The state of being aware of oneself and one's surroundings, without hindrance from sleep, illness, drugs, or hypnotism. This awareness is not purely of external events or phenomena, but also of one's own feelings, beliefs, and mental events.
Such introspective self-awareness, as opposed to merely responding to external stimuli, is generally taken to be a prerequisite for consciousness. This sidesteps the question of animal consciousness, which is largely believed to be very different or even nonexistent.
Consciousness is poorly understood but it is often linked to our capacity for language. According to the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, consciousness differs from unconsciousness in that it recognizes distinctions of space and time and is consistent. The unconscious frequently switches the meaning of symbols or events, as in dreams, and regularly accepts contradictions. Psychologists and neurologists have attempted to establish what processes are involved in consciousness, but with limited success.
Ascribing conscious thought processes to animals is a very controversial issue. Many people wish to exclude animals from the category of conscious beings, but would admit that higher-order animals do exhibit a degree of self-awareness in addition to their responses to the outside world. However, there is generally considered to be a definite difference between the kind of self-examination and contemplation stemming from our consciousness of ourselves, and the level of self-awareness generally admitted to exist in, for example, a chimpanzee. The difference is often felt to lie in our additional capacity to reason and discuss, although whether this is an inherent part of our consciousness or a faculty additional to it is unclear.
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