A resource for those new to the study of consciousness

What is Consciousness?

The editors of Awake & Alive Mind define consciousness as the subjective experience of being alive and leave the details to our writers. There is no concise, consistent definition of consciousness that is accepted by all in the field, as there are many aspects of consciousness to be considered.


Below are frequently referenced philosophical essays on consciousness. Philosophers have contributed greatly to the field by identifying questions that must be answered if we are to understand consciousness.

  • David Chalmers described the hard problem: what is the character of subjective experience, and why do we have subjective experience at all? “The Conscious Mind: In search of a fundamental theory,” (1996). (pdf)
  • Joseph Levine described an “explanatory gap” between the physical brain and subjective experiences. “Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap” (1983). (pdf)
  • Thomas Nagel introduced the idea of the subjective character of experience, saying that for any conscious being there is something it is like to be that being. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974) (pdf)

Theories of Consciousness

Below are four major theories of consciousness currently being evaluated.

Global Workspace Theory (GWT)
Consciousness occurs at an integrative hub of sensory inputs within the brain. This hub, or workspace, selects what sensory information to prioritize.

  • Global Workspace Dynamics: Cortical “binding and propagation” enables conscious contents. Baars et al., 2013. (pdf)
  • Experimental and Theoretical Approaches to Conscious Processing. Dehaene and Changeux, 2011. (pdf)
  • Consciousness and the Brain: Desciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. Dehaene, 2014. (goodreads)

Integrated Information Theory (IIT)
Consciousness occurs when specialized neural networks are both interconnected and have feedback loops, such that the network can produce causal effects on itself.

  • An Information Integration Theory of Consciousness. Tononi, 2004. (pdf)
  • From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0. Oizumi et al., 2014. (pdf)
  • Consciousness: Here, There, and Everywhere? Tononi and Koch, 2015. (pdf)
  • Sizing Up Consciousness. Massimini and Tononi, 2018. (goodreads)
  • The New Science of Consciousness. Nunez, 2016. (goodreads)

First Order Theory
Consciousness occurs when the brain is processing sensory inputs and is intrinsic to sensory perception.

  • General and specific consciousness: A first-order representationalist approach. Mehta and Mashour, 2013. (pdf)
  • Consciousness, color, and content. Tye, 2000. (link to MIT Press)

Higher Order Theory
Consciousness occurs when higher-level cognitive processes act upon sensory perceptions.

Mechanisms of Consciousness

Below are some interesting ideas on the mechanisms of consciousness that may fit within the theoretical frameworks being developed or inform new directions.

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