What is consciousness itself, this field in which the ego is located and where it occupies and defines the center? Most simply, consciousness is awareness. It is the state of being awake, of observing and registering what is going on in the world around and within. Humans are not, of course, the only conscious beings on earth. Other animals are conscious as well, since obviously they can observe and react to their environments in carefully modulated ways. Plants’ sensitivity to their environment can also be taken as a form of consciousness. By itself, consciousness does not set the human species apart from other forms of life. Nor is consciousness something that sets human adults apart from infants and children. In the strictest sense, human consciousness does not depend for its essential quality upon age or psychological development at all. A friend who observed the birth of his daughter told me how moved he was when, after the placenta was removed and her eyes were cleaned, she opened them and looked around the room, taking it in. Obviously this was a sign of consciousness. The eye is an indicator of the presence of consciousness. Its aliveness and movement is the signal that an aware being is observing the world. Consciousness depends not only on sight, of course, but on the other senses as well. In the womb, before the infant’s eyes are functioning to see, it registers sounds, reacts to voices and to music, and indicates a remarkable degree of responsiveness. We do not yet know exactly when the embryo first attains a level of awareness and reactiveness that could definitely be called conscious, but it is early and it is certainly in the prenatal period.
Murray Stein | Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction