Humans consist of complex physical materials. However, we determine and experience our lives through numerous spiritual moments. Should consciousness be described as an outcome of physical matter and senses, or is it a higher mental construction?
What is consciousness? Hm! Sounds like dangerous waters to attempt to navigate, but, anyway, here goes;
Consciousness, at least within a psychological frame seems to always include an aspect of self-awareness. But even taken together these two conceptions have not seemed to logically lead anywhere useful. That is primarily because different interpretations of what it means to be aware of self just lead into differing types of argument which never seem to go anywhere other than in concentric circles. So here is a quite different path or at least a suggested path to unraveling this persistent 'Gordian knot'
Spinoza in his "Ethics" Part Three- Of the Affects [Emotions] in Propositions 6-7-8, introduces, what he considers to constitute the essence of human nature, he termed it 'conatus' or 'striving'. It has been defined as 'self-assertive impulse', 'desire'/'appetite' and 'agency-in-act'. Taken together these three designations indicate the nexus where the urge to continue in existence merges with the desire to accumulate the necessary security and products required and the capability and intelligence to problem solve and join with other like-minded people to form communities to accomplish these ends.
The bodily mechanism operating through this 'conatus' receives impressions from objects/people in the environment [today we would term these digital signals]. These impressions instantaneously convert into 'emotional triggers' which automatically and ceaselessly bombard the brain with inputs which it stores. These data are then 'taken under consideration' by the mind which sorts, analyzes and converts into 'ideas'. Some of these 'ideas' become 'adequate' or clearly understood. Others, which cannot be deciphered remain 'inadequate'. The function within the mind which performs this evaluation consists in a combination of 'reflective knowledge' [observing, measuring and comparing past experience with the data and 'intuitional understanding' [let's leave that for the moment].
This then, while not a modern explanation of consciousness is one that may, just may, be deserving of consideration.
For further reading on this see; Spinoza's "Ethics" and "on the Improvement of the Understanding". Spinoza's Strange Symbiosis- Where Emotion and Thought Conjoin. [available soon on Academia.com and Amazon] CS
I am familiar with 2 different approaches. The definition from wikipedia:
Is the state or quality of sentience or awareness of internal or external existence.
Western / Neuroscientific
consciousness noun [ U ] uk /ˈkɒn.ʃəs.nəs/ us /ˈkɑːn.ʃəs.nəs/
The state of understanding and realizing something.
That is to say if you are asleep you are unconscious buy your subconscious part of your mind is active otherwise you would not notice the alarm clock when it rings. For this approach consciousness is created within the neuronal network and it's just a feature of the mind. ref here. Consciosness could be described as the part of the mind that notices the passing of time and makes you self-aware.
Eastern / Existential / Spiritual
"yogas chitta vritti nirodha" Patanjali's Yoga Sutra
Yoga is the cessation of the mental processes. The goal of yoga is to achieve a pure state of consciousness that is to say we want to stop the mind through asanas, pranayamas, meditation etc. just to focus on the silent watcher of the mind (consciousness). For this approach consciousness is something you can tap into but it's not the mind, not produced by the brain, not part of your idea of self (ego) it is not even material but metaphysical. It has no form and it is not an object. It has no end and no beginning, no past and no future, no birth and no death because it always happens here and now. It cannot be explained but experienced. It something that has always been there but your mind has been hiding it from you through ideas, feelings, ego, thoughts, etc.
According to Jnana Yoga and Buddhism to discover what consciousness is you must ask yourself "who am I". According to those philosophies you are not anything created by the mind eg. "your nationality, your culture, religion, system of believes, political affiliation etc. because those things are mental constructs learnt along the way which are subjected to impermanence e.g. you are not who you were 10 years ago but the illusion of it.
Scientific investigation of conscientiousness fairly recent and it will get deeper as neuroscientific research progresses.
Answers like pbxman's that distinguish eastern and western (notion? approach?) consciousness are a good starting point.
It will be found however that some oriental teachers have refined and reified consciousness – if that's possible! – to include both and the spectrum in between.
The following is from Talks with Ramana maharshi
A young man, Mr. Knowles, came for darsan. He had read Paul Brunton’s1 two books. He asked: “The Buddhists say that ‘I’ is unreal, whereas Paul Brunton in the Secret Path tells us to get over the ‘I- thought’ and reach the state of ‘I’. Which is true?”
