Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and environment. Your conscious experiences are constantly shifting and changing. For example, in one moment you may be focused on reading this article. Your consciousness may then shift to the memory of a conversation you had earlier with a co-worker. Next, you might notice how uncomfortable your chair is or maybe you are mentally planning dinner.
This ever-shifting stream of thoughts can change dramatically from one moment to the next, but your experience of it seems smooth and effortless.
States of consciousness
There are some brain states in which consciousness seems to be abolished, including dreamless sleep, coma, and death. There are also a variety of circumstances that can change the relationship between the mind and the world in less drastic ways, producing what are known as altered states of consciousness. Some altered states occur naturally; others can be produced by drugs or brain damage. Altered states can be accompanied by changes in thinking, disturbances in the sense of time, feelings of loss of control, changes in emotional expression, alternations in body image and changes in meaning or significance.
As Max Velmansand Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy in 1998 defines consciousness as follows:
'Consciousness—Philosophers have used the term ‘consciousness’ for four main topics: knowledge in general, intentionality, introspection (and the knowledge it specifically generates) and phenomenal experience… Something within one’s mind is ‘introspectively conscious’ just in case one introspects it (or is poised to do so).
Introspection is often thought to deliver one’s primary knowledge of one’s mental life. An experience or other mental entity is ‘phenomenally conscious’ just in case there is ‘something it is like’ for one to have it. The clearest examples are: perceptual experience, such as tastings and seeings; bodily-sensational experiences, such as those of pains, tickles and itches; imaginative experiences, such as those of one’s own actions or perceptions; and streams of thought, as in the experience of thinking ‘in words’ or ‘in images’. Introspection and phenomenality seem independent, or dissociable, although this is controversial.'
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