Consciousness is understood in a variety of ways. In one belief, a person is conscious when awake, but unconscious when sleeping or comatose. Yet people also do things requiring perception and thought unconsciously even when they are awake. A person can be conscious of their physical surroundings, pain and even a wish or fantasy. In short a creature is conscious if it is aware of itself and that it is a physical and emotional being. Consciousness is a psychological condition defined by the English philosopher John Locke as “the perception of what passes in a mans own mind”.1
Consciousness is defined and perceived differently in many psychological view points. For instance the earlier views around the 19th century was diversely considered. Most perceived consciousness as a substance or “mental stuff” unlike an object from the physical world. Others deferred that the conscious mind was what separated man from lower forms of life. It is an attribute characterized by sensation and voluntary movement which described the difference between normal waking state of animals and men and their condition when asleep.2Other descriptions included an analysis of consciousness as a form of relationship or act of the mind toward objects in nature, and a view that consciousness was a continuous field or stream of essentially mental “sense data.”
The method believed by most early writers in determining consciousness was introspectionlooking within ones own mind to discover the laws of its operation. This belief was limited when it was apparent when observationalists could not agree on observations. Obviously due to the differences in ones own idea of introspection and the underlying views they possessed.
The failure of introspection to reveal consistent laws led to the refection of all mental states as subjects of scientific study and thus psychology attached consciousness to its diversity.
The term consciousness is most often used by philosophers and psychologists as meaning “attention to the contents or workings of ones own mind.” This notion had little significance for the ancients, but it was emphasized in the 17th century by John Locke and Rene Descartes.
Contemporaries of these two philosophers thought of consciousness as the operation of the inner-eye. Both Locke and Descartes went further. They held that consciousness was involved with every working mental state. In this view the mind is transparent to itself that is, it can perceive its own activity. For three centuries self transparence was the defining feature of the mind. That conception was sprung through the theories of Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener who were advocates off a science of introspection.
Early in the 20th century the transparency doctrine came to a setback for three different reasons. The first reason was Sigmund Freuds compelling evidence that some very important mental activity is not only subconscious but firmly resists conscious access through repression. At first Freuds idea of unconscious was treated as self-contradictory, but it has since won acceptance as being useful and entirely possible.
the second difficulty for the transparency doctrine was that it made the mind impossible for objective science. What is known introspectively to a single person would be utterly private and therefore can not be viewed scientifically. Scientific method demands objectivity and reportable data. The behaviorists John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner and the philosopher Gilbert Ryle rebelled against the idea of an inner sense and denied the very existence of consciousness in the strong sense exhibited by Locke, Descartes and the introspective psychologists.3 Ryle insisted that mind is an illusory concept and that it is really nothing more than a collection of observable behaviors. Similarly, the behaviorists argued that behavioral responses to environmental stimuli are merely responses to the stimuli and do not inherently represent hidden mental states or events. Accordingly, psychology should be the science of behavior, not of introspection.4
The difficulty for the transparency doctrine was cognitive psychologys recent discovery that everyone does a great deal of mental processing, reasoning, and analysis of many sorts without being able to introspect it at all. Cognitive psychology in itself, however, has thus far had little further to say about consciousness.
The identity theory of mind, proposed by the British philosopher U.T. Place in the 1950s, reconciled the original idea that mental activity is genuinely inner and introspectable with the demands of contemporary scientific method that scientific facts be verifiable.5 Place presented the idea that mental states and events are simply physical states and events of the central nervous system. In one form or another, Places view still dominates the philosophy of the mind.
Though most researchers believe that consciousness will someday be explained as a neuronal activity, a few suspect that it transcends brain functioning and depends on physical laws not yet fully understood. One radical view of this sort has been advanced by British neuroscientist John Smythies. He calls his theory extended materialism. This belief is much unlike Descartes theory that consciousness has no material basis and in turn does not have “space” in a material dimension. Smythies conception of space, however, is not limited to the familiar three dimensions that, along with time, define the standard physical framework of reality.6 Smythies presents that everyone has a private space in addition to the shared, public version. Each individuals personal framework intersects with the familiar dimensions while remaining distinct from them, and it provides an arena for all conscious sensations that have spatial extension or locationobjects discernible by sight or touch.7 To understand Smythies theory see Appendix A.
In conclusion one can determine a variety of theories in the evolution of consciousness. As cited earlier, consciousness is viewed as being physical or material in some cases and yet in others it is viewed as a function of the inner mind or the minds eye. These theories have even been as radical as Smythies philosophy that the state of consciousness is a sort of physical plane.
If we were to collaborate these theories to form a conclusive view point, individuals would possibly be able to understand consciousness and the workings of consciousness. Perhaps the mystery of consciousness is to remain a mystery. Possibly this mystery is the key to cognitive thinking. And perhaps the key to our personal evolution.