Spring 2003 Midterm Exam

University of California, Berkeley

Department of Psychology


Psychology 129/Cognitive Science 102

Scientific Approaches to Consciousness

Spring 2003


Midterm Examination


Answer one (1) question in each of the following five (5) sections. Each question is worth 10 points, so that the exam is worth a total of 50 points. The front of each page should provide more than ample room for your answer – this is only a midterm exam, after all! – but the reverse of each page has been left blank for your convenience.

Do not provide long-winded answers. You have only 10 minutes, on average, for each question, and we are grading accordingly. Write legibly, or we won’t be able to appreciate how wonderful your answers are.

Be sure to provide your name and student ID# on each page.


Also, circle the letter (A or B) corresponding the option within each set

that you are answering



Part 1. Choose one:

A.  What was the behaviorist complaint about consciousness? (3 points) How did the cognitive revolution in psychology legitimize the study of consciousness? (3 points) Give two reasons why psychologists and other cognitive psychologists so reluctant to discuss consciousness? (2 points each)

To some extent, Watson and other early behaviorists were exasperated by the unreliable results of introspection as practiced by Wundt, Titchener, and other structuralists. But mostly, the objected to introspection in principle. Consciousness is inherently subjective and private, while science is based on objective, public observation. Watson simply saw no way to make a public science out of private experience. If psychology was to be a science, it had to focus on things that could be publicly observed and objectively measured -- namely, features of the stimulus environment and the organism's behavioral responses to them.

The "cognitive revolution" focused on mental structures and processes that intervened between stimulus and response -- structures and processes that generated conscious mental states. Accordingly, many landmark studies of cognition had to do with topics that were closely related to consciousness, such as attention (bringing something into awareness), short-term memory (maintaining something in awareness), and mental imagery (generating a percept in the absence of a stimulus).

Nevertheless, as the philosopher Owen Flanagan has pointed out, consciousness still makes many psychologists and other cognitive scientists nervous. They may suffer from a positivistic reserve, emphasizing publicly observable behavior rather than private, subjective experience. Or they may take a piecemeal approach, attempting to understand consciousness in a bottom-up fashion, studying discrete phenomena such as perception or attention without reference to conscious experience. Some actually adopt a stance of conscious inessentialism, or the idea that consciousness plays no functional role in behavior, and can be left out of descriptions and explanations of behavior. Others labor under the epiphenomenalist suspicion that conscious experience, while real enough is merely a byproduct of cognitive functioning, and plays no causal role in behavior.



B.  What is wrong with the definition of consciousness as wakefulness? (2 points) What does the definition of consciousness as awareness add to the picture? (2 points) How does consciousness as awareness relate to James' characterization of consciousness as "dealing with objects independent of itself" and "interested more in one part of its object than in another" (2 points each) What does the definition of consciousness as awareness imply about "pure" consciousness? (2 points).

We generally describe people who are awake as conscious, as compared to those who are in a coma, anesthetized, or asleep. One problem with this equation is that coma, anesthesia, and sleep are three different ways of being unconscious. For example, coma is not just a permanent state of sleep. This implies that there are more than one way of being "awake" as well. Moreover, there's more to consciousness than being awake -- not comatose, not asleep, and not anesthetized.

Consciousness entails a subjective experience of awareness of what is going on around (and within) oneself. Identifying consciousness with wakefulness begs the question of whether people might actually be aware of things despite being comatose, anesthetized, or asleep -- appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

According to James, people's subjective states of awareness are never abstract, but they are always about some particular thing or another. Consciousness is about intentionality, not just qualia. The selectivity of awareness implies a close link between consciousness and attention. By means of selective attention, we are conscious of some things but ignorant of others.

James' analysis of intentionality would seem to preclude states of "pure consciousness", in which we are aware without being aware of anything in particular, as well as states of "global" consciousness in which we are aware of everything at once.



Part 2. Choose one:


A.  What are qualia (2 points)? Describe two characteristics of qualia, as discussed in the philosophical literature? (2 points each)? Why are qualia insufficient to characterize consciousness? (4 points)

Qualia are "raw feels", the phenomenal qualities of conscious experience -- the redness of red, the sweetness of sweet.

