I am a psychologist, and have to introduce my Introductory Psychology students to consciousness. Is there an acceptable, concise definition of "consciousness"? Most psychology textbooks seem to fall woefully short. For example, David Myers defines consciousness as "our awareness of ourselves and our environment." ACK! Thanks for any feedback you might provide for me and my students.

That's a good question. There is one description that philosophers typically use that might be helpful to you. Philosophers often talk about being conscious in terms of "what-it's-like" (going back to Tom Nagel's article, "What it's like to be a bat?") There seems to be something that it is like to be a bat, but not to be a rock -- and this seems to capture our sense that the bat, but not the rock, is conscious.

This focuses on what philosophers call phenomenal consciousness. There are other senses of consciousness in play (for example, sometimes "conscious" is just used as a synonym for "awake"), but when philosophers are worried about the problem of consciousness, they are typically worried about phenomenal consciousness.

My favorite remark on this question is due to Ned Block. He quotes (I believe) Duke Ellington as having said that, if you have to ask what jazz is, y'ain't never gonna know. Block says that something similar is true of (phenomenal) consciousness. It's what makes pain hurt and ice cream yummy, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you never will. Block is also the best source for the distinctions among kinds of consciousness that Amy already noted. See, for example, his "Some Concepts of Consciousness". It is, of course, the distinctions he draws are controversial, like just about everything in this area.

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