• Question: What is consciousness?

    Asked by ciaranking to Aggelos, Andrew, Eileen, Naomi, Shane on 19 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Eileen Diskin

      Eileen Diskin answered on 19 Nov 2012:

      Hey Ciaranking! Great question 🙂

      Consciousness can actually be defined in a few ways – throughout history, different kinds of people including philosphers, scientists, and medical doctors have offered their ideas.

      Some people think that consciousness is to do with the relationship between somebody’s mind and the outside world. Others say its more to do with a persons awareness of themselves. If something happens – like you get a bump in the head, you might become ‘unconscious’. This means you’re not aware of either yourself or the world around you.

      One of the cool questions (I think!) is to do with animals, and whether or not they’re conscious. Scientists like to argue about this, and provide different bits of evidence. For example, do animals have the same bits of the brain that we do (what scientists call ‘neuroanatomy’) that we do, that would mean they are capable of being conscious? I think that questions like this are really interseting to think about, and there are lots of cool experiments to do to test out these kinds of questions.

      I used to like to watch my dog when she looked in a mirror, and did funny things to her reflection – it made me wonder whether or not she knew she was looking at herself!

    • Photo: Andrew Jackson

      Andrew Jackson answered on 19 Nov 2012:

      ooh… i was only thinking about this earlier. Eileen gives a great answer.

      Recently i read about some research that suggests that we (the thing you call “I”) might not be as in control of our bodies and actions as we think. The research suggests that we have invented a thing that is “our conscious mind” in order to justify our actions after some automated part of our brain has already made the decision for us! The scientists did some experiments asking human subjects to press buttons on a computer. At the same time they recorded their brain activities using special monitors. They found that parts of the brain to make the person’s hand move, activated just a fraction of a second before the person indicated that they had decided what to do.

      If this is true, it would make us very robotic like, and scares me a lot to think that i might not really be in control!

    • Photo: Aggelos Zacharopoulos

      Aggelos Zacharopoulos answered on 22 Nov 2012:

      consciousness is being aware of our surroundings and/or or things within ourselves. This is by no means an explicit way to define consciousness. Scientists and philosophers have come up with a range of definitions which may vary significantly. Have a look here if you want to dig deeper into the problem of defining consciousness : http://www.iep.utm.edu/consciou/