What Is Consciousness?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Make up your own mind.

Let’s see how many pan-psychic emergent dualists there are lurking in Asia, shall we?

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  • steven

    you should include some variant of spiritual or philosophical idealism, e.g. pluralistic or absolute idealism. from wikipedia: “In the philosophy of mind, idealism is the opposite of materialism, in which the ultimate nature of reality is based on physical substances.”

    • Akif Shamim

      The life force that remains uncontaminated by thoughts, intellect, and body. The thing that had always been, never born and never to die. you are that consciousness

  • Jacob

    Where’s the “consciousness is everything” one?

    • andybfit

      I agree with Jacob. Can’t it be “all of the above?”

  • John F

    Hi David. I don’t really have anything to add since there are just about as many theories of mind as people who have minds they care to theorize about, but I thought of a book I read years ago, called Maps of the Mind by Charles Hampden-Turner, that you may enjoy. If you click on the hardcover format link there are a few images of and from the book. I took a look around hoping to find more than that, but no such luck. If I come across my copy, which is somewhere in a bevy of boxes, I’ll scan some images and post them.

  • Kristoffer

    Have you crunched the data yet?

  • http://none krishna Kumar

    Consciousness is life itself. The life force that remains uncontaminated by thoughts, intellect, and body. The thing that had always been, never born and never to die. you are that consciousness.

  • Linda Weaver

    You did not seem to have my favorite theory—that consciousness is a field effect. As I understand this theory: we are rather like radios that believe ourselves to be radio stations.

  • Kevin

    I don’t see my favourite view here either. The view that I have is that the consciousness is what joins all of the actions of one person, and basically what constitutes the “same life.”

  • Alastair Kemp

    Couldn’t click any of the above, not sure of the label for what I understand consciousness to be. I seem to understand it from an, I guess, phenomenological, point of view, that consciousness is the contingently subjective awareness of the Real, noumena, or similar signifier for the unknowable, and unexperiencable outside phemonena etc through the linguistic expression of our emotions in order to meet our needs within a world understood as an objectified reality agreed on, or at least mutually understood through intersubjective communication (not just language) and sensation (as opposed to mere empirical observation of the objects within it).

    • Cody

      I pick that one.

    • Ana Pinto

      I was going to write my own, i couldn’t pick any of the above either, but i pick yours, it is better than I would have said it, anyway :)

    • John

      I pick that one too.

  • mogl

    You missed one. Consciousness is an illusion.

    PS: Take a look a the text below each picture. It is unclear what you are stating. Either: you should include the question “what is consciousness?” in the graphic, and have each blurb state one possible answer (like #1); Or, each blurb should be stated in a “Consciousness is …” format (like #2); Or a position statement which stands on its own (like #4). Be clearer. Be consistent. Hire an editor.

  • Jenny

    You shouldn’t put the school of thought under the description–it creates biased results! Individuals may chose a school of thought rather than a description simply because they “like” that school of thought. For example, Buddhism is highly popular these days and people may chose Buddhism simply because they like it or because it is all over the internet. There should be an explanation of where the varying ideas of consciousness came from following the survey or perhaps along with the results (when you define the individual’s results).

    • Mike Scully

      Consciousness is when you get your piece of meat to tune into the master plan, and it’s not in English. Our reception is lousy.

  • Angela Faith

    Curious to know the resulting crunch

  • Cody

    Having the buddhism option in yellow could give you bad results. Those who don’t see any of the options as being the clear answer, might pick that one because they think it’s the “right” answer (as if it were a test and they’ll be rewarded for getting it right).

  • Jackson

    I was forced to click on Latin America for the “Where did you grow up” question. I actually grew up in the Caribbean…You guys should consider widening you geographical regions if you want to get more specific info…and since you’re so interested in consciousness…be consciously aware that there are other regions that just so happen to lay near the Americas.

  • Josh

    I believe that consciousness is self-awareness: being able to acknowledge one’s own existence and through that, being able to judge their own thoughts and actions.

  • Santse S.

    Really interesting. Although I think there were some flaws in the theories or wording chosen:

    I didn’t see any difference between Property dualism, Pan Psychism and Buddhism; nor Identity theory and Functionalism. Behaviourism also seemed quiet irrelevant since it didn’t even try to explain consciousness. Definition of emergent dualism was too vague to understand.

