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Soubresaut's avatar

Are there different levels of consciousness?

Asked by Soubresaut (12802points) March 13th, 2010

I know there are different states—asleep, awake, meditative, drug-induced, etc. But what I’m wondering is if there are different degrees to which you can be in any of those states? (Mainly in being awake… I hardly take medication, and I’m not concerned about when I meditate or sleep)

And this may be a way dumb question. But I’m wondering because I’ve worried some people around me. According to them, it’s like I’m different people at different times… but I’m not totally aware of it, if at all. Sometimes I don’t feel any different, but I act completely different. I’ll go from talkative and energetic and expressive to blank-faced, “empty-eyed” and near silent. They’ve told me. They’ve asked me about it. And when they point it out, I notice the difference in feeling inside, and it kinda scares me a bit… But I don’t know what to do about it. They’ve told me it’s not normal. “It’s not normal to be completely different people”...

One time I was driving and barely aware that I was doing so, I guess, I don’t know… I remember trying find space to move to the lane on my right. Then suddenly I heard a horn from somewhere, and the person in my passenger seat shouting out my name… I had completely gone into the lane on my left without realizing. And it was only after that shook me up that I was aware at how hard it was to focus on anything, or take anything in.

I guess it’s that I feel like sometimes I’m more conscious than other times? Sometimes everything in life is sharp and clear and bright, sometimes it’s fuzzy and confusing and distant. But I’m not usually aware that I’m feeling so different until someone points it out… Is that normal? Or are the people right, that it’s not?

I’m asking because I know I have a tendency to make more out of things than is really there. Am I doing this here, worrying about nothing? Or should personality, or whatever it is, not vary that much?

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30 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

I think there are different levels of attention in the different states you mentioned. I don’t know if there are such things as “levels” of consciousness. Consciousness is rather a binary state, don’t you think?

phil196662's avatar

Think of yourself like a computer with all the things going on in the background while the foreground things run ok. Then you open something and other things like a page load runs slower- because of resources.

Too many things on your plate and not enough me time! Get your sleep, write stuff down to clear your head, you only have soo much processing power to perhaps managing it better so it doesn’t happen again.

lillycoyote's avatar

No one really understands the nature of consciousness anyway, not yet, so I’m not sure anyone, even the people who are experts in the field, could provide you with a definitive answer. I suspect that consciousness is a very complex phenomenon that we are only beginning to understand.

Your_Majesty's avatar

One’s behavior can change when bad thing happens in one’s life. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of health either. When we eat less nutritious food(less than we required) from time to time our body will get weaker and lost some of its respond changes. Find more constructive activities to help you to built your personality.

dpworkin's avatar

But @lillycoyote you don’t agree that one is either conscious or not conscious? There may be different types or states, but isn’t consciousness bipolar like pregnancy or your bedroom lamp?

drhat77's avatar

Medically there are a few things that could cause this, from ADHD to partial seizures. Talk to your doctor about it to be on the safe side (especially if it occurs while driving)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@dpworkin Have you ever been in the place between waking and sleep, where you know you are in bed trying to sleep, but then wake yourself when you kick an imaginary football? Would you call this conscious action or unconscious?

iam2smart99037's avatar

I think Phil had the best explanation in terms of your mind, while being “conscious”, only has finite resources, and when you are deep in thought, you might be out of touch with your physical self/surroundings. I get “lost in thought” all the time :) ...just be careful when you’re driving.

dpworkin's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Good question. It is a state of being conscious, I think, because without consciousness there would be no awareness of the kick, the ball or the imagination. Sleeping would be a state of consciousness, too. A profound coma may not be conscious, but I’m not sure we know. Death is a state of not being conscious.

gasman's avatar

I don’t agree that consciousness is dichotomous—either present or not. Medically consciousness measures brain function in response to stimuli. This falls on a scale starting with alert & drowsy at one end, ending with stupor, coma & death at the other. Drugs or alcohol, for instance, affect one’s level of consciousness.

There are semi-quantitative measures, such as the Glasgow Scale, that assign specific numbers to levels of consciousness, as determined by multiple factors.

escapedone7's avatar

Do you believe this could be a form of dissociation?

I only mention it because I do dissociate a lot. I don’t have multiple personality disorder but my therapist says sometimes I enter a dissociative state when we are going over traumatic memories in therapy. (I have PTSD.) I am not a doctor, just a sufferer . Read about it and if it seems close to what is happening, ask a professional who would know.

Read a little more about it here

thriftymaid's avatar

There are many more levels of consciousness than what you mention. People fluctuate within them throughout their lives.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@dpworkin What about hypnotised subjects? They say that hypnotism is bringing subconscious strands of thought into the foreground, but the conscious mind is not disabled. Are they conscious or not?

dpworkin's avatar

I think our problem here is of of definition. Perhaps I have taken too narrow a view of what “consciousness” means. @gasman seems to have a technical analysis that shows I am wrong at least in respect to the medical use of the word. I’ll have to think of another word to express what I mean.

babaji's avatar

seems like your awareness might not be focused at these times and, you go into a relaxed, laid back, and really not focusing on anything state of mind. Maybe a little form of escapism that you slip into.
a lot of could be this, could be that….
Could be your body influencing your behavior, could be you are reaching out in your experiencing of consciousness, could be drug interactions making you lose focus, maybe you are just plain tired and need a vacation or a break from what you do, or maybe just losing enjoyment of whatever you are doing.
Certainly there are different levels of consciousness, but usually with heightened awareness and greater focus at the higher levels.
Could be your diet…., or lost your zest for life, could be anxieties or mental conditions,
could be too much medical cannabis…lol
there are Chinese tonic herbs that are good for mental clarity and focus.
Astragulus is good for chi (energy) Herbs like Gingko Baloba (spelling) are good
for mental faculties.

