Essence of consciousness: concept, structure, types

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Essence of consciousness: concept, structure, types
Essence of consciousness: concept, structure, types

Perhaps no aspect of the mind is more familiar or more mysterious than the mind and our conscious experience of ourselves and the world. The problem of consciousness is perhaps the central problem of modern theorizing about the mind. Despite the absence of any agreed upon theory of consciousness, there is a widespread, though not universal, consensus that an adequate account of the mind requires a clear understanding of itself and its place in nature. We need to understand what the essence of consciousness is and how it relates to other unconscious aspects of reality.


The eternal question

Questions about the nature of conscious awareness have probably been asked since there were humans. Neolithic burial practices appear to express spiritual beliefs and provide early evidence for at least minimally reflective thinking about the nature of human consciousness. similarThus, preliterative cultures have been found to invariably adopt some form of spiritual or animistic perspective that indicates a degree of reflection on the nature of conscious awareness.

However, some argue that the essence of consciousness, as we understand it today, is a relatively recent historical concept, dating back some time after the era of Homer. While the ancients had a lot to say about mental matters, it is less clear whether they had any specific notions about what we now think of as the mind.

Cosmic consciousness
Cosmic consciousness

Meaning of words

Although the words "conscious" and "conscience" are used quite differently today, it is likely that the Reformation's emphasis on the latter as an internal source of truth played a role in the turn so characteristic of the modern reflective view of the self. Hamlet, who entered the scene in 1600, already saw his world and himself with deeply modern eyes.

What was understood by the essence of consciousness in modern times? In the past few centuries, all the greatest thinkers of mankind have pondered this question. By the early modern era in the 17th century, many thinkers were concentrating on the essence of consciousness. Indeed, from the middle of the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, the mind was widely regarded as something essential.

Locke and Leibniz ideas

Locke apparently refused to make any hypotheses about the essential basis of consciousness and its relation to matter, but he clearly considered itnecessary for thinking as well as for personal identity.

What was meant by the essence of consciousness in the 17th century? Locke's contemporary G. W. Leibniz, drawing possible inspiration from his mathematical work on differentiation and integration, proposed in a Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) a theory of the mind that took into account infinitely many degrees of consciousness and perhaps even some unconscious thoughts, the so-called "miniature". Leibniz was the first to make a clear distinction between perception and vision, that is roughly between reason and self-consciousness. In Monadology (1720) he also offered his famous windmill analogy to express his conviction that the mind and essence of man cannot arise from mere matter. He asked his reader to imagine that one is walking through an expanded brain like one is walking through a mill and watching all its mechanical operations, which for Leibniz have exhausted physical nature. Nowhere, he argues, would such an observer see any conscious thoughts.

Hume and Mill

Associative psychology, pursued by Locke or later in the 18th century by David Hume (1739) or in the 19th century by James Mill (1829), sought to uncover the principles by which conscious thoughts or ideas interacted or influenced each other. James Mill's son, John Stuart Mill, continued his father's work in associative psychology, but he allowed combinations of ideas to produce results that went beyond their constituent mental parts, thus providing an early model of psychic emergence (1865).


The purely associative approach was criticized in the late 18th century by Immanuel Kant (1787), who argued that an adequate account of experience and phenomenal consciousness requires a much richer structure of mental and intentional organization. Phenomenal consciousness, according to Kant, cannot be a simple sequence of connected ideas, but at least must be the experience of a conscious self located in an objective world structured in terms of space, time, and causality. This is the answer to the question of what was meant by the essence of consciousness by supporters of Kantianism.

Consciousness as a system
Consciousness as a system

Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty

In the Anglo-American world, associative approaches continued to influence both philosophy and psychology well into the twentieth century, while in the German and European spheres there was greater interest in the broader structure of experience, leading in part to the study of phenomenology through the work of Edmund Husserl (1913, 1929), Martin Heidegger (1927), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945) and others, who expanded the study of consciousness into the social, bodily, and interpersonal realms. The essence of social consciousness was described by the sociologist Emile Durkheim.

Discovery of psychology

At the beginning of modern scientific psychology in the mid-19th century, mind was still largely equated with consciousness, and introspective methods dominated the field, as in the work of Wilhelm Wundt (1897), Hermann von Helmholtz (1897), William James (1890) and Alfred Titchener(1901). The concept of the essence of consciousness (the unconscious) was expanded by Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of depth psychology.

