definition of consciousness

Consciousness is the ability of a subject to know himself and his environment. The term comes from the Latin cum scientĭan, which means knowingly. This capacity for knowledge that man shows is also present in the animal world, although, of course, with fewer possibilities. Thus, mammals have a kind of differentiated perception of their own "I", on a primitive scale, especially in life forms with greater capacity for learning and intelligence, such as cetaceans or carnivores. The particular case of man is different, since that definition of awareness At the same time, it allows him to recognize himself as an autonomous being, on the one hand, but in permanent interaction with other human beings, on the other.

Going even deeper, each theoretical field within psychology used its own definition of consciousness, while respecting a common idea regarding knowledge.. In the case of psychoanalysis, the notion of consciousness that is handled is related to that of the unconscious. Thus, the conscience would be that instance of knowledge allowed by the moral of the subject. If any memory conflicts with this morality, it is excluded from consciousness and becomes part of the unconscious system, which is the reserve of the repressed. In this model, postulated and refined by Sigmund Freud, consciousness is not innate in the human being, but, at birth, people have only an intense component of drives destined for immediate satisfaction. The progressive socialization, initiated by contact with the mother at the beginning and with the interaction with the rest of the people in later stages, allows the incorporation of ethical, moral, behavioral and cultural guidelines that are forging the personality and generating one's own awareness. However, as we mentioned before, all those primitive impulses that are not expressed through the control system exerted by the learned experiences are not eliminated, but are preserved hidden in the unconscious, to be noticed, for example, in dreams.

In any case, this link established by Freud between consciousness and unconscious had (and has) numerous detractors. For example, in the United States, these theories did not prosper, while the analysis of consciousness continued on another path. Thus, it was established that sleep was not a deprivation of consciousness, as established by psychoanalysis, but another state of it. The discovery of rapid eye movements during certain stages of sleep and its study showed that the waves reflected in the EEG at these times were similar to those of wakefulness. Thus, the elimination of this phase of sleep (known by the acronym in English REM, equivalent to rapid eyes movements) causes behavioral disorders of different repercussions.

Another treatment of the problem of conscience in this century is offered by Jean Paul Sastre. Although his proposals are few taken into account today, the truth is that his conception of consciousness also excluded a relation to the unconscious. In his work Being and Nothingness he dedicates himself to rejecting psychoanalysis and developing his own interpretation of the subject. On the other hand, within the framework of cognitive-behavioral approaches, it is speculated that consciousness or at least many of the conscious functions can be "reprogrammed" in case of alterations, for which reason the awareness as we know it, it would actually constitute an entity in constant transformation.

At present, studies in this field are carried out from the perspectives of the psychology, the medicine, the physiology and the neurosciences usually. This is how many mysteries of the past are expected to be unraveled in the short term. Based on current knowledge, it is necessary to reveal the reason why animal behavior offers numerous parameters of "consciousness" (or its equivalent) from the moment of birth, while in the case of human beings consciousness seems be forged progressively throughout life, with a minimal innate component and a huge proportion of content obtained in the context of family and society.