Conspicuity in the Mind

Progressing to an understanding of consciousness begins with addressing the problem of definition, since the phenomenon presently holds no strictly determined place in conventional scientific theory. If it can be properly identified linguistically we can determine wherein it consists. I'm not going to make any assumptions about this because there hardly seem to exist any, other than it is in 'the mind' - which is an enigmatic phenomenon in itself. Of course we can go on, perhaps, to purport to locate consciousness in the brain since this is seen to be the hub of mental activity, however such a conclusion has two immediate complications, somewhat related to one another. One is that it is not readily apparent which, if any, particular part of the brain is responsible for the mind, whilst neither is it clear that the brain and the mind are the same thing. The other is that mental activity is bound up with sensory experience and therefore it is not sufficient to characterise it by reference to the brain alone. Mental experiences stretch out their metaphorical tentacles to acquire information from outside the body, so to speak. The brain is relatively distinct. The mind, transient.

We tend to find it easier to describe what consciousness isn't, than to describe what it is. But does this method lead us with precision to a definition and on to an explanation? It is rarely the case that describing what something isn't gets to the heart of what it is (except in virtue of refining the search through a logical process of elimination). It is also often seen as a weak method to give an explanation by employing synonyms and alternative words. It is referred to as 'couching out in terms of'; like saying, in answer to the question: 'what is sight?' that 'it is vision'. However there are ways of getting to the nub of the matter with examples which elucidate; like saying, in answer to the question 'what is metal?' that 'it is materials such as gold, silver and iron.' There is a vastly greater amount of chemical data, but even so we can derive a great deal from these examples, by going on to infer the commonality of their properties and see implications for the nature of this category.

With this type of method in mind, and using our front-line, intuitive, personal experience of what it is, we can say with some confidence that consciousness is related to awareness. The two concepts' applications vary; awareness tends to imply something we lend our attention to, as in either an object or activity we sense in our environment, or a fact we are presently aware of, whereas consciousness is a knowledge that something is the case, a psychological occurrence with a degree of comprehension to it. Which suggests awareness is a rather more sensory-led phenomenon, while consciousness is more thinking-led. It also suggests awareness, even if linked to consciousness, is a more superficial phenomenon, whereas consciousness implies depth of cognition. A little bit like the difference between realisation and recognition. It might be said, then, awareness attends to reality, as a present thing, and has a directly engaged relationship with something happening here and now, and consciousness is more related to the truth of circumstances; we believe or know something about them, and our consciousness endures, since there must be foundations to that knowledge; a belief structure of some kind. Awareness has the need for an object of which you are aware built in to the meaning of the expression; you are always aware 'of something'. Consciousness is a more self-sufficient thing - you are simply 'conscious'. Although you are sometimes also said to be 'conscious of something', it has a degree of knowledge invested in it, which in turn shows understanding of how it can be known and what it is, rather than just realised as 'being there'.

Awareness, in this case, is a primarily sensory-led phenomenon, consciousness a mind-led one, although they both pertain to experience. They are different aspects of the same process. Activity in the mind relies for its true depiction of the environment on sense-data (of which it is aware), and the the senses rely for their purpose on the interpretations of the mind (of which it is conscious) - you need to envisage mentally what you sense, and you have to sense what you envisage mentally about the actual environment. Consciousness is rooted inside the mind, knows and identifies persistently, while awareness is immediately involved with the external world and senses those things of which the mind is conscious.

To reiterate: awareness might be described as an objective, presently felt, sensory-based apprehension of an object or state of affairs in the external world, while consciousness is better described as a subjective, but substantial and enduring capacity to know and comprehend which inheres in the mind. Awareness occurs essentially in perception of the real, whilst consciousness pertains essentially to what is thought to be true. They are still part of the same experience, just seen from different perspectives, so in the former case it is 'awareness of an object', and in the latter case it is 'consciousness of what the object is'. Awareness is apprehension of existing things; consciousness is comprehension of their identity.




Hover in the cells to see a range of categories.

  Choose One...

Epistemology/Metaphysics Logic Theology Politics/Ethics Psychology/The Mind Reviews Swat


...or swat the wasp for a chance discourse!