Consciousness refers to awareness of the environment where we live. Psychologists link consciousness with the state of mind and the study of the inner life that makes a person understand their environment through introspection. In other words, it relates to situations where a person needs to examine their conscious feelings and thoughts. Introspection is sometimes used to mean self-discovery and observation of one’s own mental and spiritual states that lead to self-discovery of their internal and external environments. Most early philosophers like Rene, Descartes, Sigmund Freud, and John Locke tried to explain consciousness as a philosophy of mind and how it related to a person’s daily experiences. In 1690, Locke defined consciousness as the “perception of what passes in a person’s mind.” Locke’s essays defined consciousness to great extent that it shaped how other scholars studied the concept and built on his detailed research findings. The word conscious is derived from the Latin word conscious where con-means “together,” and Scio means “know.” Ultimately, the Latin phrase “conscious sibi” is loosely translated as “knowing with oneself” and forms the basis of understanding the psychological process of consciousness.
Consciousness has been used by scholars who study the following four areas of intentionality, general knowledge, phenomenal experience, and introspection. The connection between a person’s primary knowledge and the mental state and how they interact with the environment shapes the discussion definition and human consciousness study (Hoffman, et al., 2014). The combination of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and awareness form consciousness. According to Solms (1997), several definitions exist to explain the term consciousness. Most of these strive to include either of the terms mentioned above for the concept to make sense and explain the author’s intentions. This is attributable to the fact that word “consciousness” by itself is elusive and has been evolving over the years leading to changes in meaning and definition by different audiences (Lombardo, 2014). That said, there is no denying that consciousness is sometimes hard to define due to its complex and diverse nature.
According to Sigmund Freud, human consciousness can be categorized into three; the conscious mind, unconscious and preconscious. The conscious state levels up all the aspects that we are aware of and whose relevance is imminent to your daily life (Natsoulas, 1991). It majorly revolves around what you know about yourself and your immediate surroundings. However, the preconscious level involves all unconscious thoughts that we can make conscious if we wish. This type of consciousness is responsible for storing all memories that can be accessed at any time. The stored memories are not repressed but can be accessed anytime whenever another memory invokes the need. The unconscious state comprises of all factors that are beyond the conscious state. Majorly, this includes memories that we don’t know exist as well as other inclinations we are not wary of. Many of the thoughts evoke unpleasant memories and are kept at bay for that reason. While these elements are stored away from our awareness, they play a significant role in influencing our behavior.
Personal Reflection on Consciousness
Nothing is more fundamental to human nature than understanding and experiencing consciousness. The concept of understanding our consciousness is variant from one subject to another (Rosenthal, 2008). The way you relate with your subconscious mind is very different from the way the next person does. This failure to understand that everybody views life from a various scope is the thin line between those who live freely and those living in fear of the unknown. I often try to find what level of consciousness drives my thoughts and future actions. Previous unpleasant memories are responsible for inducing specific fears every time we are faced with similar situations. Most often, I tend to think that I have forgotten specific memories until something similar happens to me. Only then, do the memories come back to life and haunt me. Studies show that to take complete control of your emotions, you must be aware of your subconscious mind (Rosenthal, 2008).
Full comprehension of consciousness slowly inclines towards the question of free will. Though we are led to believe that our actions are prompted by external factors that we have no control of, the reality is that we have power over the mind (Hoffman, 2014). Consequently, the decisions we make are proportional to the outcomes they pose to our lives. If one decides to drive recklessly, the probability of causing an accident is very high. The result of the decision made will not only affect you adversely but also your immediate surroundings. At one point in my school life, I often felt inclined towards prioritizing work over school work. However, a time came when I thought that I had to make an informed decision as my grades were on the decline. Choosing between work and class posed a hard decision as neither was indispensable. My bills were impending, and my school work was demanding. Neither of them was to be disregarded, and this called for a work plan to cater for both.
In my opinion, the experiences we learn from consciousness are ideal in that they guide us to control our thoughts, emotions and the decisions we make. Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses is essential in the logical tackling of underlying problems. Consciousness caters for making strategic and measurable goals and cultivating the discipline to see them through. There is a difference that exists between those who work to attain their goals and those who don’t lie about their ability to connect with their consciousness. Additionally, consciousness is tied to morality in that we are inclined to choosing good and shunning evil inclinations. However, in extreme cases, consciousness becomes apathetic. For instance, we are suddenly faced with the harsh reality that we are not performing to our expectations and embrace the notion that everyone else is conspiring against us. This experience prompts many of us to engage in malpractices, such as abuse of drugs in an attempt to run away from consciousness. Apart from the states induced by psychoactive drugs, meditation, sleep, hypnosis, dreams, and hallucinations are other causes for the altered state of consciousness.
The Altered State of Consciousness
The altered state of consciousness means a transitory mental form beyond the actual and awake consciousness that occurs when a person is dreaming, sleeping, or during hypnosis, psychoactive and drug effects and how they affect the brain (Hoffman, et al., 2014). To explore consciousness, psychologists’ general nature is to strive and find the relationship and connection between the mind and the body. For the brain to function optimally there is selective attention where the person processes and controls what to concentrate on. This is a deliberate approach to place importance on where most information is stored and not affected by other detractors. In truism, it is possible for a person applying selective attention to fail in recognizing some visible stimuli since they don’t want to be detracted by what is taking place elsewhere.
Perceptual blindness is another form of altered state consciousness whereby the person fails to notice visible but unexpected stimuli since the attention is shifted to elsewhere (Hoffman, et al., 2014). Altered state consciousness exists in different levels of awareness, from the highest level of awareness to the lowest level of no awareness, such as when a person is asleep or under the influence of alcohol. The controlled processes always need maximum attention to the level of consciousness to be active, like learning or driving. Other processes like automatic processes do not require a lot of attention, like walking or listening to music. Subconscious awareness takes place during the subliminal perception. The little or lack of awareness occurs due to biological effects like where a person is under anesthesia or in a coma due to head injury where the person is not conscious of their environment.
From the precedent, consciousness is a contentious topic of discussion that should be tackled objectively rather than passively. The harsh realities that our conscious mind always reminds us should evoke positive vibes rather than running from the truth. Everyone should strive in understanding their consciousness rather than antagonizing its reality. In essence, the topic equips learners with the ability to relate with their feelings, mindset and surrounding. The reality of consciousness is only revealed when one is awake and in control of their minds. Arguably, mindfulness is the ability to deduce all external influences in your life and how they relate to your daily lives. External factors majorly have an overwhelming effect on our lives in that they tend to evoke feelings of pleasantness or sadness. The mind is the executive control unit of the body and is liable for all processes that the body feels inclined to. Awareness is a state of the brain that is responsible for the sense of self-hood that one feels whenever they have to choose right from wrong. Consciousness is a topic that has been subject to skepticism by many scholars, but its relevance in our daily lives cannot be under-estimated.