    Instead I would have subscribed to the previously mentioned Dennett’s multiple draft theory.

    Contrary to other commentators, I say including Quantum consciousness was a good call. I agree it’s a bunch of woo, but many people see it as a viable theory.

  • John Dent

    What is consciousness? Sorry the correct answer is not one of your choices. My definition of consciousness is “all that there is!” The other stuff; matter, space and time are illusionary and are in essence only another form of consciousness. And this consciousness boils down to you. You are all that there is. If you want to know how this can be, email me and I will explain. Oh! and be forewarned; neither religion or science is on the right track. To understand you have to do more than think outside of the box. You must drop the idea that a box can exist.

  • kc

    being aware of being aware is consciousness – ergo with knowing

  • Eric Cheng

    Consciousness is what you think what you are doing. It’s a reflection of mind itself. Everyone should keep an eye on himself/herself. If you are able to do this 7/24 and don’t lose it in any moment we call this awakened but it’s still not enlightened until you see the light.

  • Me

    You should to include accommodations for third gender category individuals.

  • Lotus

    Center for Quantum Activism

    “Consciousness is the ground of Being.”
    – Amit Goswami, Ph.D.
    theoretical quantum physicist

    Materialist science isn’t the whole picture.

    What do we mean by materialist science? Materialist science takes it as its basic axiom that everything is matter. We have literally managed to train a whole generation of students on the idea that everything is material, but this Newtonian world view that has shaped our understanding for centuries is now giving way to the revelations of quantum physics which goes beyond materialism; to show that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being.

    It’s objective and it’s scientific.

    You can call it God if you want, but you don’t have to. Quantum consciousness will do. Nonlocality, tangled hierarchy, and discontinuity: these signatures of quantum consciousness have been independently verified by leading researchers worldwide. This experimental data and its conclusions inform us that it is the mistaken materialist view that is at the center of most of our worlds problems today. To address these problems, we now have a science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective.

    Quantum Activism is the idea of changing ourselves and our societies in accordance with the principles of quantum physics.

  • PJM

    Phenomenalism – Consciousness is not an “extra” thing against the world to be explained in terms of it; rather the physical world is already an interpretation of conscious experience and phenomena, which is primary.

  • geraldine denise kus

    I thought “Consciousness’ was “mindfullness” .Awareness is another word.

    Whatever view you subscibe to it is only a a view .Nothing can be proven to be whatever a word implies. Immaterial really , Eckart Tolle and Byron Katie have it ina nutshell.
    “The Here and Now”, which is a little like Budism …..

  • Nathan Batalion

    I will share with you a secret worth more than any material thing I could ever possess. it is the knowledge that consciousness is not merely the essence of life. It is also the underlying and universal relationship of connection in all of nature…or what makes nature One. Mathematical lore, by contrast, follows the same highway but in reverse gear and pointing to a universal reversal illusion. Math symbols represent a universal separation of all elements of consciousness, why that lore points away from life and consciousness’ essence, can’t fathom consciousness, and points more towards what is dead, unconscious, made of separate parts, or machines. Thus we need to recreate the directions of civilization for the past 400 years toward our own self-destruction.

  • Nathan Batalion

    I will share with you a secret worth more than any material thing I could ever possess. it is the knowledge that consciousness is not merely the essence of life. It is also the underlying and universal relationship of connection in all of nature…or what makes nature One. Mathematical lore, by contrast, follows the same highway but in reverse gear and pointing to a universal reversal illusion. Math symbols represent a universal separation of all elements of consciousness, why that lore points away from life and consciousness’ essence, can’t fathom consciousness, and points more towards what is dead, unconscious, made of separate parts, or machines.

    Thus we need to essentially recreate the directions of civilization for the past 400 years. How? By alternatively envisioning a life-and-consciousness centered view of nature. Abandon Newton? This is path away rather than toward our own self-destruction and that of countless living, sentient, aware or conscious species – the living ecology of our earth.

