My question deals with consciousness. I believe I understand what it means for me to be conscious of what is occurring around me, but I have the feeling that a lot of this depends on what I believe to be the consciousness of what is occurring (perhaps in an abstract form) around me or a result of something that is or had been conscious in some manner at one time. As am example of what I am attempting to describe, would I even take note of a person in my line of sight if something about that person (could be a very simple thing such as a glance from that person in my direction, the shoes he or she is wearing, or the waves of the ocean) that was somewhere along the line a conscious act of that person or of nature. And then could this be projected to a building or a tree since the tree is a living thing and the building was constructed by people. I know there is a certain vagueness about this question but I do not know how to put it in a more definite form.

Maybe you asking what it is about a thing you observe that brings you to the conclusion that that thing is a conscious being, say, a person? If that's the question, here's the answer. You can rely on a couple of kinds of evidence: the way the individual looks (like a human being), the way the individual behaves (agents' trajectories through space appear to violate the laws of physics: they can start moving and then just stop and change direction without there being any external force), and the fact that the individual displays behavior (like speaking or gesturing or wearing clothes) that appears to be meaningful. Individual things displaying one or more of these signs very likely are conscious beings. Buildings and trees do not display these signs, so there is no reason to take them to be conscious beings. (The fact that the building was made by a conscious being doesn't seem to me to provide any reason whatsoever to think that it is itself conscious -- I don't know what you have in mind there.)

If the question is, instead, how do I know that the evidence that I in fact rely on in judging something to be a person is actually good evidence, then I can't give you an answer so quickly. Then the question would be the philosophical problem we call the "problem of other minds": how do I know that anything other than me is conscious. For proposed answers to that question, I'd advise you to search the archive and see if any of the responses already on record address your concern.

Louise Anthony's reply is absolutely right, though the problem of other minds will be always with us no doubt. I wonder whether there is something else in addition in your mind that lies behind the question. Are you suggesting that whenever I am conscious there is a very interesting cause in the external world - the consciousness of others? So, for example, when I catch someone's eye, or when I become aware of the intelligence embodied in the design of a building, I become conscious. I think that there is truth to this interesting empirical proposal, but I wonder whether what is happening is that I become more conscious than I was in these cases, or conscious in a new way. A certain amount of education involves this, and, as Nagel pointed out a long time ago, the consciousness of mutual desire does too. But presumably there has to be a basis of consciousness already, or I could not become aware of anything conscious tugging at me from the external world. There has to be a consciousness there to be snagged by another consciousness. Babies do respond to consciousness in their environment, and grow and socialize with it, but presumably in their development the growth to consciousness would happen without the stimuli offered by other human beings, though perhaps in a different way.

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