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Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of something. In biological psychology, awareness is defined as a human's or an animal's perception and cognitive reaction to a condition or event.
Awareness is a relative concept. An animal may be partially aware, may be subconsciously aware, or may be acutely unaware of an event. Awareness may be focused on an internal state, such as a visceral feeling, or on external events by way of sensory perception. Awareness provides the raw material from which animals develop qualia, or subjective ideas about their experience.
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness. Efforts to describe consciousness in neurological terms have focused on describing networks in the brain that develop awareness of the qualia developed by other networks.
Neural systems that regulate attention serve to attenuate awareness among complex animals whose central and peripheral nervous system provides more information than cognitive areas of the brain can assimilate. Within an attenuated system of awareness, a mind might be aware of much more than is being contemplated in a focused extended consciousness.
Basic awareness of one's internal and external world depends on the brain stem. Bjorn Merker, an independent neuroscientist in Stockholm, Sweden, argues that the brain stem supports an elementary form of conscious thought in infants with hydranencephaly. "Higher" forms of awareness including self-awareness require cortical contributions, but "primary consciousness" or "basic awareness" as an ability to integrate sensations from the environment with one's immediate goals and feelings in order to guide behavior, springs from the brain stem which human beings share with most of the vertebrates. Psychologist Carroll Izard emphasizes that this form of primary consciousness consists of the capacity to generate emotions and an awareness of one's surroundings, but not an ability to talk about what one has experienced. In the same way, people can become conscious of a feeling that they can't label or describe, a phenomenon that's especially common in pre-verbal infants.
Down the brain stem lie interconnected regions that regulate the direction of eye gaze and organize decisions about what to do next, such as reaching for a piece of food or pursuing a potential mate.
Changes in awareness
The ability to consciously detect an image when presented at near-threshold stimulus varies across presentations. One factor is "baseline shifts" due to top down attention that modulates ongoing brain activity in sensory cortex areas that affects the neural processing of subsequent perceptual judgments. Such top down biasing can occur through two distinct processes: an attention driven baseline shift in the alpha waves, and a decision bias reflected in gamma waves.
Living systems view
Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with or without a nervous system.
This theory contributes a perspective that cognition is a process present at organic levels that we don't usually consider to be aware. Given the possible relationship between awareness and cognition, and consciousness, this theory contributes an interesting perspective in the philosophical and scientific dialogue of awareness and living systems theory.
Communications and information systems
Awareness is also a concept used in Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW. Its definition has not yet reached a consensus in the scientific community in this general expression.
The composed term of location awareness still is gaining momentum with the growth of ubiquitous computing. First defined with networked work positions (network location awareness), it has been extended to mobile phones and other mobile communicable entities. The term covers a common interest in whereabouts of remote entities, especially individuals and their cohesion in operation.
The composed term of context awareness is a superset including the concept of location awareness. It extends the awareness to context features of operational target as well as to context or (?) and context of operational area.
Covert awareness is the knowledge of something without knowing it. Some patients with specific brain damage are for example unable to tell if a pencil is horizontal or vertical. They are however able to grab the pencil, using the correct orientation of the hand and wrist. This condition implies that some of the knowledge the mind possesses is delivered through alternate channels than conscious intent.[original research?]
Awareness forms a basic concept of the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy.
In general, "awareness" may also refer to public or common knowledge or understanding about a social, scientific, or political issue, and hence many movements try to foster "awareness" of a given subject, that is, "raising awareness". Examples include AIDS awareness and Multicultural awareness.
Awareness may refer to anesthesia awareness.
- Self-awareness: its nature and development. New York, NY: Guilford Press. 1998. pp. 12–13. ISBN 1-57230-317-4.
- Consciousness in the Raw, Science News Online, September 2007
- Sylvester CM, Shulman GL, Jack AI, Corbetta M (December 2007). "Asymmetry of anticipatory activity in visual cortex predicts the locus of attention and perception". J. Neurosci. 27 (52): 14424–33. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3759-07.2007. PMID 18160650.
- Wyart, V.; Tallon-Baudry, C. (July 2009). "How Ongoing Fluctuations in Human Visual Cortex Predict Perceptual Awareness: Baseline Shift versus Decision Bias". Journal of Neuroscience 29 (27): 8715–8725. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0962-09.2009. PMID 19587278.
- Capra, Fritjof (1996). The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-47676-0.
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- LaBar KS, Disterhoft JF (1998). "Conditioning, awareness, and the hippocampus". Hippocampus 8 (6): 620–6. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-1063(1998)8:6<620::AID-HIPO4>3.0.CO;2-6. PMID 9882019.
- Cornell University: Recent findings in the awareness of brain damaged people.