Consciousness is a characteristic of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment. It is a subject of much research in philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science.
Some philosophers divide consciousness into phenomenal consciousness, which is subjective experience itself, and access consciousness, which refers to the global availability of information to processing systems in the brain. Phenomenal consciousness is a state with qualia. Phenomenal consciousness is being something and access consciousness is being conscious of something.
An understanding of necessary preconditions for consciousness in the human brain may allow us to address important ethical questions. For instance, how is the presence of consciousness to be assessed in severely ill or disabled individuals? To what extent are non-human animals conscious? At what point in fetal development does consciousness begin? Can machines achieve conscious states? Are today's autonome and intelligent machines already conscious? These issues are of great interest to those concerned with the ethical treatment of other beings, be they animals, fetuses, or, in the future, machines.
In common parlance, consciousness denotes being awake and responsive to one's environment; this contrasts with being asleep or being in a coma.
Editor's note: see full article on "higher consciousness" 
stub: Higher consciousness, also called super consciousness (Yoga), Buddhic consciousness (Theosophy), cosmic consciousness and God-consciousness (Sufism and Hinduism)--to name but a few--are expressions used in various spiritual traditions to denote the consciousness of a human being who has reached a higher level of evolutionary development and who has come to know reality as it is. Evolution in this sense is not that which occurs by natural selection over generations of human reproduction but evolution brought about by the application of spiritual knowledge to the conduct of human life. Through the application of such knowledge (traditionally the preserve of the world's great religions) to practical self-management, the awakening and development of faculties dormant in the ordinary human being is achieved. These faculties are aroused by and developed in conjunction with certain dispositions of character such as patience, kindness, truthfulness, humility and forgiveness towards one's fellow man – qualities without which higher consciousness is not possible.