  • spiriteye

    if consciousness is a form of subtle energy … that would make it eternal as energy cannot be created or destroyed .if energy is eternal and has the basic or foundational element of self awareness then if it also the essence of all humans (humane) ,then universal and or eternal consciousness could be called God and if all humans have the same “basic “and pure consciousness (or spirit?) then all humans are connected and are the” same” on an internal and eternal level , we are ONE universal being but at the same time manifesting as individual beings . many ancient spiritual teachers do state that being an isolate “individual” is an illusion and is what causes ALL the problems in the material realm (also an illusion everything is energy anyway )

  • Stevo

    Yeh. Interesting.

  • Sandy Lassiter

    I don’t know the term for it, but I believe that the universe is made of energy—–intelligent energy. Even matter is made of energy. But the finest energy has been called spiritual energy. It exists outside of spacetime. The dimension of matter is the dimension of spacetime. In the dimension of spacetime nothing can exceed the speed of light. Time is relative but it goes only in one direction. We can only look back into the past. The future is unknowable. But spiritual energy is eternal. It exists beyond time. Being bound by time and space, we can’t conceive of a dimension where time does not exist. This is the true meaning of eternal. Eternal doesn’t mean something that lasts for all of time; it means something that exists in the realm of timelessness. In the realm of time nothing is eternal. In the realm of timeless energy, everything is eternal. There is no such thing as energy without intelligence. All energy is intelligent and aware. But from the dimension of spacetime we can only observe the crude levels of energy, which seem more like impersonal forces, lacking life and intelligence. But below all these crude, observable forms of energy there is intelligent energy which is the foundation of everything that exists. All of the intelligent energy throughout the universe is connected, like a great ocean. Behind the appearance of the sun is intelligent energy, conscious awareness, spirit. It doesn’t get burned up because it exists outside the realm of spacetime. In the material universe even light can’t cross the entire universe except relatively slowly, billions of years in time. But on the spiritual plane there is no space and there is no time. On the spiritual level a thought can cross the entire physical universe in an instant. In fact, saying it crosses anything misses the point. Saying that it takes an instant even implies time. It simply exists on opposite sides of the universe simultaneously. Nothing needs to be crossed. In other words, beneath all physical reality is the reality of *intelligent, eternal energy*. For example, a person on this planet *can* know the thoughts of a person on a planet on the opposite side of the universe—–instantaneously—–faster than the speed of light *if* the intelligent energy that connects the universe *facilitates* it, because on the spiritual plane there is no space to cross. The same is true for time. The outcome of the physical universe—–that started with the Big Bang—–is already know, from first to last. Why? Because it exists in spacetime, which is finite and has a beginning and an end. Spacetime is like the hub of a wheel, and the realm of timeless, eternal, intelligent energy circles that wheel. That’s why prophecy is possible *if* the intelligent energy that connects the universe facilitates it. That energy already knows. If we want to know, we can’t know without help. And this intelligent energy knows and remembers everything, is aware of everything, is conscious of everything, IS everything. It’s not just one being, one entity, but more like a vast colony of beings, a vast colony of entities, all existing in the same sea of intelligent energy. These beings, however, are like cups of water in the ocean; they are individual but are also part of the same entirety. They are unified and individual at the same time. And there are levels to it. At the lowest level individual beings are more separate from one another. But at the highest level even *individuality* vanishes! To reach that level requires the ultimate sacrifice, the surrender of individuality and absorption into the great unity of being. This is how the highest level of consciousness eternally renews itself. Surrendering individuality sounds terrible to us lower beings. But if there is the slightest sense of regret prior to surrendering and merging with the ultimate reality, then surrender is not possible. When all doubt about surrender disappears, merging with the ultimate reality happens on its own. It must be this way, otherwise merging with the ultimate reality would almost be a form of spiritual suicide. Instead, merging with this ultimate reality is more like *becoming* it. It just finally reaches the point where there is not difference between the individual spiritual being and the highest reality, the highest unity of spiritual being. And only at this highest level of consciousness is *everything* known. For those of us who have not merged with that highest reality, our consciousness is limited.

