Many of the arguments around the nature of consciousness hinge on the problem of trying to define what consciousness is
. The neurological or scientific explanations will attempt to explain consciousness on the basis of various analogies or models. From the viewpoint of many scientists, the very existence of consciousness is an inconvenience and something to be explained away:
"Behaviourism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept. The behaviourist, who has been trained always as an experimentalist, holds, further, that belief in the existence of consciousness goes back to the ancient days of superstition and magic."
[RIGHT]John Watson, 'Behaviourism', 1924
I don't wish to suggest further models or explanations of consciousness. No doubt there is much to be learned from understanding the way the brain works and many important insights to be had from the scientific study of the topic.
But there is a very fundamental point I wish to make in this thread: no matter what model of consciousness you are considering, and whatever you understand the nature of reality is, conscious awareness is always present. It is always a given, always fundamental, the very means by which any discussion can be had or model can be thought of.
You might object that you can imagine a universe without anybody to observe it, and therefore with no conscious awareness - but this 'imagining' is itself an activity of conscious awareness. In fact whatever is going on, or is not going on, conscious awareness is always present. Where it is not present, there is nothing to be said, and no-one to say it.
Now this elementary and very simple fact is at the foundation of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. They are pointing out something very simple, but very important, about the nature of conscious awareness, not on an intellectual level, but from an observation of the nature of existence.
The Advaita teachers will sometimes refer to two sayings in Bible, specifically Christ's saying: "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58) and God speaking to Moses on the mountain: "I Am that I Am" (Exodus 3:14). as statements in the Christian bible that point to the Vedantin understanding of the primacy of conscious awareness. The fact of being comes before everything else.
The Vedanta account of the nature of existence always commence with that which is always present, and to whom everything occurs. This they point to as the Self, Atman.
OK. 'What self', you might ask. 'What is that? Isn't that just the activity of the consciousness that we started off with?'
But the question is not really 'What is that'? It is 'Who am I?', because whoever or whatever it is, is at the very heart of your own existence. It is "that which thinks". And as soon as you begin to think about it, you are already heading in the wrong direction, because Self is never an object. This is the very meaning of 'Advaita': non-dual, not-two, not self-and-other.
To the Advaita sages, we ourselves are at the very source of all being, and yet we continually fail to notice it, because we are bound up, caught up in the drama of our own existence, which we ourselves create, and then fail to remember that we have created. This is the common state of person-kind, generally (but not unkindly) referred to as 'Ignorance' or Avidya (not-seeing). It is the state of 'maya' or illusion which constitutes normality for many of us.
That is all for this post. If there is interest, we will discuss the matter further, and introduce some of the Vedantist sages who have taught this understanding in recent times.