Consciousness refers to awareness of our own mental processes (or of the products of such processes). This awareness can be made manifest by introspective reports, in which an individual provides information about his or her mental experience.
There has been a considerable amount of controversy over the centuries concerning the value of psychology of assessing the contents of consciousness by means of introspective evidence. Aristotle claimed that the only way to study thinking was by introspection. Others, such as Galton (1883), argued that the position of consciousness "appears to be a helpless spectator of but a minute fraction of automatic brain work. Behaviorists tend to agree with Galton that psychologists should not concern themselves with consciousness and introspection.
There are certain cognitivists who would disagree with these definitions. Marvin Minsky (1985), maintains that human consciousness can never represent what is occurring at the present moment, but only a little of the recent past. This is due both because agencies have limited capacity to represent what happened recently and partly because it take time for agencies to communicate with one another. Consciousness is difficult to describe because each time we attempt to examine temporary memories, we distort the very record we are trying to interpret.
- Eysenck, M.W. (Ed.). (1990). Blackwell Dictionary of Cognitive Psychology . Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
- Galton, F. (1883). Inquiries into human faculty and its development. London: Macmillan.
- Minsky, M. (1985). The society of mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.