What is conciousness? what causes it? is it an external processs or an internal process? (sorry this is a weighty question, and I know there are no concrete answers, but are there any interesting theories out there?) What are your thoughts? Is conciousness a part of the environment as well as a "bodily" process? where does the trigger start? I find this subject matter very confusing, Thanks so much for your help!

I believe that this is about as basic a question as asking, "What is being?" There is plenty of discussion about the causes of consciousness and different forms of consciousness but what is 'it' ? Awareness? But what is awareness? Consciousness is often thought of as a kind of light. Seems to have some connection with attention. Phenomenologists long ago pointed out that consciousness is intentional - that is, always refers to something beyond itself. Heidegger limned it as a kind of opening in being. I can't even imagine what a definition of consciousness would amount to. The great William james described it in terms of our ability to introspect - as in we are conscious of what we can introspect upon. But that is about as far as I can go in making myself conscious of the nature of consciousness. Thanks for a great question.

Both philosophers and scientists (and, among scientists, both neuroscientists and cognitive scientists (and, among cognitive scientists, both computationally-oriented ones working in AI as well as non-computationally-oriented ones)) have been studying consciousness for many years recently.

One main issue is your question of what it is. One way of phrasing that issue, due to the philosopher Ned Block, is as a distinction between "access" consciousness and "phenomenal" consciousness: The former, very roughly, is the kind of consciousness that is involved in information processing (and that, perhaps, can only be studied "externally" from a "third-person", objective, scientific perspective). The latter, again very roughly, is "experience", or "what it is like" to process information (and that, perhaps, can only be studied "internally" from a "first-person", subjective perspective). Figuring out exactly what "access" consciousness is has been called the "easy" problem of consciousness, because cognitive and neuroscientists seem well on their way to answering it; for one such answer, read the philosopher Daniel Dennett's book Consciousness Explained. Figuring out exactly what "phenomenal" consciousness is has been called, by the philosopher David Chalmers (in his book, The Conscious Mind), the "hard" problem of consciousness, because we have no idea of how to solve it.

For more information on recent work on consciousness from both the philosophical and scientific perspectives, see the bibliography I put together for a recent course on computational theories of consciousness that I taught.

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