    On the energy level, our consciousness—–our earth-centered consciousness—–is our awareness as well as our awareness of *being* aware. When our awareness is from the point of view of physical reality, our consciousness is unavoidably limited. We also have existence in the realm of timelessness, but that reality is closed off from our existence on the physical plane, or at least it is outside of our conscious awareness. But just as our minds exist outside of conscious awareness—–what some people refer to as the unconscious mind—–the timeless aspect of our substance also exists outside of our conscious awareness. This is not to say that there is not a connection, but it is not an obvious connection from our point of view in the physical plane. I don’t known the term for this description of consciousness.

    • Mike Scully


  • Louis

    There is that peripheral awareness the senses give us through observation…and there is also that knowledge accumulation through memory which is ever present mostly when we are awake, both are part of consciousness, attention and intention, and both are charged as well.
    Attention without the self brings you to love, intention without the self brings you to good..

  • govind

    Information however beautiful is still
    “in formation”- ideas tht are being passed on. No substitute for direct experience, is there?

  • Matt

    It’s a function of memory. We are conscious because we can remember things.

  • Dave C

    none of the above….i suggest consciousness is the realization and awareness of self and all things sensed and surrounding and knowing we are and are finite (at this level at least).
    I tied to find one theory from the list that I could equate with and sadly could not.
    (Am I here all alone? …Dylan)

  • patrick

    you should add metaphysical solipsism where your consciousness is essentially reality and that there is no external reality. essentially there is no reality besides our consciousness, or if you prefer, that our mind is all of reality.

  • Henry Fenby-Taylor

    Inclusion of the memetic (memes) understanding of human behaviour is particularly relevant. (Proponents include Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins)

    Essentially, in my own words:
    Behaviours generate, vary and disseminate. They are locked in a competitive struggle with other behaviours for survival. Consciousness is a direct result of memetic selection and serves no purpose in and of itself”

  • Charles Donaldson

    All the above and more…….

  • Mel Graykin

    Delete the word “just” wherever it appears in your definitions. It belittles the marvel of what the brain is doing. Removing the metaphysical or supernatural aspect of consciousness doesn’t “reduce” it to the “merely physical” any more than removing God from physics makes the cosmos any less wonderful.

  • Byron Pompeo

    Consciousness is the brain first being in an awake and receptive state for sensory perception. Once perception is achieved, consciousness is the reflective state of knowing that perception has occurred.

  • dante

    its all of them

  • Money Saving

    Consciousness is the energy within you, the part that never dies just changes form. Energy is the key, the part where theology, physics and philosophical meet in the middle.

  • Daniel

    Consciousness is a particular syntax of interactions between individual units of energy within an isolated system that manifests a particular syntax of information that describes a set of data that defines the isolated system.

  • Di Locke-Carmichael

    How strange life is; I just viewed a science program about consciousness last evening! I definitely share Amit Goswami’s perspective about quantum consciousness. The global consciousness is amazing.

  • Psychic Philosopher

    Consciousness is the kiss of life.

  • Martin

    I imagine each individual living consciousness, in all living things, as being comparable to raindrops that have left the ocean of consciousness that is the universe. Living – is the raindrop falling backing towards the pool. The raindrop being freed from the pool is the ocean of consciousness trying to view itself. The drop reaching the pool is death. Becoming part of the main body of the ocean each drop carries a small amount of information back to the whole and can leave to fall as a drop again…. or something like that :) not sure what that is called, but its how I picture life, death, consciousness, God, (who I suppose would be the cause of the drop leaving the pool), heaven (the pool) and the universe…. But the answer is probably just 42……

  • Ryan Shirk

    I couldn’t find a suitable option. My view is that expressed by Kant and Ficthe and the Vedantic school of Hindu philosophy. Mind and Matter are dipoles of an otherwise inexperiencable reality. What Kant called “Noumena” as differentiated from “Phenomena”. It is not that Brain states give rise to Mental states because the perception of “Brain” as external phenomena is itself a Phenomenal state of the mind. “Brain” is mind’s perception of itself on the physical end of the spectrum, whereas “Mind” is brain’s perception of itself on the mental end of the spectrum. It’s like saying; which side of a coin gives rise to the other side? A: Neither one, the coin itself gives meaning to both sides. But in this case the coin is something you can’t possibly experience by staring at one or the other side.