Qualia are often held to be ineffable (indescribable), intrinsic (unanalyzable), private (cannot be compared between persons), and directly apprehended in consciousness (without any mediating inferences).

But, as James pointed out, we rarely (if ever) experience "disembodied" reds and sweets. Rather, we experience red or sweet things. According to Brentano, intentionality is the mark of the mental. All consciousness is representational in nature, because all mental states are about things that we encounter in the world (including the world beneath our skins). But consciousness is not just about something else. It is also about us, and in particular it is about our relations to the facts of the world. According to Searle, intentional states are the means by which our minds relate us to the world outside the mind. Consciousness is not just about the fact that pizzas are in the world. It is about the fact that I see a pizza, I like pizza, and I want a pizza. When James says that "thoughts tend to personal form", he wants us to understand that there is a close link between consciousness and self, as well as between consciousness and the world.


B.  Describe two types of introspection. (2 points each). Describe two methods for obtaining introspective reports of awareness. (2 points each) Describe one problem with the introspective method. (2 points).

Introspection is the act of "perceiving" the contents of one's own mind. In descriptive introspection, one simply describes one's thoughts, feelings, or desires. In analytic introspection, a subject attempts to describe these complex mental contents in terms of elementary sensations, images, and feelings. In interpretive introspection, the person attempts to explain his or her conscious mental states.

Introspections can be obtained by a variety of methods, including thinking aloud (generating a continuous "o line" report of thoughts, feelings, and desires as they pass through the mind);thought sampling (reporting on the contents of consciousness in response to a signal); retrospective reports (describing mental states from memory); event recording (recording the occurrence of a particular type of thought, etc.); and diaries (making a narrative report of metal contents covering an extended period of time).

Perhaps the most important limitation is that introspection is not really direct, but instead relies on memory -- that, as James and others argued, "all introspection is retrospection". If so, then introspection isn’t really the on-line self-observation that it pretends to be. The delay between the observation and the report may induce some degree of forgetting, so that the observer, operating from memory, has forgotten what the sensory experience was really like; and it may also induce some errors through reconstruction, so that the observer, attempting to fill in the gaps in memory, infers what the sensory experience must have been like, instead of directly observing what it was really like. Moreover, the analytic introspection practiced by the structuralists focused on qualia and left intentionality out of the picture. Another problem is that the act of observing one’s own mental states may effectively change the state being observed.

Other problems discussed by Farthing include: verbal description difficulties (if qualia really are ineffable, intrinsic, and private, they’re going to be hard to express to someone else in words); censorship (suppression of what one actually observed); experimental demands (observers may report what they believe the experimenter wants to hear); lack of independent verification (science is supposed to be publicly verifiable, after all); and substitution of inference for observation (the kind of thing that Nisbett & Wilson) complain about in their paper "On Telling More than We Can Know").


Part 3. Choose one:

A. Briefly characterize two or three varieties of dualism and two or three varieties of monism (2 points each).

There are lots of possibilities here, but the answer should elaborate at least a little (just a sentence or two will do) on any two or three of these items:

substance dualism

property dualism (the dual-aspect theory)

interactive dualism


the dual-aspect theory (property dualism)

psychophysical parallelism

also Chalmer’s version of dual-aspect theory

Popper & Eccles’ tri-aspect interactionism

Searle’s biological naturalism

And on two or three of these items:

mentalistic monism, or idealism or immaterialism

the mind-stuff thery

materialistic monism, or materialism

the automaton theory


the functional behaviorism of Watson & Skinner

philosophical behaviorism, including logical positivism & linguistic philosophy

identity theory, including type and token versions


reductionism, including the Churchlands’ intertheoretic reductionism

eliminative materialism

Searle’s biological naturalism


For a total of five items.


