What is consciousness ? What makes us Conscious Beings ?

What is consciousness ?

This is the question that has puzzled both philosophers and scientists equally. Everyone tries to answer it in his own subjective terms and yet no body knows where it actually resides. Some try to find it among neurons, while some try to find it in the mind or soul. 

For me, sitting in front of my laptop, Consciousness is the ability to know that I am. It is my ability to perceive the truth that my feelings are real, my knowledge that i am the tiniest dot in this immeasurable universe is true, my love for my family is real, and a deep realization that all of this will be vanished at my death.

Some of the best one-lines and shortest definitions of consciousness are:

  • mind
  • the intuition that it exists
  • one's "inner life"
  • the world of introspection
  • awareness of awareness
  • wakefulness
  • one's sense of selfhood or soul

Nobody knows when we become conscious. Is it from birth or comes after growing for few years. Is it just humans that have consciousness or do other animals also have it. Such questions often grab my mind and here we are trying to find an answer by looking at what some of the most intelligent brains on earth say about it.

  • During 1690 John Locke, an English Philosopher and Physician, defined consciousness as "the perception of what passes in a man's own mind".
  • The 1753 volume of Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, defined "Consciousness" as "the opinion or internal feeling that we ourselves have from what we do".
  • Many philosophers have argued that consciousness is a unitary concept that is understood intuitively by the majority of people in spite of the difficulty in defining it.
  • Galileo Galilei, father of modern science, claimed that qualities such as smell and color are not really in the physical world but in consciousness.
  • According to String theorist Edward Witten "Consciousness will remain a mystery”.
  • Philosopher David Chalmers has said "consciousness may be a fundamental property of nature existing outside the known laws of physics".
  • According to Sir Roger Penrose, a renowned Oxford physicist, "consciousness is not computational, and it’s beyond anything that neuroscience, biology, or physics can now explain". Those who understand mathematics know that certain claims in mathematics are true but cannot be proven. It reminds us that whatever is going on in our understanding is not computational.

Philosophers differ from non-philosophers in their intuitions about what consciousness is.

Do human children have Consciousness ?

According to  Lycan classification, there are eight types of consciousness, some of them are present in-utero while some develop as we age. By the age of 5 to 7 "introspective consciousness" arises in humans.

Do Animals have Consciousness ?

Most people have a strong intuition that some animals, such as cats and dogs, are conscious, while others, such as insects, are not. Due to such beliefs some people think that killing and eating a conscious animal is unethical, while on the other hand it gives a free hand to kill and eat other animals who lack consciousness. In India "Hindu" community strongly believes that cow is highly conscious  and thus they respect her as a holy being.

According to  'Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness', which was signed by eminent scientists from different branches in presence of Stephen Hawking in 2012,  non-human animals including all mammals and birds and other creatures have consciousness and have the necessary neural substrates of consciousness and the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.

Some researchers date the origins of consciousness to the first animals with nervous systems or early vertebrates over 500 million years ago.

Scientific theory about Consciousness

According to scientists Consciousness lies in our brain. It is the way different parts of brain getting the sensory input interacts with each other and analyses the thoughts. Consciousness does not reside in a particular part of brain but it resides in the internal communication highways of brain. In most of the cases, even if a part of brain gets damaged, the consciousness remains intact.

Spiritual philosophy about Consciousness

Now this knowledge can't be put in a paragraph because those religions that studied consciousness such as Buddhism and Hinduism are very deep. Terms such as chetna (चेतना), man(मन), and antakarana(अंतःकरणः) are used to describe it. Chetna (चेतना) is present in everything, but its levels may differ from a stone to a human being. Different meditation techniques or yogas are originally meant to watch or improve your consciousness. It resides both inside and outside human body.

What makes us conscious beings ?

Our complex brain with a strong nervous system and our ability to deal with complex thoughts make us conscious beings. Consciousnesses levels not only differ from animals to humans but also from humans to humans also.

Note: What made me write this article about Consciousness on a health website is that fact that "Health is of no use unless we try to know our true self". Good Health is not just a state of your body but also of consciousness.

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