you think your own dream experiences tell you about consciousness or the nature of self?
  17. Did your attempts to induce hypnagogic imagery or lucidity affect how you think about dreaming and consciousness?

Chapter 16

  1. Describe the difference between ego and bundle theories. Where did each get its name?
  2. Are we born believing in non-physical selves?
  3. What role do 1) memory and 2) language play in cases of multiple personality?
  4. What is the evidence that Sally Beauchamp’s body was inhabited by more than one conscious self at a time?
  5. What is the status of multiple personality disorder in psychiatry today?
  6. What is the point of the teletransporter thought experiment? Would you travel in it?
  7. What did William James mean when he said that the thoughts themselves are the thinkers?
  8. Describe some neuroscientific perspectives on the nature of self.
  9. What does Hofstadter mean by describing himself as a strange loop?
  10. How does Metzinger’s self-model theory account for subjective experience?
  11. Why does Strawson use the metaphor of pearls on a string for his theory of self? Why does Zahavi challenge it?
  12. Describe two theories which expand the idea of self to include the world or other people.
  13. In your own words, explain Dennett’s theory of the self.
  14. Compare Kurzweil’s and Brooks’s visions for the future of conscious machines.
  15. How is technology changing our sense of self?
  16. If there is a continuum between bundle and ego theories, where along it would you place each of the theories covered in this chapter? Draw a line and mark the theories on it.
  17. Are you a bundle theorist or an ego theorist? How does this affect the way you live?
  18. Do you feel as though you are, or have, a self? If so, how do you explain this feeling? Does it change when you ask yourself who is conscious now or whether you are the same you as a moment ago?

Chapter 17

  1. What are first-person, second-person, and third-person approaches to consciousness? Give examples of each.
  2. What is the difference between a first-person science and first-person methods?
  3. Explain the argument between the ‘A team’ and the ‘B team’.
  4. What is the phenomenological reduction?
  5. Explain the principles of neurophenomenology. How might it contribute to a science of consciousness?
  6. What did you learn from Varela’s mapping of theories of consciousness, and from attempting your own version?
  7. What is the reflexive model of perception? How can it be used to help design new kinds of experiments?
  8. What does a second-person neuroscience mean for experimental methods? Does spending a day alone change your opinion of its importance?
  9. Explain what Dennett means by heterophenomenology. What are the three steps involved, and what is the end product?
  10. Do you think that Block’s distinction between access consciousness and phenomenal consciousness is valid, or not? What happens when you ask yourself whether you are experiencing more than you can access?
  11. Do you personally believe that first-person methods are important in consciousness studies? Are you pursuing any yourself and, if so, what have you learned from them so far?

Chapter 18

  1. Describe the life of the Buddha.
  2. Give possible reasons why so many psychologists have chosen to study Buddhism.
  3. What is Zen? And what is meant by awakening?
  4. What are the similarities and differences between psychotherapy and spiritual practice?
  5. Who found that he had no head, and what is meant by the headless way? Did you experience it for yourself?
  6. Why is the notion of a spiritual path problematic?
  7. Is enlightenment a process or a state, or neither?
  8. Compare and contrast the illusions discussed in consciousness studies with those found in Buddhism.
  9. What is a koan? Give some examples.
  10. Have you ever experienced pure consciousness?
  11. Do you believe that enlightenment is possible? If you were enlightened would you then understand consciousness and escape the hard problem?
  12. Do you believe that exceptional experiences can provide genuine insights into the nature of self, consciousness, or the universe? Have you yourself had any such insights, or glimpsed what appear to be deeper truths?
  13. What happens when you ask ‘what is this thing and how did it get here?’?
  14. What have you learned about your own mind from being mindful for a day?


  1. Do you have your own theory of consciousness? If so, try to describe it as clearly as you can. Do any of the traditional problems for consciousness studies remain?
  2. Do you feel more or less bemused by the problems of consciousness after studying this book?
  3. What still bothers you most about consciousness?