Ramana: There are supposed to be two ‘I’s; the one is lower and unreal, of which all are aware; and the other, the higher and the real, which is to be realised. You are not aware of yourself while asleep, you are aware in wakefulness; waking, you say that you were asleep; you did not know it in the deep sleep state. So then, the idea of diversity has arisen along with the body-consciousness; this body-consciousness arose at some particular moment; it has origin and end. What originates must be something. What is that something? It is the ‘I’-consciousness. Who am I? Whence am I?
On finding the source, you realise the state of Absolute Consciousness.
A page later
The visitor said: “The world sends impressions and I awake!”
Ramana: Can the world exist without someone to perceive it? Which is prior? The being-consciousness or the rising-consciousness? The being-consciousness is always there, eternal and pure. The rising- consciousness rises forth and disappears. It is transient.
So we see that there are many different attributions of consciousness :
- Rising-consciousness (sometimes called waking or body-consciousness)
- Being consciousness (or I-consciousness)
So at the risk of gross oversimplification :
- Rising/waking/body consciousness is what is discussed in western mode
- Absolute consciousness is what orientals talk of (in philosophy mode!)
- Being or I consciousness is the key: Which way it faces determines which door opens
1Paul Brunton in effect means Ramana since the major part of Brunton's books consist of Ramana conversations, grappling with the idea etc
People like to invent pretentious things about 'consciousness', and in the process create new definitions of it every time they speak. Is conscious the opposite of unconscious? Is it the opposite of inanimate? Is it the opposite of unknowing? Or of being incapable of knowing?
You can make it include whatever you want, as long as you never slow down and say exactly what you mean. In that case we are back to the point where some kinds of unconsciousness are conscious.
If it is the former, then neither the complex structure nor the spiritual experience have anything to do with it. It is merely the awareness of the changes taking place in your memory by the events of the given moment. If those events are calm awareness or mystical experience or psychotic delusions is not material to the question.
If it is the very last, then of course it includes anything that can enter into memory and affect future decisions. So of course it includes all the experiences, real or otherwise, that people have gone trough, from their boredom to their dreams and their epiphanies.
Does is apply to time that you know has passed but have not necessarily experienced, but evaporates into the editing of our internal narrative known as flow? (As Heidegger has pointed out is most of our lives) Or is it specifically about moments when you are pulled out of the state of flow by events? Or does it rely upon the liminal state between these, where you are neither gone from your own life, nor thrown into deliberation, where you can establish mindful connection without obsessional domination?
Since we don't know what the word even means, why don't we talk about something well-defined?
Your question, essentially how do we bridge the gap between the physical and mental is the central theme of Cartesian duality also known as the mind-body program. It is related to several other important ideas, like the proposed hard problem of consciousness and the problem of other minds.
This basis for this line of philosophical inquiry has been going on in some form since the Presocratics, but Rene Descartes certainly tackled it with such force, that it largely takes its modern dimensions from him, and hence the eponym.
Needless to say, finding an answer to that question is unlikely to be satisfied by a post on Stack Exchange. Many quality philosophers, such as Gilbert Ryle, Daniel Dennett, or Jaegwon Kim have spent their careers attempting to wrap their mind around the problem.
Suffice it to say, the three philosophers I have listed have approached the problem by examining the categorical nature of the question itself. For instance, Gilbert Ryle pronounced Cartesian Duality nothing more than a category mistake. That is to say, the the category of concrete and the category of abstract are categories of the mind, and that the two categories of mind and body don't intersect explains why there appears to be a gap in our idea of causality, also a category of the mind.
I've yet to find any two philosophers who share an answer in its entirety, so the only way you're likely to find a satisfying answer to this question is to attempt to answer it yourself.
Since there is cosmic consciousness, it is not worth dealing human consciousness separately. You know, even the answers to many questions regarding death is still completely unknown. The same will be the case of consciousness also. This is because of that great cosmic consciousness. We can never deny the fact that even in unicellular organisms like bacteria and viruses have consciousness. Then you can make sure that consciousness has no relation to the number of cells or its complexity. Consciousness is everywhere; in animate objects, inanimate objects, tangible, intangible and everywhere.
The following link is just for giving you some hints.
Should consciousness be described as an outcome of physical matter and senses, or is it a higher mental construction?
He who can look into himself realizes this Truth. When he realizes it, he knows his consciousness is everywhere and everything ( https://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/sarvam-khaluidam-brahma )...and he attains liberation from all bondage. Now you may think about: "What happens to consciousness even if his body becomes no more?"