Buttonstc's avatar


The experience while driving would be concerning enough to me to prompt a visit to a Neurologist.

There are different states of consciousness. Some people experience what’s called a “Fugue State” often brought on by trauma or great stress.

Years ago some friends of mine were having a great deal of difficulty with their 19 yr old son going into violent rage states.

It became so bad at one point that the police took him in cuffs to the State Mental Hospital.

That sounds kind of grim and hopeless, but there was a really sharp shrink there who ordered a whole battery of diagnostic tests. It took a few months, but he finally diagnosed a very rare form of epilepsy. The violent rages were a form of seizure of which Toby had no memory afterward.

The got him stabilized on Dilantin. It wrecked his gums and teeth, but leveled out the seizures.

I thought it was interesting that he had no memory of the outbursts but he was obviously conscious in that he was certainly not asleep or passed out.

I was also thinking of hypnosis as another example as people have described it as a heightened state of consciousness.

But the driving situation you experienced sounds really dangerous. You need to get that diagnosed. I’m wondering if that could also be a temporary type of atypical seizure. Definitely describe that to a Neurologist and get it diagnosed properly. It sounds like more than simple distractedness.

Had it not been for your friend being there, it could have caused a horrendous accident.

Please take it as a serious warning and get to a medical professional.

gasman's avatar

Do you mean self-awareness? The quality of being that gives meaning to our use of the pronoun “I” ?

I think we would all agree that humans are self-aware and bacteria are not, nor are probably most living things with the possible exception of some animals like chimps & gorillas, whales & dolphins, and elephants. Despite complex communication, however, none uses anything approaching human language or symbol manipulation.

I read last year of experiments showing that an elephant recognize its reflection in a mirror as itself and not another elephant. Is that self-awareness? It’s still probably a long way from sense of self, “I”, or (pardon my Freud) ego.

Self-awareness is a deep scientific mystery touching on quantum mechanics, information theory, chaos theory, and even mathematical logic. Nobody truly understands it.

dpworkin's avatar

@gasman You may wish to read Gallup(1970).

hudsong's avatar

When the mind is in a form of most primitive cognition, popularly referred to as ‘flight or fight mode’, the memory parts of the brain are effectively shut down, as is the cortex, and the thought processes occur deep in the brainstem. This might be why he has no recollection of the events.
I agree,with your recommendation, it sounds to me like some sort of mild form of epilepsy. You should definitely get it checked out if symptoms persist or get worse. Also, I highly recommend basic stabilizing meditation (google it) for realizing and understanding your thoughts. Being heavily introspective and engaging in metacognition is helpful as well. Good luck!

hudsong's avatar

Self awareness is the simple act of our own thoughts and everyone around us designating us as an “I”. However if examined, this “I” is dependent only on what we think and what others say. There is no solid, quantifiable “I” if searched for. If you want to learn more about it, pick up a book on Buddhism and contemplation of the self.

joscketSeper's avatar

yes there are. Just look at the differnet levels of sleep. Deep sleep REM is much different than when you start sleeping

Coloma's avatar

Think of it this way….when you become ‘aware’ of the awareness that it the ‘real’ you! Able to watch your thoughts and realize YOU are the watcher, not the thought, YOU are pure awareness!

Pandora's avatar

I’m not sure it would be considered different levels of conciousness but rather your minds reaction to confusion caused by not being able to access different parts of your brain. Kind of like struggling out of a nightmare only sometimes you may wake up and not remember it all. Your not really asleep your just kind of cut off for the moment.
I’ll give you an example. The first siezure I had I only remember walking down a ski hill to catch the bus. Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital and then its cut off again and I’m back in my room.
I was walking with a friend and she said we conversed all the way down the hill and then dropped and just went unconcious. Next I wake up in the medical hut and even talk to my mom and curse everyone out (not my normal behavior). Then I woke in the hospital and said I was fine and remained awake till I got to hotel and took a nap. I didn’t remember any of the times between waking up except the hospital and waking from my nap.
Another time I was headed home in a train station. I went through the turn station and suddenly my body wouldn’t move but my mind thought I was spinning. Next I wake up on the other side. The cop at the station said I walked back out and just fell and had a seizure. I remember him asking me for my home phone but I couldn’t remember. I then remember telling him I’m fine and left the station. Next thing I blocks away and I was just walking down the street. I had to ask someone where I was and where was the nearest train station. I then walked back and went home. I think all those times I was concious only I could not access my memory and simply carried on till I could. Even when I took the train back I just road it till a station name felt familiar and then my memory slowly returned. I still couldn’t remember my phone number but was able to remember how to get home.
I think sometimes when the brain gets confused it struggles to regain your memory and in doing so you may not act your usual self. The way we act when we are injured for example.

Bugabear's avatar

Conscious and Unconscious.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Consciousness as you use the term is not easily operationally defined.

You make want to look at studies where EEG measurements in various physiological states and while engaging in different activities have been done.

If you have concerns about your ability to drive because you experience what you believe are unusual levels of alertness and awareness, you should arrange to be assessed by a neuropsychologist and/or a neurologist.

CMaz's avatar

Yes, there are two. conscious and un-conscious.

Coherence is another story.

Ria777's avatar

@Bugabear, @ChazMaz: such erudition! I feel fairly faint from information overload.

talljasperman's avatar

Kung-Fu the legend continues talked about different “named” levels of consciousness. Like the episode where a meditation master is kidnapped because they wanted what the master had…

amylalala11's avatar

Try a google search on Spiral Dynamics to see stages of development within consciousness. One “problem” of consciousness is that it is experiential and is quite difficult to describe with the limited use of language.

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