Consciousness: characteristics and peculiarities
If we were to use an essential and general definition to distinguish awareness from knowledge, it would be the following: awareness is something that allows us to be part of our reality, to perceive every nuance, every stimulus and internal process. Conscience, on the other hand, allows us to behave in an ethical and socially acceptable way.
Broadly speaking, the difference between the two terms seems understandable and at times, even trivial. However, if someone told us “I am aware of my actions” would they refer to the moral or perceptive aspect? Or even both of them? In situations of this kind, we enter the subjective sphere where everything depends on what the speaker wants to express.
What is consciousness?
Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said that conscience is the best book on morality ever. And he wasn't wrong. This entity is about the human ability to know which actions, thoughts, words and situations are right and appropriate and which are not.
It is a moral and ethical concept; however, some considerations must also be pointed out:
- Consciousness is not about processes like attention and perception.
- Philosophers such as Descartes or Locke tried to deepen this concept to understand what the relationship between consciousness and language, thought and intelligence was. It must also be taken into account that one of the most notable differences between awareness and conscience is that the latter was seen by philosophers as a virtue.
- To say that a person is conscious is to give him credit for having moral values. Having a conscience means trying to live in accordance with a whole series of basic rules of respect and balance. But there is more; sometimes we also use this expression to refer to animals, as sometimes they show that they act in a "moral" or better "social" way just as humans would do.
Consciousness is instinct
That is, neuroscience has found the place where "consciousness" is located: which, without running into "language traps", does not coincide with what in common language is called "conscious thinking" (terminology that is used outside neuroscience to give a 'hat' to our decisions). Or the thought that is verbalized then translated into words, but with what in common language we know as instinct, which represents the non-verbalized decision-making activity. Consider that most of our decisions do not take place with a verbalized conscious thought, but in an "automatic" way.
The neural basis of consciousness
We know how by consciousness, we mean both a physiological state (the waking state) and the subjective awareness we have of the world and of ourselves. The study of the waking state is fully part of the conventional line of neurobiological research that has been able to identify, therefore, the neuroanatomical substrates and the underlying physiological processes. Consciousness understood as awareness and self-awareness raise complex and controversial philosophical questions and, therefore, is much more difficult to study with the techniques of cognitive neuroscience.
Research in this area has focused on the study of conscious visual perception in normal subjects and on the study of patients with various pathological conditions. The awareness of visual sensory stimuli provides a modest modulation of the activity by the sensory cortices and the parietal and frontal cortices that support attention and many other cognitive functions. Research on patients with awareness-related diseases, however clinically important, has not led to any consensus on the nature of consciousness.
Efforts to identify the neural basis of consciousness have not yet produced certain results, so much so that some scientists have been attracted to the idea that human consciousness can depend on a mechanism whose basis goes beyond conventional thinking!
Author: Vicki Lezama