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Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, qualia, internal linksubjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: "Anything that we are aware of at a given internal linkmoment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives."

Western philosophers, since the time of Descartes and Locke, have struggled to comprehend the nature of consciousness and identify its essential properties. Issues of concern in the philosophy of consciousness include whether the concept is fundamentally coherent; whether consciousness can ever be explained mechanistically; whether non-human consciousness exists and if so how it can be recognized; how consciousness relates to internal linklanguage; whether consciousness can be understood in a way that does not require a dualistic distinction between mental and physical states or properties; and whether it may ever be possible for computing machines like computers or internal linkrobots to be conscious, a topic studied in the field of internal linkartificial intelligence.

Thanks to developments in technology over the past few decades, consciousness has become a significant topic of interdisciplinary research in cognitive science, with significant contributions from fields such as psychology, anthropology, neuropsychology and neuroscience. The primary internal linkfocus is on understanding what it means biologically and psychologically for internal linkinformation to be present in consciousness—that is, on determining the neural and psychological correlates of consciousness. The majority of experimental studies assess consciousness in humans by asking subjects for a verbal report of their experiences (e.g., "tell me if you notice anything when I do this"). Issues of interest include phenomena such as subliminal internal linkperception, blindsight, denial of impairment, and internal linkaltered states of consciousness produced by alcohol and other drugs, or spiritual or meditative techniques.

In medicine, consciousness is assessed by observing a patient's arousal and responsiveness, and can be seen as a continuum of states ranging from full alertness and comprehension, through disorientation, delirium, loss of meaningful communication, and finally loss of movement in response to painful stimuli. Issues of practical concern include how the presence of consciousness can be assessed in severely ill, comatose, or anesthetized people, and how to treat conditions in which consciousness is impaired or disrupted. The degree of consciousness is measured by standardized behavior observation scales such as the Glasgow Coma Scale.

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Animal consciousness

The topic of animal consciousness is beset by a number of difficulties. It poses the problem of other minds in an especially severe form, because non-human animals, lacking the ability to express human language, cannot tell us about their experiences. Also, it is difficult to reason objectively about the question, because a denial that an animal is conscious is often taken to imply that it does not feel, its life has no value, and that
internal linkharming it is not morally wrong. Descartes, for example, has sometimes been blamed for mistreatment of animals due to the fact that he believed only humans have a non-physical mind. Most people have a strong intuition that some animals, such as internal linkcats and internal linkdogs, are conscious, while others, such as insects, are not; but the sources of this intuition are not obvious, and are often based on personal interactions with pets and other animals they have observed.

Philosophers who consider subjective experience the essence of consciousness also generally believe, as a correlate, that the existence and nature of animal consciousness can never rigorously be known. Thomas Nagel spelled out this point of view in an influential essay titled What Is it Like to Be a
internal linkBat?. He said that an organism is conscious "if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism"; and he argued that no matter how much we know about an animal's brain and behavior, we can never really put ourselves into the mind of the animal and experience its world in the way it does itself.  Other thinkers, such as Douglas Hofstadter, dismiss this argument as incoherent.] Several psychologists and ethologists have argued for the existence of animal consciousness by describing a range of behaviors that appear to show animals holding beliefs about things they cannot directly perceive—Donald Griffin's internal link2001 book Animal Minds reviews a substantial portion of the evidence.

On July 7, 2012, eminent scientists from different branches of neuroscience gathered at the University of Cambridge to celebrate the Francis Crick Memorial Conference, which deals with consciousness in humans and pre-linguistic consciousness in nonhuman animals. After the conference, they signed in the presence of Stephen Hawking, the 'Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness', which summarizes the most important findings of the survey:

"We decided to reach a consensus and make a statement directed to the public that is not scientific. It's obvious to everyone in this room that animals have consciousness, but it is not obvious to the rest of the world. It is not obvious to the rest of the Western world or the Far East. It is not obvious to the society."

"Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals [...], including all mammals and birds, and other creatures, [...] have the necessary neural substrates of consciousness and the capacity to exhibit internal linkintentional behaviors."


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consciousness firing

Artifact consciousness

The idea of an artifact made conscious is an ancient theme of mythology, appearing for example in the Greek myth of Pygmalion, who carved a statue that was internal linkmagically brought to life, and in medieval Jewish stories of the Golem, a magically animated homunculus built of clay. However, the possibility of actually constructing a conscious machine was probably first discussed by internal linkAda Lovelace, in a set of notes written in 1842 about the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage, a precursor (never built) to modern electronic computers. Lovelace was essentially dismissive of the idea that a machine such as the Analytical Engine could think in a humanlike way. She wrote:

It is desirable to guard against the possibility of exaggerated ideas that might arise as to the powers of the Analytical Engine. ... The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with.

