I want descriptions, not necessarily scientific definitions (yet). So much of (our) consciousness seems mysterious, yet most of our experiences feel unquestionably genuine, and at times profoundly enlightening, or indeed indescribably profound.

Take dreams, for example. They feel to me like foggy windows into my subconscious, as I can usually--but not always--attribute their origins to something that's significantly emotional or challenging in my recent or memorable experiences when awake.

Or we could be experiencing total boredom at times, a very uninteresting period of consciousness. If nothing else, I'd like to emphasize the colossal *scope* of shareable, conscious experiences, from babies to old folks, different moods, fight vs flight in the nervous system, and... this topic is huge!

Whether you have a particularly mysterious or, oppositely, a mundane or cliche experience, I say it's relevant to "our" description of consciousness.

One day we should be able to share descriptions in more scientifically universal/empirical terms, but until then, the only shareable "data" we have is from personal experience, and (here, at least) via words in English... which, btw is a very *artificial* way to communicate feelings! But language leads to science.

I hope we can occasionally revisit this topic when someone has a particularly profound or personal insight that she/he believes others can empathize with. One day science will have more empirical descriptions of consciousness, and its foggy mysteries.

[This post edited days later when not handicapped by tiny mobile phone input/output.]

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A wide range of conscious experiences:

- Womb, birth, infancy, childhood, teenhood, adulthood, ageing, losing mental awareness and capabilities, sleep stages, death!

- Physical stamina, physical weakness, wellness vs illness, enterocentric perceptions (e. g. hunger, satiety, thirst, sexual awareness and physiology, pleasure and pain, digestion and excretion, nausea...).

- Social awareness and experiences, social hierarchy, communication skills, primal communications such as laughing, crying, feeling proud or embarrassed, love...

- Altered states or atypical, e.g. drugged, mentally or emotionally challenged, handicapped, confusion vs creativity, frustration vs self-actualization

Those are aspects of universally human experiences, empathy and consciousness off the top of my head, and many of them are even shared in various degrees with other animals.

That's pretty broad so far, eh?! So maybe one goaal here should be to *generalize* our specific experiences, or (to a lesser extent) *personalize* our common human assumptions about each other.

Consciousness is simply the train station where what the brain has processed is dropped off.

IE: It is a concept, not a thing or place, etc.

We have many levels of awareness about ourselves, mostly so that we can react more quickly,

If we had to move individual muscles, and process proprioreceptor data to walk for example, we would not be able to walk very well.

Its akin to a computer with separate processors for graphics, sound, etc.

So, the only part we CONSCIOUSLY are aware of, is, surprise, that one state.

In reality, our brains are thinking all the time.  This is why "an idea pops into your head fully formed", because it really just popped up into the state where we put the final products.

Its why in the middle of something, you might suddenly remember who played that part in a movie you saw a week ago...the brain was working on it, and, just came up with the answer.

Its why an answer is "on the tip of your tongue"...you know you know it...but don't have access to it until its dropped off for you.

And so forth.  

When you dream, ironically, you consider yourself to be unconscious.  In reality, you are what we CALL unconscious, yet, that state we ALSO call consciousness, is actually still there.

This is why we only remember some dreams, and, why we can HEAR things that might "wake us up".

In parts of the sleep cycle, we remember dreams, and, can be more easily woken.  In other parts, we do not remember our dreams, even though we do have them...and, might even sleep through the noise of a fire alarm, etc.

Even when we are what we call "Conscious", we are STILL unconscious of things going on in the background, including both thoughts, and, in the environment around us.

We do NOT remember everything accurately.  We fill in gaps, the same way our brain fills in the missing picture part blocked by our optic nerves.

We THINK we remember things as they happened, but, according to detailed tests, we do not.  Our reconstructions are variously flawed.  

So, "the conscious" is not a well defined state, as the "levels" do not appear to be quantum based, but, completely analogue.  Its a bit like saying how high up you have to be to be "in space".  We can pick a distance/activity measurement, but, its arbitrary as other than a fuzzy region.

So, you are NOT just your conscious state.  You are ALL of your states.  The conscious state decides nothing, makes you to do nothing, etc...it ONLY gives you the results of the other parts of the brain's conclusions...and, can allow you to know "what your question was"...and what answer(s) was/were arrived at.


I think some things can't be described in the usual because they are irreducible. "Describe red," for example, can only be described scientifically as frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum. The alternative is what is called "ostensive definition." "What is a giraffe?" "This/that/there is a giraffe" is an ostensive definition. 

Consciousness is always OF something. Without an object, it doesn't exist. It also has two aspects which are absolutely separate. Consciousness of things in the shared external world vs. consciousness of goings on in the private mental world. Ostensively, consciousness is that which allows us to discuss the external world with others. Consciousness is also that which allows us to navigate our private and inner world, to know what we are thinking, feeling, and perceiving. To know ourselves, in other words.

This is true to a degree.

Though, consciousness DOESN'T have to be "of something" per se.

IE: What were you conscious OF, before the alarm clock went off, and woke you up?

You had to be "conscious" to hear the alarm...its sound would not be heard if actually unconscious...yet, there was no sound to be "conscious of", until it happened.

Its a bit like not seeing anything vs being blind.

If you are looking, but can't see anything, because its too dark for example, you are not blind, you just don't have anything "to see".

So, sure, you ARE conscious of the alarm when it goes off, but an alarm going off will not wake you if your brain is not receiving signals from the ears because its off line.

