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Definition: consciousness from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1629) 1 a : the quality or state of being aware esp. of something within oneself b : the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact c : awareness; esp : concern for some social or political cause 2 : the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought :mind 3 : the totality of conscious states of an individual 4 : the normal state of conscious life 〈regained ⁓〉 5 : the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes


Summary Article: consciousness from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Term applied to the highest level of self-awareness, also known as sentience. The state of being aware of oneself and one's surroundings develops as a consequence not purely of external events or phenomena, but also of emotions, beliefs, and mental events. It is a function of the brain and can be reduced or lost as a result of neurological conditions or physical damage; individuals who have completely lost this function are described as being in a vegetative state.

There is no scientific explanation of consciousness and it is a much-discussed topic in philosophy and the concept of the mind. It generally refers to the human capacity for thought and an awareness of personality combined with the ability to understand original ideas and conceive abstract possibilities, such as the passage of time.

Potentially any organism with a brain will possess a degree of self-awareness, varying according to the complexity of the brain. Awareness of surroundings, communication, problem solving, and tool use are all known in animals. The concept of self has also been established to some degree in primates, where direct communication using versions of sign language has been verified under scientific conditions. 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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Mind–Body Problem

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