The early 20th century witnessed an eclipse of consciousness in scientific psychology, especially in the United States with the rise of behaviorism (Watson 1924, Skinner 1953), although movements such as Gest alt psychology continued to be an ongoing scientific concern in Europe. In the 1960s, behaviorism waned with the rise of cognitive psychology and its emphasis on information processing and modeling of internal mental processes. However, despite the emphasis on explaining cognitive abilities such as memory, perception, and understanding of language, the nature and structure of consciousness remained a largely neglected topic for several decades. Sociologists have made a significant contribution to all these processes. The essence of social consciousness is still being actively explored by them.

The 1980s and 90s witnessed a significant surge of scientific and philosophical research into the nature and foundations of consciousness. As soon as the essence of consciousness in philosophy began to be discussed again, research spread with a flood of books and articles, as well as the introduction of specialized journals, professional societies, and annual conferences devoted exclusively to its study. It was a real boom in the humanities.

Essences of consciousness

An animal, human, or other cognitive system can be considered conscious in various ways.

It can be conscious in a general sense, just be a sentient being capable ofto feel and respond to his world (Armstrong, 1981). Being conscious in this sense may involve steps, and what sensory abilities are sufficient may not be clearly defined. Are the fish aware in an appropriate way? What about shrimp or bees?

You can also require that the organism actually use this ability, and not just have a tendency to do so. Thus, he can be considered conscious only if he is awake and alert. In this sense, organisms would not be considered conscious when they are sleeping. Again, boundaries can be blurred and there may be cases in between.

Network of consciousness
Network of consciousness

The third sense can define conscious beings as those who are not only aware, but aware that they are aware, thus viewing the essence and functions of beings' consciousness as a form of self-consciousness. The requirement for self-awareness can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and which beings qualify here in the appropriate sense will change accordingly.

Nagel criterion

Thomas Nagel's (1974) famous 'what it looks like' criterion aims to capture a different and perhaps more subjective view of the conscious organism. According to Nagel, a being is only conscious if there is "something it looks like" to be that being, that is, in some subjective way the world appears or appears to the mental or experiential being.

The subject of conscious states. A fifth alternative would be to definethe concept of "conscious organism" in terms of states of consciousness. That is, one can first define what makes a mental state conscious, and then define what is a conscious being in terms of having such states.

Transitional Consciousness

In addition to describing beings as conscious in these various senses, there are also related senses in which beings are described as being conscious of different things. A distinction is sometimes made between transitive and intransitive views of consciousness, with the former including some object to which it is directed.

Cosmos of consciousness
Cosmos of consciousness

The concept of mental state also has many different, though possibly related, meanings. There are at least six main options.

States of consciousness that everyone knows about

In one common reading, a conscious mental state is when a person is aware of their presence. Conditions require mentality. To have a conscious desire to drink a cup of coffee means to be simultaneously and directly aware of what you want.

Unconscious thoughts and desires in this sense are simply those we have without even being aware that we have them, whether our lack of self-knowledge is the result of simple inattention or more deeply psychoanalytic reasons.

Quality states

States can also be considered as conscious in a seemingly completely different and higher quality sense. Thus, the state can be consideredconscious only if it has or includes qualitative or experiential properties often referred to as "qualia" or "gross sensory experiences."

The perception of the wine one is drinking or the tissue one is examining is considered a conscious mental state in this sense, as it involves various sensory qualities.

There is considerable controversy over the nature of such qualia (Churchland 1985, Shoemaker 1990, Clark 1993, Chalmers 1996) and even their existence. Traditionally, qualia have been seen as intrinsic, private, inexpressible monadic features of experience, but modern theories of qualia often reject at least some of these commitments (Dennett, 1990).

awakened consciousness
awakened consciousness

Phenomenal States

Such qualia are sometimes called phenomenal properties, and the type of consciousness associated with them is phenomenal. But the latter term is perhaps more correctly applied to the overall structure of experience and includes much more than sensory qualia. The phenomenal structure of consciousness also encompasses much of the spatial, temporal, and conceptual organization of our experience of the world and ourselves as agents in it. Therefore, it is probably better at the initial stage to distinguish the concept of phenomenal consciousness from the concept of qualitative consciousness, although they no doubt overlap.