B. Briefly define dualism and materialism. (2 points each) Is mysterianism dualist or materialist in nature? (1 point) What is it about Searle's position on the mind-body problem (as you understand it from reading The Mystery of the Mind) that resembles dualism? Materialism? Mysterianism? (2 points each)

Dualism holds that mind and body are somehow different, and that they are somehow engaged in reciprocal causal relations. Materialism holds that mental states are products of bodily events, particularly events in the brain. Mysterianism is fundamentally materialist in nature, because mysterians assume that physical states cause mental states -- they just don't think we'll ever understand how it happens. In brief, Searle's position of biological naturalism asserts that consciousness is a causal feature of the brain. The idea that consciousness is a property of brain function links Searle to the materialist position, and might even look epiphenomalist in nature. But Searle is not a reductionist. He argues that consciousness has an irreducible property of first-person subjectivity which has to be left out of any third-person account of brain processes: therefore reductionism fails. In this way, Searle can look like a dual-aspect theorist. Moreover, Searle holds that consciousness has causal efficacy, which links him to interactive dualism. Certainly he’s not an epiphenomenalist. Because Searle leaves it to the neurobiologists to work out precisely both how the brain causes conscious mental states to occur and how mental states influence physical states, and because he is (at least rhetorically) open to the proposition that consciousness might have something to do with quantum mechanics, he has sometimes been accused of mysterianism.


Part 4. Choose one:

A.  How is attention relevant to consciousness? (2 points) What are the implications of the distinction between "early" and "late" selection theories of attention for distinction between "conscious" and "unconscious" processing (3 points)? How does the concept of automaticity seek to resolve the debate between "early" and "late" theories? (3 points)

Attention is relevant to consciousness because it is by means of attention that we bring things into awareness. Attention is also the way we make mental representations available for further, deliberate processing. Attention, then, is the mechanism for conscious awareness, which in turn is the prerequisite for conscious control.

Early- and late-selection theories of attention divide on the issue of where the attentional "filter" or "attenuator" is placed – between stages of physical and semantic analysis (early-selection), or after at least some degree of semantic analysis is complete (late selection). Thus, they differ in terms of how much, and what kind, of information can be processed preattentively or preconsciously. Early-selection theories hold that preattentive processing is largely limited to aspects of physical structure, and that semantic analyses can occur only after attention has been devoted to a particular object selected on the basis of its physical attributes (spatial location, salience, etc.). Late-selection theories hold that semantic analysis as well as "perceptual" analysis is performed preattentively; attention is required for the selection of a response to the stimulus, not for selection of the stimulus itself.

Capacity theories get around this debate by abandoning reference to any sort of filter or bottleneck: processing is flexible, depending on the cognitive resources available to the person and the cognitive resources demanded by the task(s) at hand. If some process has been automatized, that processing – whether "perceptual" or "semantic" in nature -- can be carried out preattentively, in the sense that it makes no demands on cognitive resources. Semantic processes may not be innately automatized, and they may be difficult to automatize, but they can be automatized, and once they are automatized they can be carried out preattentively -- just like perceptual analyses of physical structure.


B. How is automaticity defined in cognitive psychology? (3 points) How does Jacoby’s process-dissociation perspective differ from earlier versions of the automatic-controlled distinction? (4 points) How does automaticity bear on our understanding of consciousness (3 points)?

Automatic processes are defined as those that are: (1) inevitably evoked in response to the appearance of an appropriate cue, regardless of the subject’s conscious intentions; (2) once executed, they run incorrigibly to completion; (3) they are effortless, in the sense that their execution makes no (or very few) demands on available cognitive resources; (4) because they consume no attentional resources, they do not interfere with other ongoing processing tasks (unless they compete for the same input or output channel. are performed outside of conscious awareness.

Jacoby’s method of opposition compares performance on an "inclusion" task, that makes use of both automatic and controlled processing, and an "exclusion" task that depends on automatic processing alone. Thus, by subtracting exclusion performance from inclusion performance, what remains is an estimate of the contribution of controlled processing. Once this is known, the contribution of automatic processing can be determined through simple arithmetic. It is not necessary for the student to display the formulas themselves.

