What is consciousness? Let us begin with a simple definition: Consciousness, considered alone is simply nothing else but an awareness of what is out there. By this definition, is consciousness necessarily a property of living organisms or can a robot, as simple as an automated vacuum cleaner capable of changing directions after soft collisions with obstacles, be said to have consciousness? The robot has awareness of its surroundings in relation to itself and is capable of utilizing this awareness to accomplish a goal. Is this so different from a biological animal employing consciousness to procure food?
Both have more complex machinery assisting its functioning but we are here ignoring any questions of what or if anything causes consciousness and simply focusing on it itself and studying its functioning. The former is engineered by man and the latter by Nature. But man being a product of nature and thus a natural product, the machine can very well be said to be an indirect or better yet a secondary product of Nature whereas man can be called a primary production. Are these two cases of consciousness irrespective of cause, respective only of utilization and basic ability, the same?
Answering yes is not fully satisfying. Defined this way, consciousness is nothing more than an awareness of what is around the conscious being regardless of what or how it is being conscious. This definition is too poor. With this definition, yes they do seem similar. Both function in a world of objects and carry out its goal by way of this something allowing them to know what is out there.
But this level of analysis is unsatisfying. Let us go to the level of pure being and ignore biology and machinery and use the following definition and then define the definition: consciousness is what enables a conscious being to be aware of the world in which it exists. But what does awareness of the world mean? Is it a knowing? Doesn’t knowing imply more than just a seeing of what is out there? It brings in the element of recognition. But speaking of recognition threatens to bring in much more entangled with it. We want consciousness alone stranded on a beach. Recognition requires prior learning. Does consciousness require prior learning? Can a conscious being suddenly be thrust into existence with no prior knowledge of the world whatsoever and begin functioning? To function, the being must have some pre-ordained goal or else it would come into being and simple be and not do. It can very well do but how, coming into being with absolutely no goals or functions to fulfill, how can it know what to do? So let us assume this being that has come into being has a pre-given goal but no prior learning. But problems come up here too. Isn’t a pregiven goal prior knowledge of what must be done?
The initial definition can be put another way. A being within which is a host of goals, expectations, aversions, and whatever else exists in a world of objects in which the being is to carry itself out. But it has no consciousness. Put this way-what is consciousness? Without consciousness, this being in the world, with its inner workings waiting to work in the world, has no way of [connecting, grasping, engaging with, seeing, being aware of] what is out there. The bare meaning of the words in the brackets is what is meant with none of the connotations or whatever else the words bring-only the common essence of these words. This being is in the dark in a world waiting to be engaged with. This is not a biological (with senses) or a mechanical (engineered senses) being. It is a pure purely essence of being. This being exists in the world but without consciousness, not only is the world hidden in the dark but the being has no way of being aware of its own consciousness.
This brings a refinement on the argument above. We don’t have to put in recognition ability or employ sensory modalities or anything. That which is needed to fully bring into existence can be called consciousness. This seems to be a better definition. It encompasses the initial definition but takes away all that which can be extricated. We are left with the term consciousness and a possible distillation of just exactly what that term alludes to. This definition is compatible with spiritual discussions and serves to take out specifically consciousness from the other functions within the more complex term cognition of which consciousness is surely a part of.
In this sense, the robot does not have consciousness. We are aware of the robot’s existence but it is not aware of itself, as far as I know. Perhaps that is the magic of Nature’s primary production. Secondary productions cannot be said to be fully conscious because they are not conscious of their own existence. There is a consciousness of being an existing being that is distinct and apart from being aware of oneself spatially in terms of locomotion and possibility of further movement. But defined in such a way makes consciousness a possession granted only to human beings. It is this human consciousness that is worth exploring.
The above is a roundabout, circular, perhaps futile and useless example of human consciousness exploring itself but forever being unable to catch itself. But something has been brought up here. Consciousness in the deeper sense of being aware of one’s own existence in an abstract sense is a very peculiar phenomenon. No human creation will be conscious in this way. Perhaps this self-consciousness is the divine gift that lifts us our animal selves above animals.
Consciousness is inexplicable. This is consciousness. Consciousness distilled is an illusion. Am I consciousness? If I am born without consciousness, it if was possible to just take away specifically my consciousness, wouldn’t I still be me but just unable to know me? I don’t think consciousness is me. Consciousness spreads out all over the place without localization. But on the other hand, without consciousness, what am I? How can I even fathom taking away consciousness? Without consciousness I’m nothing. Isn’t consciousness everything? It feels so naturally correct to allow the idea of I as consciousness. I am purely just consciousness, just seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing, knowing, imaging, moving, everything. I am these functions, I am a function, a Being is a continual doing.
I am purest in this sense. There’s more to me even at this pure level of consciousness though. I can feel the emotion of each note being played on the keyboard register in my “field of consciousness” or I guess my body. But I’d rather say my or even better I the body consciousness feel this emotion. There is emotion that arises within to specific stimulus, a certain innate knowing, a drive for bodily pleasures, drive for mental pleasures (for thought or music, etc.), as well as the mental capacity itself of gathering knowledge, understanding, eureka moments-what are these that I am if I am consciousness and I am thus conscious of them? I can call these the constituents of my full Being-body, heart, mind, and soul. The sum of these generates the whole that is my Being. This Being that I am, I am conscious. But not just in the sense of a mental awareness. I am alive. Words escape me here-this is beyond words. I am beyond words.
The mind, body, soul, and heart model is translate-able to biology and psychology. The advantages of this model are its humanistic, literary, and spiritual appeal. It is simple enough for easy understanding yet divided thus to be able to encompass the full breadth of our human experience and all that we garner about ourselves through science, literature, philosophy, and the arts.