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Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.

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  • Neurologists who routinely evaluate patients with head injuries define consciousness in terms of waking EEG, the ability to answer questions, report perceptual events, show alertness to sudden changes in the environment, exercise normal voluntary control over speech and action, use memory, and maintain orientation to time, place, and self. ...Physicians make life-or-death decision on the basis of these observable events, and in practice this works very well. Very similar criteria are used in psychological and brain research. Thus medicine and science seem to agree with traditional philosophy that consciousness and subjectivity can be identified in practical ways. ...The empathy criterion is far more demanding.
  • Consciousness is always accompanied by subjectivity.
    • Bernard J. Baars, ibid., "Understanding Subjectivity: Global Workspace Theory and the Resurrection of the Observing Self" Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3, No. 3, 1996, pp. 211-16
  • What we really mean by free will... is the visualizing of alternatives and making a choice between them. ...the central problem of human consciousness depends on this ability to imagine.


  • Why doesn't all this information-processing go on "in the dark", free of any inner feel? ...We know that conscious experience does arise when these functions are performed, but the very fact that it arises is the central mystery. There is an explanatory gap [a term due to J. Levine, "Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap" Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64:354-61, 1983] between the functions and experience, and we need an explanatory bridge to cross it.
  • The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. The hard problems are those that seem to resist those methods. ...The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. ...When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought.
  • Another useful way to avoid confusion [used by e.g. Allen Newell 1990 Unified Theories of Cognition] is to reserve the term "consciousness" for the phenomena of experience, using the less loaded term "awareness" for the more straightforward phenomena... If such a convention were widely adopted, communication would be much easier; as things stand, those who talk about "consciousness" are frequently talking past each other.
  • Since the problem of consciousness is such a central one, and since consciousness appears so mysterious, one might have expected that psychologists and neuroscientists would now direct major efforts toward understanding it. This, however, is far from being the case. The majority of modern psychologists omit any mention of the problem, although much of what they study enters into consciousness. Most modern neuroscientists ignore it. ...Not only because of experimental difficulties but also because they considered the problem both too subjective and too "philosophical," and thus not easily amenable to experimental study.
    • Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994)
  • There may be several forms of visual awareness and, by extension, even more forms of consciousness in general.
    • Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994)


  • Survival machines that can simulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines that who can only learn of the basis of trial and error. The trouble with overt trial is that it takes time and energy. The trouble with overt error is that it is often fatal. ...The evolution of the capacity to simulate seems to have culminated in subjective consciousness. Why this should have happened is, to me, the most profound mystery facing modern biology.
  • Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. ...Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all earlier mysteries, there are many who insist—and hope—that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.
  • We now understand how very complex and even apparently intelligent phenomena, such as genetic coding, the immune system, and low-level visual processing, can be accomplished without a trace of consciousness. But this seems to uncover an enormous puzzle of just what, if anything, consciousness is for. Can a conscious entity do anything for itself that an unconscious (but cleverly wired up) simulation of that entity couldn't do for itself?
    • Daniel C. Dennett, "The Evolution of Consciousness," Consciousness and Emotion in Cognitive Science: Conceptual and Empirical Issues (1998) ed. Josefa Toribio & Andy Clark
  • The scientific course is to put the burden of proof on the attribution. As a scientist, you can't just declare, for instance, that the presence of glutamate molecules amounts to the presence of mind; you have to prove it, against a background in which the "null hypothesis" is that mind is not present. There is substantial disagreement among scientists as to which species have what sorts of mind, but even those scientists who are the most ardent champions of consciousness in animals accept this burden of proof—and think they can meet it, by devising and confirming theories that show which animals are conscious. But no such theories are yet confirmed, and in the meantime we can appreciate the discomfort of those who see this agnostic, wait-and-see policy as jeopardizing the moral status of creatures that they are sure are conscious.


  • The investigation of the possibility that animals might think in terms of concepts and even categories of important objects has been seriously impeded because comparative psychologists have seemed to be almost petrified by the notion of animal consciousness. Historically, the science of psychology has been reacting for fifty years or more against earlier attempts to learn how we think by thinking about our thoughts. ...In other realms of scientific endeavor we have to accept proof that is less than a hundred percent rigorous... think of cosmology, think of geology. And Darwin couldn't prove the fact of biological evolution in a rigorous way.


  • Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.
    • Sam Harris, Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion (2014), p. 54


  • The study a posteriori of the distribution of consciousness shows it to be exactly such as we might expect in an organ added for the sake of steering a nervous system grown too complex to regulate itself.
  • The total possible consciousness may be split into parts which co-exist but mutually ignore each other.


  • René Descartes developed the idea that human beings have a dual nature: they have a body... of material substance, and a mind, which derives from the spiritual nature of the soul. ... It is remarkable to reflect that these seventeenth century ideas were still current in the 1980s. Karl Popper... and John Eccles... espoused dualism all their lives. They agreed with Aquinas that the soul is immortal and independent of the brain. Gilbert Ryle... referred to the notion of the soul as "the ghost in the machine." Today, most philosophers of mind agree that what we call consciousness derives from the physical brain, but some disagree with Crick as to whether it can ever be approached scientifically. A few, such as Colin McGinn, believe that consciousness cannot be studied... At the other extreme, philosophers such as Daniel Dennett deny that there is any problem at all. Dennett argues much as... John Hughlings Jackson did... that consciousness is not a distinct operation of the brain; rather it is a combined result of computational workings of higher-order areas of the brain... Philosophers such as John Searle and Thomas Nagel take a middle position, holding that consciousness is a discrete set of biological processes... very complex and... more than the sum of their parts.
  • Sicut ignoras quomodo anima coniungatur corpori sic nescis opera dei.
    • You who know nothing of how the soul marries the body, you therefore know nothing of God’s works.
  • Consciousness becomes a matter of philosophical debate; it's not scientifically reliable.
    • Ray Kurzweil, "The Singularity," The New Humanists: Science at the Edge (2003) Ed. John Brockman


  • Some form of self-awareness is surely essential to highly intelligent thought... On the other hand, I doubt that any part of a mind can see very deeply into other parts; it can only use models it constructs of them.
  • Consciousness is a suitcase-like word that we use to refer to many different mental activities, which don't have a single cause or origin—and, surely, that is why people have found it so hard to "understand what consciousness is." …this produced a problem that will remain unsolvable until we find ways to chop it up. ...we can replace that single, big problem by many smaller, more solvable ones.
  • B. F. Skinner actually put forward – and this is a measure of scientific desperation over consciousness – the idea that consciousness was a weird vibrational by-product of the vocal cords. That we did not actually think. We thought we thought because of this weird vibration caused by the vocal cords. This shows the lengths that hard science will go to to banish the ghost from the machine.


  • All our so-called consciousness is a more or less fantastic commentary on an unknown, perhaps unknowable, but felt text.


  • We couldn’t be representing objects unless, in all cases of such representing, we could also become conscious of our representing. ... All consciousness ... is a species of self-consciousness, representing objects is at the same time attending to the mind’s activities. … Although the object of my intending is some state of affairs or other, I am also potentially aware as I intend that what I am doing is an act of remembering, thinking, or imagining. My asserting that S is P is not an assertion of mine unless I am implicitly aware as I assert that I am asserting, not entertaining the possibility that, S is P.
    • Robert B. Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge University Press: 1989), pp. 20-21
  • Life-force vitalists are rare today, but they have been replaced by those who believe that human consciousness has some special property that goes beyond the laws of physics. Such neovitalists, searching for the roots of consciousness beyond material reality, might be in for another disappointment.
    • Heinz R. Pagels, “Uncertainty and Complementarity” in Timothy Ferris (ed.) The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics (p. 110)


  • I have only one real message in this lecture, and that is: consciousness is a biological phenomenon, like photosynthesis, digestion, mitosis—you know all the biological phenomena—and once you accept that, most, if not all of the hard problems about consciousness simply evaporate.
  • It is not worth asking how to define consciousness, how to explain it, how it evolved, what its function is, etc., because there's no one thing for which all the answers would be the same. Instead, we have many sub-capabilities, for which the answers are different: e.g., different kinds of perception, learning, knowledge, attention control, self-monitoring, self-control, etc.

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