Automatic processes are unconscious in the strict sense of the term, because they are executed outside phenomenal awareness (they don’t draw attentional resources) and outside voluntary control (they are inevitably evoked and incorrigibly executed. Whereas earlier approaches to automaticity were predicated on the view that tasks could be classified as either automatic or controlled, Jacoby holds that every task draws on a combination of automatic and controlled, unconscious and conscious, processes.


Part 5. Choose one:

A.  Characterize David Chalmers’ position on the mind-body problem, as you understand it from the exchange reprinted in Searle’s book, in terms of Question 3A’s varieties of dualism and monism. (3 points) Explain your answer. (4 points) What is one important criticism that Searle has of Chalmer’s work? (3 points)

Chalmers presents a blend of materialism and dualism. As a materialist, he is committed to the idea that mental states are causally related to physical states of the brain (and perhaps other information-processing machines as well). As a dualist, he is not prepared to reduce mental states out of existence or scientific discourse. In the final analysis, Chalmers’ double-aspect theory of information marks him as a property dualist, or a dual-aspect theorist generally. The physical aspect of information is an embodiment of some difference or change in the physical state of the world; the experiential aspect gives rise to conscious experience. Therefore, the information physically represented in the brain (or any other information-processing system) naturally gives rise to conscious experience, because conscious experience is one aspect of the state of being informative. Because information-processing is a function, and any system that processes information must (by virtue of the dual nature of information) has conscious experience (as one of those aspects), Chalmers also counts as a functionalist. In a way that is not so different from Dennett, Chalmers argues that any system that performs the same information-processing functions as the human mind will have conscious experiences, just like the human mind does. But while Dennett thinks that this renders consciousness illusory and irrelevant, Chalmers does not: consciousness cannot be reduced out of existence or out of scientific discourse, because it is an intrinsic property of information itself.

Searle applauds Chalmers for at least taking consciousness seriously, but he criticizes him for adopting the same sort of functionalism that Searle objects to in Dennett’s work. He also believes that Chalmers’ property dualism leads him into incoherent statements, such as the idea that "pain" has a materialist meaning in terms of functions, and a nonmaterialist meaning in terms of qualia, and that these meanings are independent of each other. Mostly, however, Searle objects to the panpsychism that is implied by Chalmers’ position -- the idea that, since everything embodies information, everything must be conscious.

And at a more fundamental level, Searle sees Chalmers’ book as reflecting the consequence of trying to take both materialism and dualism seriously -- which means, for Searle, not that you should opt for one instead of the other, but that we need to break out of such received categories as mind and body if we’re ever going to make progress on the mind-body problem.


B.  Characterize Daniel Dennett's position on the mind-body problem, as you understand it from the exchange reprinted in Searle’s book, in terms of Question 3A’s varieties of dualism and monism. (3 points) Explain your answer. (4 points) What is one important criticism that Searle has of Dennett’s work? (3 points)

Dennett is a materialist monist, and his views express both functionalism and eliminative materialism. Applying a verificationist perspective, he believes that qualia do not exist and that consciousness is an illusion, because neither can be verified publicly. As a first-person, subjective experience, it is out of bounds of a science that engages in third-person descriptions of objective facts. A scientific explanation of behavior will eliminate references to conscious mental states in favor of a description of brain processes. Like Watson and Skinner, Dennett believes that a science of the mind should confine itself to third-person, objective, descriptions of behavior. In any event, consciousness plays no role in the operation of the "virtual machine" that is the mind. For Dennett, as a functionalist, there is nothing special about consciousness – any "machine" that performs the same functions as the human mind has the same internal states, and that includes conscious mental states. Thus zombies are conscious, because they do everything that humans do, and humans are zombies too, because consciousness doesn’t matter.

Searle He also objects to Dennett’s functionalism, on the same grounds that he objects to strong AI -- just because a system performs certain information-processing (or computational) functions doesn’t mean it has conscious mental states. And he objects to Dennett’s verificationism, or the proposition that science can (and should) only deal with things that can be publicly observed, and which attempts to turn a science of consciousness into a science of behavior.

Mostly, however, Searle criticizes Dennett for effectively denying the existence of consciousness, when it self-evidently exists.


This page last revised 12/06/08 05:52:59 AM.