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Consciousness is variously defined as subjective experience, awareness, alertness, wakefulness, and the ability to experience "feeling". It is a buzzword which makes it interesting but hard to explain, because it means different things to different people and may refer to a variety of mental phenomena. Consciousness is a phenomenon which arises at the intersection of nature and culture or genes and memes. At the core it is a biological phenomenon, but much more than pure biology is needed to explain it. Biological organisms are complex, they contain processes at many different scales ranging from the molecular and cellular levels up to the level of whole animals and animal groups, which are continuously interacting with each other. According to Searle (2002), consciousness is simply a "feature of the brain": "consciousness is a state that the brain is in".

Consciousness has two major components. While phenomenal consciousness describes what only this particular individual in question feels right now, public accessible consciousness describes what all individuals of a group have in common:

  • the private component is associated with the phenomenal consciousness which derives from subjective experience that can not be shared with others. It is based on the concrete feelings and specific sensations that can not be explained to others. Phenomenal consciousness is responsible for the explanatory gap and the hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1996).
  • the public, accessible component which is associated with the common understanding which derives from shared objective knowledge, i.e. from things which can be shared with others. It is also called access consciousness, because it is based on abstract informations, logical relations and mental representations that can be accessed by and explained to others.

The most interesting forms of consciousness happen if both kinds meet when you are conscious of the self.

Phenomenal consciousness

Phenomenal consciousness characterizes the qualitative character of conscious experience. There is an endless variety of subjective experience and phenomenal consciousness, just as there is an endless variety of individuals and persons. Private, phenomenal consciousness is based on the cumulative public experience of a person. It is path-dependent and varies from person to person, because each person has a different history and is adapted to a slighty different world.

See the hard problem of consciousness.


  • David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind, Oxford University Press, 1996
  • Uriah Kriegel, Subjective Consciousness: A Self-Representational Theory, Oxford University Press, 2009
  • Joseph Levine, Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 2001
  • John Searle, Consciousness and Language, Cambridge University Press, 2002


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