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  Consciousness (from Latin, conscire, ‘to be aware’), in psychological terms, describes the state of being awake to our surroundings: neither asleep, nor in a coma, nor drugged in any way, even if we have more, or less, limited consciousness or awareness. It is the state of paying attention to what we are doing, or to our own mental process: faculties which are not possessed by animals.

According to Freud, consciousness is distinct from unconsciousness in that it takes account of space and time, is intolerant of contradiction and gives constant meanings to images. The unconscious constantly switches the meaning of symbols in dreams, and uses contradictions, such as displacement, as defence-mechanisms. The unconscious becomes conscious by being verbalized, and in this sense consciousness also has the function of creating integration of feelings and ideas into externalized language. Freud had less to say about conscious activities than about unconscious ones, and the neglect of conscious material, in Freudian analysis, is criticized by those working with existential, phenomenological, cognitive or behavioural approaches.

Philosophers distinguish two sorts of consciousness (which they roughly equate with ‘awareness’). I am conscious that I am in pain and that I wish I were not. That is, I am aware that I am in each of these mental states. The two sorts of consciousness correspond to two types of mental state. Mental states such as pains, and sensory experiences (visual and auditory experiences, for instance) are phenomenological: they feel a certain way. Consciousness of being in a phenomenological state is a matter of being aware of how it feels, is a matter of feeling it. Indeed, such mental states seem to be necessarily conscious: one cannot be in pain without being aware that one is in pain simply because pain necessarily feels a certain way, and one cannot be in pain without being aware that one is in a state that feels that way. So one sort of consciousness is awareness that one is in a state that feels a certain way. And phenomenological states seem to be necessarily conscious.

Not all mental states are phenomenological, however. Propositional attitudes such as beliefs and desires are not phenomenological. Having a belief or desire is not a matter of things feeling a certain way. And non-phenomenological mental states are not necessarily conscious. As Freud taught, there are unconscious beliefs and desires.

Since having a belief or desire is not a matter of things feeling a certain way, consciousness of having a certain belief or desire is not a matter of being aware of how things feel, is not a matter of feeling which beliefs or desires one has. So what is it to be conscious of certain of one\'s beliefs and desires but not others? Some hold that consciousness of beliefs and desires is a matter of having beliefs about one\'s beliefs and desires. I am conscious of my belief that Cambridge is beautiful and of my desire to be a better actor because I believe that I believe Cambridge to be beautiful and I believe that I desire to be a better actor. And I am not conscious of my repressed belief that my mother is evil or of my desire that she be dead because I do not believe that I believe that my mother is evil and I do not believe that I desire her dead. AJ MJ

See also mental phenomena; stream of consciousness; thought.Further reading Albert Ellis, Growth Through Reason: Verbatim Cases in Rational Emotive Therapy; , C. McGinn, The Character of Mind.



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