There is no consensus on consciousness! No definition is accurate enough, no description is complete, and no explanation is satisfactory. Yet it is the means with which we discern reality, comprehend our environment, and experience what we are feeling.
We popularly agree that consciousness emanates from the mind and that it is a manifestation in higher order animals. But closer examination will show that we are conscious of the “concept of mind.” In other words, our consciousness makes us ‘realize’ the mind. The logical exploration for the cause of our consciousness leads us to create a mind. Therefore, consciousness is not a manifestation of the mind but the other way around: The mind is a fabrication of our consciousness!
A Sign of Life?
The theory of knowledge that bases everything on the cause and effect principle is insufficient to explain consciousness. So we must rely on a phenomenon that is reflexive: a biological structure that gives rise to consciousness, and the more complex the structure, the more advanced the conscious manifestation!
While this explanation is slightly better, it has inherent contradictions when we consider any complex structure that is not neurological in nature. Even when it is neurological (as in a reflex action), we can hardly say that we are conscious. But one can’t deny that it is a manifestation of consciousness. In the case of other organic systems, which respond without any intervention of our will or wishes, we must concede that there is consciousness – a sign of life!
There too we falter! Any life that is not conscious of itself or of its liveliness must necessarily be said to have no consciousness whatsoever. In this context, we realize that our definition of consciousness has failed. So, once again, we must reduce our expectations and lower our standards or broaden our scope. As long as a living body demonstrates a response to a stimuli, we must conclude that it is conscious!
The word “awareness” comes close to describing consciousness. In ‘Shadows of the Mind,’ Roger Penrose separates “consciousness” and “awareness.” However, for now, “awareness” will suffice. Any response by a living body to an external stimulus can be said to demonstrate “awareness” and – by extension – a form of consciousness. For example: an amoeba.
Our popular understanding of consciousness and even awareness is basically wakeful awareness. What we do and how to behave when we are awake. A serious exploration of this wakeful state will show that there are many different forms of this type of awareness, but we won’t get into that. We live our life based on our thoughts that emanate during this state of awareness. But, thanks to Sigmund Freud, we know that those thoughts have their origins in other states of consciousness: what we broadly categorize as either the sub-conscious or the unconscious!
Based on what we call consciousness, our notions of reality may also change. How real is a vivid dream or nightmare? How real is a hero or villain in a movie? How real is our experience of joy or pain?