This gets back to the levels or stages of consciousness.  The part we CALL the conscious mind is not REALLY aware of ANY external stimuli directly.  This is WHY subliminal advertising for example works. 

EVERY stimuli you are "conscious of" was previously processed by other parts of your brain, interpreted, and, THEN, you become "aware of it".

This is WHY for example if you look at a candle burning, and someone touches the back of your neck with an ice cube, you will think you are being burned.

You were fed MIS-interpreted information about external stimuli, so your "conscious state" made you aware of the fact that you were being burned.  Except you were not...it was ice not fire.

So, unfortunately, its an imperfect design, prone to a large number of errors.

It can make you "think" you are in touch with your feelings, what you perceive, or even what you are thinking...but, you may, or, may not actually be.

This is why a person can "talk himself into something", or think they're in love, and later find out that it wasn't really love, be a gay guy in denial, and other surprises for many people.

So, sure, its not wrong ALL the time, just sometimes...and, typically, you don't even get to know when.


Though, consciousness DOESN'T have to be "of something" per se.

IE: What were you conscious OF, before the alarm clock went off, and woke you up?

Consciousness always has an object. Before the alarm clock went off, either you dreaming or when you were not dreaming, you were UNconscious.

You were fed MIS-interpreted information about external stimuli, so your "conscious state" made you aware of the fact that you were being burned.  Except you were not...it was ice not fire.

So, unfortunately, its an imperfect design, prone to a large number of errors.

Being conscious does not guarantee the accuracy of what occupies it. On a hot highway, you see a mirage. This is misinformation, and yet you are conscious of it.

So if not conscious of your surroundings, how did you perceive that the alarm clock went off?


So if not conscious of your surroundings, how did you perceive that the alarm clock went off?

Your consciousness had no object until it got kickstarted by the activation of some auditory neurons. You were unconscious unless you were dreaming, in which case you were conscious of your dreams.

Then the alarm went off. 

You're trying to prove your point of view in a fashion that presupposes it.

What is a consciousness with nothing in it?

You are operating with a consciousness modeled on a bottle which still has a form even when empty.

You guys are thinking too much in full vs no consciousness, not considering various levels of (e.g.) awareness and cognition. Take dreaming, for example. We first found evidence of dreaming during REM sleep, when test subjects were awoken while still having some memory of the dream. When one completely forgets an experience during some period of time, it's easy to assume that one wasn't conscious at the time, but that would be false.

Sleepwalking's another interesting case. What kind of consciousness and lack of it is happening during one's activity out of bed?

I just heard about research that was able to determine to some extent what rats were dreaming about, using several probes sensing memory areas. First they showed that unique signals could be measured when (and only when) rats were in a particular area of a maze. When going through the maze, the rat's location could eventually be accurately identified by which signals were measured.

Then, while sleeping, the researcher noticed the same signals when the rats were sleeping. (Funny that this researcher wasn't watching for signals during sleep... it was an accidental discovery... like mirror neurons were an accidental discovery.) What was interesting was that the "locations" implied by the sleeping rat's brain signals were sequential, i.e. in the same order as those locations when previously encountered in the maze. Even more interesting, they could produce the signals for those locations in both forwards and backwards directions through the maze!

(I might find the reference to this research... I only heard about it recently from the university researcher via a podcast. For one, I think this discovery was during non-REM dreaming, which is in some ways different from REM dreaming.)

Indeed Pope. The best of the best definitions of "consciousness" are vague and those who make the definitions are open about how vague it is because they admit and point out the enormous gaps of information we have per consciousness. Any definition of consciousness that posits that mental activity is either consciouss or not-conscius is one that is so over confident that it betrays a lack of familiarity with current research in cognitive science, theory of mind, neuro-science, neurophilosophy etc.

Oxford has a great series of books "A very short introduction to" which covers a topic in slim books of about 100 small pages written by experts in a way that most people could follow. Their book on "consciousness" posits a few definitions of  what consciousness might be but is mostly about what we don't know about consciousness, or ignorance on the topic and why it is so difficult if not possible at the moment to define consciousness.

It also talks about semi-consciouss states as you mentioned Pope (dreaming, sleep walking, under chemical influence, advanced animals, artificial inteligence)

I've read three other books specifically on theory of consciousness and while they may define consciousness a little less vaguely they all admit their theory is tentative.

Two philosophers in particular (who also wrote books on free will) have interesting theories on what consciousness is...though their definitions are complex requiring learning a lot about how the brain/mind works and they still take great efforts to point out what their definition lacks and how difficult it is to test their theories. Their definitions both point towards a non-centralised forum in the mind using terms like agency, focus-on-content and paralellism. The books are: most books by Daniel Dennett including "Consciousness Explained" and by Raymond Tallis: "The conscious mind". He also wrote a great article titled: "What consciousness is not". His essays on what things "aren't" are always informative and slightly humerous.


Building on what TJ has said: Perhaps we could define consciousness as the conceptual space in which we process higher order information. i.e. the rest of the brain works on the low level stuff (filling in gaps in our sight, walking, regulating hormones, etc) and the conscious part works on the higher level stuff (orchestrating pattern recognition and recollection, where and why we should be looking, where and why we should be walking, etc).

Part of that is the ability to recognise that we are capable of higher order thought, since without higher order though, one wouldn't be aware of higher order thought.

I agree. In fact, it often works in a top-down direction, too, e.g. while one is learning, even if they're just learning a physical skill in sports. After a while, it becomes "muscle memory", although of course the actual memory of how to perform the skill is still in the brain, not muscle.

Might be worth some discussion. 


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