The concept of consciousness (the essence of consciousness) in both these senses is also related to Thomas Nagel's (1974) concept of a conscious being. The Nagel criterion can be understood as the desireto provide a first person internal concept of what makes a state a phenomenal or qualitative state.

Access to consciousness

States can be conscious in a seemingly completely different sense of access, which has more to do with intrapsychic relationships. In this regard, the awareness of a state depends on its ability to interact with other states and on access to its content. In this more functional sense, which corresponds to what Ned Block (1995) calls access awareness, the awareness of a visual state depends not so much on whether it has a qualitative "something like" as on whether it actually and visual information. that he carries is usually available for use and guidance by the body.

Because the information in this state is flexibly accessible to the organism it contains, it is considered a conscious state in the appropriate respect, regardless of whether it has any qualitative or phenomenal sensation in the sense of Nagel.

Narrative consciousness

States can also be seen as conscious in a narrative sense, which refers to the notion of a "stream of consciousness" viewed as an ongoing more or less sequential narrative of episodes from the point of view of an actual or simply virtual self. The idea would be to equate a person's conscious mental states with those that appear in the stream.

Although these six ideas about what the conscious state does,can be independently defined, they are obviously not devoid of potential connections and do not exhaust the scope of possible options.

Invoking connections, it can be argued that states appear in the stream of consciousness only to the extent that we are aware of them, and thus establish a connection between the first metamental concept of a conscious state and the concept of a stream or narrative. Or one can relate access to qualitative or phenomenal representations of a conscious state, attempting to show that states that are presented in this way make their contents widely available, as required by the notion of access.

Galaxy and consciousness
Galaxy and consciousness


By seeking to go beyond the six options, one can distinguish conscious from unconscious states by referring to aspects of their intramental dynamics and interactions beyond simple access relationships. For example, conscious states may exhibit a richer store of content-sensitive interactions or a greater degree of flexible goal-directed guidance, such as that associated with self-conscious thought control. Alternatively, one can try to define conscious states in terms of beings. That is, one can give some idea of what a conscious being, or perhaps even a conscious self, is, and then define the notion of a state in terms of such a being or system that is the reverse of the last option discussed above.

Other values

The noun "consciousness" has the samea varied range of meanings that largely parallel those of the adjective "conscious". Distinctions can be drawn between the essence of human consciousness and its state, and also between varieties of each. One can refer specifically to phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, reflective or metamental and narrative consciousness among other varieties.

Here the mind itself is usually not considered as a substantial entity, but simply the abstract reification of some property or aspect is attributed to the appropriate use of the adjective "conscious". Accessible consciousness is simply the property of having the necessary kind of internal access relations, and qualitative consciousness is simply the property that is attributed when "conscious" is applied in a qualitative sense to mental states. The extent to which this connects a person with the ontological status of consciousness as such will depend on how far the Platonist relates to universals in general.

Structure of consciousness
Structure of consciousness

Although not the norm, it is nevertheless possible to take a more realistic view of consciousness as a component of reality.


With the demise of vitalism, we don't think of life as anything other than living beings. There are living beings, including organisms, states, properties, communities, and evolutionary lines of organisms. But life itself is not an additional thing, an additional component of reality, some kind of force that is added to living beings. We applyadjectives "alive" to many things, and yet we can say that we ascribe life to them.

Electromagnetic fields, by contrast, are seen as real and independent parts of our physical world. Even though it is sometimes possible to specify the meanings of such a field by referring to the behavior of the particles in it, the fields themselves are seen as concrete constituents of reality, and not just as abstractions or sets of relationships between particles.

Rise of consciousness
Rise of consciousness

Similarly, consciousness can be viewed as referring to the component or aspect of reality that manifests itself in conscious states and creatures, but is more than just an abstract nominalization of the adjective "consciousness" that we apply to them. Although such strongly realistic views are not very common at present, they should be included in the logical space of options.

Thus, there are many concepts of the essence of consciousness (which we briefly discussed in the article). Consciousness is a complex feature of the world, and understanding it will require a variety of conceptual tools to deal with its many different aspects. Thus, conceptual multiplicity is what one can hope for. As long as one avoids confusion by clearly understanding its meanings, it is very important to have a variety of concepts through which we can access and see consciousness in all its rich complexity. However, it should not be assumed that conceptual plurality implies referential divergence. Consciousness, the essence of man are inseparable concepts.