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At its most basic level, consciousness is sentience, or the knowledge of one's own internal and external existence. Mind, despite millennia of philosophical and scientific studies, definitions, explanations, and discussion, awareness remains a mystery and a source of contention, being "at once the most familiar and [yet] the most enigmatic part of our life." One of the most frequently held beliefs on the subject is that awareness exists, which is perhaps the only universally held belief on the subject. Opinions disagree on what precisely needs to be investigated and described as consciousness, and what specifically should be examined and explained as consciousness. Sometimes it is used as a synonym for the mind, and other times it is used to describe some feature of the mind. Prior to the Internet, it was one's "inner life," the domain of introspection, private thinking and imagination, as well as free will. Nowadays, it is often used to refer to any kind of cognition, experience, sensation, or perception. It might be consciousness, awareness of awareness, or self-awareness, and it can be evolving all the time or it can be static. It's possible that there are many levels or orders of consciousness, or distinct forms of consciousness, or that there is just one sort with a variety of characteristics. Other concerns include whether only humans are sentient, if all creatures are conscious, and whether the whole cosmos is conscious. The varied spectrum of studies, thoughts, and guesses raises concerns about whether or not the appropriate questions are being posed in the first place.

Simple wakefulness, one's sense of selfhood or soul explored by "looking within," or being a metaphorical "stream" of contents, or being a mental state, mental event, or mental process in the brain; having phanera or qualia but also subjectivity; being'something that this is like' to 'have' or 'be' it; being the "inner theatre" or even the executive control system of the mind are examples of what can be described, defined, and explained.