consciousness

consciousness

[kon-shuhs-nis]
consciousness, in psychology, a term commonly used to indicate a state of awareness of self and environment. In Freudian psychology, conscious behavior largely includes cognitive processes of the ego, such as thinking, perception, and planning, as well as some aspects of the superego, such as moral conscience. Some psychologists deny the distinction between conscious and unconscious behavior; others use the term consciousness to indicate all the activities of an individual that constitute the personality. In recent years, neuropsychologists have begun to investigate the links between consciousness and memory, as well as altered states of consciousness such as the dream state. See also defense mechanism; psychoanalysis.

See D. C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (1991); A. Damasto, The Feeling of What Happens (1999).

Narrative technique in nondramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions—visual, auditory, tactile, associative, and subliminal—that impinge on an individual consciousness. To represent the mind at work, a writer may incorporate snatches of thought and grammatical constructions that do not seem coherent because they are based on the free association of ideas and images. The term was first used by William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890). In the 20th century, writers attempting to capture the total flow of their characters' consciousness commonly used the techniques of interior monologue, which represents a sequence of thought and feeling. Novels in which stream of consciousness plays an important role include James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), and Virginia Woolf's The Waves (1931).

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Quality or state of being aware. As applied to the lower animals, consciousness refers to the capacity for sensation and, usually, simple volition. In higher animals, this capacity may also include thinking and emotion. In human beings, consciousness is understood to include “meta-awareness,” an awareness that one is aware. The term also refers broadly to the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware, as contrasted with unconscious processes. Levels of consciousness (e.g., attention vs. sleep) are correlated with patterns of electrical activity in the brain (brain waves). Seealso philosophy of mind.

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