Are we any closer to understanding what consciousness is?

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Credit: Agsandrew

Thinkers have spent an immense amount of time and ink trying to unravel mysteries, such as how consciousness works and where it resides.

The short answer isn’t very satisfying. Scientists and philosophers still can’t agree on a vague idea of what consciousness is, much less a strict definition. One reason for that is that the concept is used to mean slightly different things. Many experts agree, however, that conscious beings are aware of their surroundings, themselves and their own perception.

But the long answer leaves room for hope because researchers seem to be getting closer to an answer.

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“The vast majority [of thinkers] used to think that consciousness is very special,” Susanna Schellenberg, distinguished professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Live Science.

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Schellenberg said she thinks that a lot of animals have consciousness because “anything that feels pain… is conscious,” she said, noting the opinion is controversial.

Similarly, [professor Joseph] LeDoux thinks that avoiding danger is an important function of consciousness and possibly the reason it exists.

“All of our mental states, emotional states, are not inherited from animals. They’re cognitively assembled, based on our knowledge of all we’ve learned about fear and danger through our life,” he said. Human brains organize reams of information into schemas that serve as “the template of your conscious experience,” he said.

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