Appendix Two

The Terminology Of Consciousness


This Appendix consists of an expanded version of the final part of the Introduction, The Terminology Of Consciousness, combined with relevant extracts from Chapter Two, The Evolution Of Social Consciousness In Animals.

No word can carry a greater burden of preconception or more layers of differentiated meaning than the word consciousness. Here is a dictionary definition, taken more or less at random from the Internet (

  • the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.
  • the thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual or of an aggregate of people: the moral consciousness of a nation.
  • full activity of the mind and senses, as in waking life: to regain consciousness after fainting.
  • awareness of something for what it is; internal knowledge: consciousness of wrongdoing.
  • concern, interest, or acute awareness: class consciousness.
  • the mental activity of which a person is aware as contrasted with unconscious mental processes.
  • Philosophy. the mind or the mental faculties as characterized by thought, feelings, and volition.

Although the writer of that definition doesn't explicitly say so, there is an underlying assumption that the word refers to the mental states of a human individual or a group of them, and at least in its first line, the definition comes close to equating consciousness to self-consciousness. The definition also introduces the word 'awareness', to which one may add the word 'attention', both being closely related to but not identical with consciousness.

The belief of some evolutionary biologists that consciousness evolved along with human society (along with groupishness, if you like), doesn't sound particularly convincing unless heavily qualified. Most people would perhaps think that when a dog puts his head on one side and looks at you, deciding whether to bark or not, then he is going through some decision process which probably has some conscious element. It's true that a dog is a social animal, not only living in groups in the wild, but also with social awareness of human behaviour. But if the dog is conscious, then consciousness arose at a much earlier stage of evolution than the human kin-group, unless you want to believe that doggy consciousness was bred into them by humans. In fact, scientific consciousness studies have generally allowed that animals possess a degree of consciousness, although only higher primates are conventionally permitted to have self-consciousness.

This book contests that scheme of things to a certain extent, but right now the only concern is to deal with the very wide range of meanings that can be attributed to the C-word.

Addressing the terminology problem, different writers have adopted a menagerie of nomenclatures. Here are a few of them:

  • Edelman, in his Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, distinguishes between primary consciousness, higher order consciousness, and self-awareness. Roughly speaking (but see Chapter Two for a more detailed account of TNGS), primary consciousness amounts to an ability on the part of the brain to respond in an integrated and dynamic fashion to a range of neural processes, but is pre-linguistic and also well before the development of semantic or syntactical abilities, while higher-order consciousness and self-awareness require the latter two steps, although not language as such. Edelman highlights conceptual ability as a key component of primary consciousness, and therefore admits apes, dogs and perhaps all mammals to the ranks of primary consciousness holders, but is not sure about birds. On his view, only (perhaps) chimpanzees and of course humans have higher order consciousness and self consciousness, which evidently requires a self to be conscious of.
  • Block (The Nature of Consciousness) distinguishes two types of consciousness, P-Consciousness and A-Consciousness, alongside self-consciousness and 'monitoring consciousness'. P – (or Phenomenal) Consciousness is experiential, based largely on qualia; but Block also includes thoughts, wants and emotions. A – (or Access) Consciousness is 'poised for free use in reasoning and for direct, "rational" control of action and speech'. Self-consciousness is just about what it says it is, while monitoring consciousness is separate from experiental states (other perhaps than experience of one's own current state) and sounds quite like a homunculus.
  • Baars (In the Theater of Consciousness) takes wakefulness to be a key component of consciousness, and ascribes it to reptiles, while believing that all mammals share intentional consciousness with humans, and gets close to saying that mammmals have subjective (ie self-) consciousness as well, although obviously only humans can report their consciousness through language.
  • Damasio (The Feeling of What Happens) distinguishes core consciousness from extended consciousness. There are some similarities with Edelman's primary consciousness and higher-order consciousness, but it may be fair to say that for Damasio the difference is more in terms of quantity, whereas for Edelman there is a difference in kind. Damasio's core consciousness leads to an autobiographical self, which can probably be equated to an early stage of Edelman's higher order consciousness. Damasio ventures that many dogs have autobiographical selves. Damasio also introduces the idea of the proto-self and the core-self. His description of the proto-self is not that far from Edelman's primary consciousness, while the core self is mid-way between Edelman's two stages of consciousness.
  • James (The Principles of Psychology) distinguishes consciousness from self-consciousness, but uses no other word than consciousness to describe the state of awareness of creatures of their environment, even when discussing quite lowly organisms.
  • Chalmers (The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory), noting like so many other writers the ambiguity of the word 'consciousness', suggests reserving the term for the phenomena of experience (similar to Block's P-Consciousness, perhaps), and the word 'awareness' for other cognitive activities surrounding consciousness. He also notes, after Nagel, that 'an organism is conscious if there is there is something it is like to be that organism', which comes close to saying that the C-word should be limited to self-consciousness.
  • Jaynes (The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind) gets closer than just about anyone to restricting the use of the word consciousness to self-consciousness in modern humans, but offers no portmanteau words to describe its forerunners.

