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Consciousness refers to the relationship between the mind and physical world. It is a complex system that includes memory, cognition, input from senses, and an awareness of selfhood. It is essentially the cognition of one's self, one's past, and one's potential futures at any given moment. The term "self-conscious" is often used to refer to acute self-awareness which results in feeling of unease in social settings and the fear of possible embarrassment.
We do not know why or even when consciousness evolved - that is, when living beings in the sequence you - your mother - your mother's mother - ... acquired first-person perspective. Most people intuit that on the one end of scale, (born) humans are conscious, and on the other, plants, jellyfish, starfish, or say a human hand is not; it is not known yet what to say on insects or fish fry, to name a few examples. This circumstance is of course a breeding ground for radicals of all sorts (and that's not even counting religious and New Age ideas) - from people who want bugs to have rights to total skeptics of animal consciousness. The former would imply that getting rid of louses is a murder, and the latter would imply that chimpanzees are like eternal sleepwalkers on autopilot and can be slaughetered with a chainsaw without feeling anything. And needless to say, the question of fetal (un)consciousness generates a shitstorm of its own as well.
 Scientific understanding
Despite consciousness being the central way in which human beings experience the universe, there are still many mysteries surrounding it. David Chalmers, Australian philosopher and professor, believes that while there are many "easy" issues about consciousness that can be addressed (how the brain stores memories, how attention works, how we organize ourselves, etc.), there is a difficulty in describing in a physical system what it is like to experience something such as a sight, texture, or even a feeling. This problem, that we don't fully understand how a physical system gives rise to consciousness, has led to interesting propositions such as "it may be possible that even rocks are conscious."[Who?] This problem of how the physical neurobiology of the brain and various mental mechanisms gives rise to a seemingly unified consciousness is known as the "binding problem" or "hard problem of consciousness."
Science has attempted to discover if animals have consciousness, but without a language, and being able to posit questions "do you see yourself as an agent or merely an inevitable actor?" few scientists are willing to make claims one way or the other. Species more likely than others to have consciousness include the apes, whales/dolphins, some birds, and elephants. Many philosophers, notably Descartes, insisted that humans are different from animals. However this attitude has largely changed in the scientific community, and the question has shifted more to "how much consciousness do different species exhibit".
 Philosophical understanding
Philosophers have looked at consciousness in quite different terms, identifying it less with some biological process that all biologically modern humans possess, but rather with the quest to identify the 'self' in philosophical terms. One argument postulated by philosophers in the 70s, says that consciousness may have been different during the Homeric era from what it is today, since there are no writings of people talking about themselves as "unified internal subjects". In fact, philosophers such as Descartes and Locke were the first to really describe consciousness as we understand the concept today.
Philosophy, unlike science, allows for meta-consciousness—meaning "awareness of consciousness" or even "awareness of awareness." The American psychologist Julian Jaynes, in his seminal 1976 work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, argued that early humans were not conscious, and consciousness evolved as recently as 3,000 years ago. Some critics of the book argued that what evolved was not consciousness itself but that literally mind-bending concept of meta-consciousness.
 See also
- ↑ Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness
- ↑ Hard Problem of Consciousness, Scholarpedia
- ↑ Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Consciousness
- ↑ 
- ↑ Jaynes, Julian (2000) . The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-05707-2. http://s-f-walker.org.uk/pubsebooks/pdfs/Julian_Jaynes_The_Origin_of_Consciousness.pdf.