One of the most influential contributions to this question was an essay written in 1950 by pioneering computer scientist internal linkAlan Turing, titled Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Turing disavowed any interest in terminology, saying that even "Can machines think?" is too loaded with spurious connotations to be meaningful; but he proposed to replace all such questions with a specific operational test, which has become known as the Turing test. To pass the test, a computer must be able to imitate a human well enough to fool interrogators. In his essay Turing discussed a variety of possible objections, and presented a counterargument to each of them. The Turing test is commonly cited in discussions of internal linkartificial intelligence as a proposed criterion for machine consciousness; it has provoked a great deal of philosophical debate. For example, Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter argue that anything capable of passing the Turing test is necessarily conscious, while David Chalmers argues that a philosophical zombie could pass the test, yet fail to be conscious.  A third group of scholars have argued that with technological growth once machines begin to display any substantial signs of human-like behavior then the dichotomy (of human consciousness compared to human-like consciousness) becomes passé and issues of machine autonomy begin to prevail even as observed in its nascent form within contemporary industry and technology. Jürgen Schmidhuber argues that consciousness is simply the result of internal linkcompression.  As an agent sees representation of itself recurring in the environment, the compression of this representation can be called consciousness.

In a lively exchange over what has come to be referred to as "the Chinese room argument", John Searle sought to refute the claim of proponents of what he calls "strong artificial intelligence (AI)" that a computer program can be conscious, though he does agree with advocates of "weak AI" that computer programs can be formatted to "internal linksimulate" conscious states. His own view is that consciousness has subjective, first-person causal powers by being essentially intentional due simply to the way internal linkhuman brains function biologically; conscious persons can perform computations, but consciousness is not inherently computational the way computer programs are. To make a Turing machine that speaks Chinese, Searle internal linkimagines a room with one monolingual English speaker (Searle himself, in fact), a book that designates a combination of Chinese symbols to be output paired with Chinese symbol input, and boxes filled with Chinese symbols. In this case, the English speaker is acting as a computer and the rulebook as a program. Searle argues that with such a machine, he would be able to internal linkprocess the inputs to outputs perfectly without having any understanding of Chinese, nor having any idea what the questions and answers could possibly mean. If the experiment were done in English, since Searle knows English, he would be able to take questions and give answers without any algorithms for English questions, and he would be effectively aware of what was being said and the purposes it might serve. Searle would pass the Turing test of answering the questions in both languages, but he is only conscious of what he is doing when he speaks English. Another way of putting the argument is to say that computer programs can pass the Turing test for processing the syntax of a language, but that the syntax cannot lead to semantic meaning in the way strong AI advocates hoped.

In the literature concerning artificial intelligence, Searle's essay has been second only to Turing's in the volume of debate it has generated. Searle himself was vague about what extra ingredients it would take to make a machine conscious: all he proposed was that what was needed was "causal powers" of the sort that the brain has and that computers lack. But other thinkers sympathetic to his basic argument have suggested that the necessary (though perhaps still not sufficient) extra conditions may include the ability to pass not just the verbal version of the Turing test, but the robotic version, which requires grounding the robot's words in the robot's sensorimotor capacity to categorize and interact with the things in the world that its words are about, Turing-indistinguishably from a real person. Turing-scale robotics is an empirical branch of research on embodied cognition and situated cognition.

In 2014, Victor Argonov has suggested a non-Turing test for machine consciousness based on machine's ability to produce philosophical judgments. He argues that a deterministic machine must be regarded as conscious if it is able to produce judgments on all problematic properties of consciousness (such as qualia or binding) having no innate (preloaded) philosophical knowledge on these issues, no philosophical discussions while internal linklearning, and no informational models of other creatures in its internal linkmemory (such models may implicitly or explicitly contain knowledge about these creatures’ consciousness). However, this test can be used only to detect, but not refute the existence of consciousness. A positive result proves that machine is conscious but a negative result proves nothing. For example, absence of philosophical judgments may be caused by lack of the machine’s intellect, not by absence of consciousness.

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Role in quantum mechanics

Consciousness may have a determinative role in internal linkquantum mechanics. Since consciousness is the primary aspect of an observer, and observation is sometimes viewed as a primary reason for apparent internal linkwave function collapse, consciousness may account for aspects of the measurement problem exemplified by the internal linkSchrödinger's internal linkcat paradox. This area has been an area of lively debate for decades, with recent efforts to substitute randomly caused decoherence as the source of apparent wave function collapse.

Max Tegmark and John Archibald Wheeler provided a useful survey of some of the issues.

Spiritual approaches

To most philosophers, the word "consciousness" connotes the relationship between the mind and the world. To writers on spiritual or religious topics, it frequently connotes the relationship between the mind and "god", or the relationship between the mind and deeper truths that are thought to be more fundamental than the physical world. Krishna consciousness, for example, is a term used to mean an intimate linkage between the mind of a worshipper and the god Krishna. The mystical psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke distinguished between three types of consciousness: 'Simple Consciousness', awareness of the body, possessed by many animals; 'Self Consciousness', awareness of being aware, possessed only by humans; and 'Cosmic Consciousness', awareness of the life and order of the universe, possessed only by humans who are enlightened. Many more examples could be given, such as the various levels of spiritual consciousness presented by Prem Saran Satsangi and Stuart Hameroff. The most thorough account of the spiritual approach may be Ken Wilber's book The Spectrum of Consciousness, a comparison of western and eastern ways of thinking about the mind. Wilber described consciousness as a spectrum with ordinary awareness at one end, and more profound types of awareness at higher levels.

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Jedi Mind Tricks - The Psycho-Social, Chemica, Biological and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness 12"x2 cover
Jedi Mind Tricks - The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological, and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness 12"x2 (red transparent vinyl)

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