It may be the case that trained researchers, whether they be anthropologists, neurologists or cognitive scientists, are sufficiently aware of the ambiguity of the C-word to qualify their use of it appropriately, and to understand the senses in which their peers use it, but the same cannot be said of the general reader. We are all brought up to think that consciousness is the crowning glory of human sentience, and it is impossible for us to understand what it is like to be a bat, a dog or a cuttle-fish (one of James's examples). The use of the word 'consciousness' in connection with the mental state of a cuttle-fish – and it does have one – is simply unhelpful.

It's one thing to perceive the problem, quite another to resolve it. There is no chance of finding a solution which will be adopted in the language, so all one can do is to adopt a particular use of words in writing about mental phenomena which will be clear – unambiguous – for readers.

It is the purpose of this book to describe consciousness as essentially a social phenomenon. As described in the text, the cognitive activity which supports the social self is much more extensive than is implied by the hackneyed term 'self-consciousness', so this books makes use of the term 'self-awareness', to allow a broader meaning. By more or less common consent, self-awareness is restricted to humans, higher primates, and possibly some birds. Before self-awareness came a more limited set of cognitive social skills, possessed by all mammals, and arguably, to a degree, by reptiles and even amphibians, which are called social awareness.

Self-awareness is not the final stage that humans have reached; we are also capable of higher-order reflection on our mental states, which has been given the high-flown term 'meta-cognition'. 'Introspective consciousness' might have been an alternative; but there is controversy over whether introspection is possible other than in a trivial sense, and an emerging preference for 'mind-reading' instead, which can apply to other people as much as to oneself. So meta-cognition it is, although the term 'introspective consciousness' is sometimes used in the text.

It is less easy to deal with primary or core consciousness (Edelman and Damasio), which are paradoxically unconscious. Any new term sounds contrived or awkward; but better contrived than ambiguous. The ugly terms 'categorizing responsiveness' and 'social responsiveness' used, the first indicating that an organism can categorize its exteroceptive and homeostatic inputs, has memory of these categories, and can respond to external stimuli in a way that combines remembered categories with affective (hedonic) states, and the second indicating that the organism has short-term memory, an unconscious and unreportable autobiographical self, and can moderate its actions according to an integrated (but unconscious) set of global mappings and concepts (Edelman). This term may have application to fishes, birds and amphibians.

For the next stage below 'categorizing responsiveness', the term 'somatic responsiveness' is used, indicating that an organism is able to assemble an integrated or partially integrated representation of its bodily state from moment to moment and behave appropriately in response to external and internal stimuli. This term may have application to such animals as worms, crustaceae, and insects.

Table One below sums up the equivalences between the scheme adopted in this book and the schemes of Edelman and Damasio.


Degrees Of Consciousness
Somatic responsiveness
Primary consciousness
Categorizing responsiveness
Core consciousness
Social responsiveness
Higher consciousness
Social awareness
Extended consciousness


Baars, B J (1997) In the Theater of Consciousness; The Workspace of the Mind, Oxford University Press

Block, N (1997) The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates, ed. Block, N, Flanagan, O and Guzeldere, G, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Chalmers, D J (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford University Press

Damasio, A, (1999) The Feeling of What Happens, Harcourt Inc, New York

Edelman, G M, 1989, Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, Basic Books, Inc, New York

Edelman, G M, 1989, The Remembered Present, Basic Books, Inc, New Yor

James, W (1890) The Principles of Psychology, Volumes I and II, Holt & MacMillan, London, New York

Jaynes, J (1990) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Houghton Mifflin, New York

Nagel, T (1974) What Is It Like To Be A Bat? Philosophical Review 83, pp 4350-450



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