What are Consciousness and Being Conscious?

Z. Soner Dinç (Philosophy, Master’s Degree)

The concept of consciousness is probably one of the concepts we use the most in our daily lives. Being the fundamental concept of psychology (and psychiatry) today, consciousness is also a significant concept for epistemology, a sub-branch of philosophy. Conscious derives from the root “to know”, which originally has an etymological association with “knowledge”, and it is a state that forms in conjunction with the state of knowing, in respect of it being a constituent. According to the Oxford Dictionary, one of the classical English dictionaries, consciousness means a person’s awareness or perception of something. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, however, consciousness means the state of understanding and realizing something.

Tracing the root of a (any) word etymologically is important in terms of the creation of the definition of the concept automatically or with the concepts that are included in this root, while each etymological inquiry enables one to create new definitions along with the interpretations. The English equivalent of “bilinç” is “consciousness”, an old Latin-rooted word dating all the way back to the 16th century. In Latin, “-con” means “together”, while “-scio” stands for “to know”, leading to the formation of the word “conscience”. Similarly, “conscious” is also used for consciousness and bears the traces of the word “conscience”, along with consciousness.

Thus, when we combine the meaning of the two separate words forming the concept, we see meanings like “knowing together, commonly having the same information”, and this is an extremely significant background in terms of indicating that the meaning of the concept of consciousness should not be associated with only one person. As it can be clearly seen from the building blocks of the word, along with the word conscience which cannot be taken into consideration separately, It is possible to say that the state of consciousness is doable with more than one individual or is a state of co-comprehension.

Generally, in respect of the state of consciousness, there is an impression or a common misconception that the virtue of being knowledgeable would by only itself be adequate on an individual plane. Nonetheless, when taken into consideration together with the word’s origin in its history of emergence, we can say that this is not how it solely occurs. Because not every knowledgeable person is able to carry the state of consciousness with their knowledge or has the capability of simultaneously using both. Of course, consciousness requires a knowledge and human skills to a certain extent; a contrary case would not function as a serious argument at all. Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that the concept of “conscience” is originally embedded in the concept of consciousness, and we can say that it virtually constitutes a ground for the creation of the state of consciousness. In that case, it would not be a wrong definition if we said that consciousness is the implementation of the conscientious knowledge in its practical state, along with other mental subjects. Tracing the root of the word is to plan a decent route for the emergence such an alternative definition. For instance, if we only remain within the borders of the knowledge and reason, producing a mass destruction weapon itself may be considered a massive technological effort or an extremely important achievement. Nonetheless, when knowledge and conscientious capacity come into play, some ethical questions will become topics of conversation, such as what kinds of new situations can be created by these developments and efforts and innovations, with the humans at its epicenter. The human power, which will prevent any possible dangerous situation for humanity through the abuse of reason and knowledge, is inside the conscience and is possible thanks to it. In this sense, consciousness must be taken into consideration with the word “conscience” at all times. In direct association with these two, “intellectual morality”, which can also be called a state being “intellectual”, finds sources for itself here.

Now, let’s discuss the relation between “knowing together” and consciousness. By definition, togetherness or the state of knowing together requires other subjects, other minds. Thomas Hobbes, one of the classic English political philosophers of the 17th century, provides a definition for consciousness in his famous book “Leviathan”. According to Hobbes, if two or more individuals transfer one same phenomenon to another in the same way, then it can be said that there is state of consciousness. It is useful to keep in mind that the origin of “common sense”, a stereotypical famous saying in the British world of thought meaning good sense or sensible, also lies here. When indicating multiple individuals, consciousness points at a world of praxis which is happening inside the communal area. What’s meant here is the fact that it is extremely difficult to create a communal world-based equivalent for this knowledge without a togetherness or a “common sense”, regardless of how one person, on his/her own, has unique information in a vast area. Jean Paul Sartre, one of the symbolic intellectuals of the 20th century, is probably the embodiment of the state attempted to be described. He was always involved in various topics in the communal area with an intellectual responsibility by intersecting the concepts of conscious and consciousness with the state of being knowledgeable and the conscientious capacity. Therefore, he fully covered the word “consciousness” with all of its meanings.

The concept of consciousness is literally a cornerstone in the ancient discussion in the history of philosophy regarding how the connection between the body and the mind was established. Currently being the subject of the studies of the fields of psychology and neurology, this field attracted the focus of the philosophers in the 16th and 17th centuries and working it out was easily was not easy at all, like the technological opportunities and levels of knowledge at that time. The concept they came up with claimed that there was a connection with the consciousness and that the connection between the body and the mind was formed this way. Consciousness sort of provided a coordination between the body and the mind.

This coordination also seems significant for us as the people of the 21st century. Because humans comprise of neither solely a body nor only mental capabilities; the harmony of these two human situations is needed for an ordinary live. The elevation to a state of consciousness through the person initially comprehending himself/herself and the communal structure she/he lives in and being able to become a conscious subject virtually require a coordinated intersection of knowledge and morality. Considering the human as a thing consisting of the combination of various chemical substances at specific rates, or as a pile of various chemical substances is an example for the abuse of the knowledge without any conscience. Of course, humans contain chemical compositions but various phenomena that appear to be correct at first glance may lead to excessively coarse and inhumane results in respect of their results. What is meant to be told since the beginning of the article is the fact that the concept of consciousness is significant in terms of preventing the methods of discussing the information in its coarse forms. The conscious capacity is a trait needed for having more humane attitudes or behaviors both on the individual plane, and on the plane of collectivism covering it. The state of consciousness, however, is the expression of the knowledge that is formed with the conscience, which could be said to be one of traits needed the most today. Because the knowledge that does not refer to the conscience that wants to remain invisible makes the world an unlivable place and considers humans as figures or details. A genuine state of consciousness, however, at least attempts to utter the objections that are justified on the fact that it should not be done this way and reminds of what “consciousness” really is.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Penguin Classics), 1982
– https://dictionary.cambridge.org
– https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

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