Awareness, Consciousness, and Conscience
What is the difference between awareness, consciousness and conscience?
I have been wondering about this for quite a while and the answers I got from the literature I was reading was not satisfactory to me. It dealt too much with physical aspects of how our brain functions and presented research on how the brain functions when parts of it are surgically removed etc….
Let me approach it with my PAEI model.
To be aware, you do not need to process information by the mind. You are aware for instance that you are cold or hungry or that you need to go to the bathroom.
The reaction to awareness is usually programmed: get a sweater, eat, or go to the bathroom as the awareness dictates.
There are no feelings associated with the activity of being aware or of reacting to it.
I would call this the (PA) level of relating to stimulus. (P) Because it is reactive and (A) because the reaction is usually “programmed”, predictable. You do not think what to do. You just do it.
Consciousness is more than awareness. To me it is the understanding of the repercussions to how you react or not react to what you are aware of.
For instance, if you do not eat when you are hungry, you might have hunger pains. Or if you do not go to the bathroom to relieve yourself when you are aware of the need to release, that you will be in pain.
In managerial terms now: you are aware of being short of cash, you are conscious that if you do not get the cash you need, you might go bankrupt.
Personal life example: you are travelling too much for work. You are aware of that fact. Are you conscious that it is destroying your marriage?
One can be unaware. These are the alcoholics who are in denial: “No, I do not drink too much at all”.
One can be aware but not conscious, the drug addict who tells you: “Oh, this drug is not so dangerous. It just got a bad rap!”
Being unconscious is another type of denial but of a higher level.
Animals are aware. When they get hungry they go and search for food. Awareness is reactive.
To be conscious one needs to be proactive. To be proactive one needs to be creative, to imagine what will happen unless one acts now.
Thus, I would attribute consciousness to the (E) role of relating to stimuli.
Some animals are proactive; they build their nests as they expect to reproduce. The beavers build structures and the ants anthills. They are more than aware. They are conscious. (I am aware that the above paragraph is making some scientists who study consciousness squirm but by the same token what they define as consciousness based on their exclusive limiting research of physiological phenomena makes me squirm.)
Now what is conscience?
Aha. This is now a new level of relating to stimuli.
It is not just to be aware of what is happening, nor just realizing the repercussions of your actions or non-actions. It is the feeling one has of whether what you are going to do or what you already did by being conscious or aware of, is it right or is it wrong. Right and wrong not from a cost value logical deliberation. It has to do with values. Not with logic.
Having conscience means having values. Feeling guilty. Having remorse. Or feeling complete, at peace with oneself for doing or not doing something. That is level (I) of how we relate to stimuli.
And that is what differentiates us humans from animals.
Vegetables are aware. Some animals are conscious but only we humans are aware and conscious and have conscience.
Pet dogs that live long enough with their masters behave as if they have conscience. When doing something that is forbidden they hide or put their tails between their legs, lower their head as if asking forgiveness.
I suggest to you that it is not conscience. It is consciousness.
From experience they have learned what is a no-no and now that they have done it, they are afraid of the repercussions. Thus the behavior I described above.
Conscience is not learned. It is not based on experience. Good or bad. It is imbedded in our psyche. We are born with it.
At a party, I was dancing with a married lady. Her son and husband were there too. We danced a bit too close and were jokingly fooling around as if we are in love. Her son, without any prodding from his father or anyone else, came to us and tried to separate us. He was four years old. He behaved as if he knew which behavior is right and which behavior is wrong.
Research shows, and again I am sloppy with keeping track of references, that babies know right from wrong from a very, very early age.
It is not based on experience. It is like “an embedded chip in the sw (software)” that guides our behavior.
From where does it come?
Is it some embedded experience from the past, embedded in our genes?
What is it?
I believe it has to do with a higher conscience: God. To me God is the absolute conscience. And since we are made in His image, we carry this connection about what is right and what is wrong when we are conceived, not just born.
Here is a catch though.
Every one of us has a bit of the saint and a bit of the devil in us. As if both the devil and God have created us. Thus, what is right and what is wrong depends who is running “our software”.
Take killing of a human being. The God in you will feel guilty if you killed someone. Thus, people confess. Cannot keep the secret too long. They have remorse.
But if you are killing the enemy in time of war, you might feel remorse and feel guilty if you spared the life of the enemy. You need to kill him. That is the devil in action now.
I suggest to you that when God drives your conscience, it comes from the heart. When the devil drives your conscience, like telling you to kill the enemy, it comes from your mind: You tell yourself that you should kill. You should do this or that. You close your heart in order to allow your mind to lead you.
How human we are depends on how much conscience we have and if it comes from an open heart or from a trained mind.
The more open is our heart, the stronger is our conscience, and the more human we are.
(I assume this approach can be an interesting way to classify how human we are.)
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes