Life is a busy endeavour, so perhaps it's not surprising that we don't often stop and take the time to think about our own existence. I have had a few moments in my life, however, when I am struck with an incredible sense of self-awareness. The sensation is unlike anything else I've experienced and usually lasts for a minute or two. It comes on without warning and has sometimes been accompanied by a surge of sensation along the nerves in my body, not unlike a tingling sensation down one's spine. What is most notable about it isn't any physically sensation, though. It is the mental realization, or perhaps comprehension, of my conscious existence. It is like the feeling of epiphany, where suddenly one's mind is able to see some truth that it has been unaware of previously. It is like pulling back a veil or curtain and seeing something surprising, amazing.
Now that I have had this experience several times, I am able to bring myself back to this state of mind to a degree simply by thinking on those feelings. In addition to the feelings of epiphany, some of the other under riding feelings this causes are along the lines of "where am I", "how did I get here", "what am I", "what is going on"? Not in the sense of explicit thoughts, but as vague subconscious feelings. While these feelings are notable, they are not as strong or profound as the root sensation of epiphany. In fact, these feelings are perhaps part of the epiphany, or flow from it.
During my university days, I spent some time thinking on this subject and quickly realized that this feeling of epiphany was simply "seeing" my consciousness, being able to focus on it, without being distracted by other things. To use an analogy, consider what happens when you enter a stinky barn. After 30 minutes, you probably don't notice the smell much at all. Your mind has become so accustom to it being there, that it has tuned it out. Likewise, I think we can go through our days without being awestruck by the sensation of consciousness because it is a constant in our lives. It is always there.
Something that I have found surprising is that many people have a hard time relating to my experiences with the epiphany of consciousness. Many people simply don't know what I mean by "the experience of consciousness", and trying to explain myself seems to do little to help.
What is Consciousness
It fascinating to consider what consciousness is. Sure, we know what it feels like, but what is it?
Can the experience of consciousness be explained by physics or a cousin of physics? The issue here is that consciousness seems distinct from the normal dimensions we think of in our universe: The tree dimensions of space, and the "dimension" of time. Comparing consciousness to these dimensions is like comparing apples and oranges. Consciousness doesn't seem to fit. It is novel. It suggests that there is something far more profound about the universe then we've currently been able to sense using our experimental and theoretical results of physics.
How does consciousness relate to the soul? Our spirituality?
Behavior / Information Processing
Interestingly there are strong correlations between consciousness and information processing / behavior. Any robot or computer program that is programmed to be intelligent must decide what sensations it will focus on and what information it will choose to ignore. So consciousness has an information processing element, but that information processing element is orthogonal (at a 90 degree angle to) the experiential element.