If you ask philosophers what consciousness is they can go on for hours. Really though consciousness is quite simple. Consciousness is merely the ability of an entity to distinguish itself from its environment. In other words, consciousness is simply awareness. The more advanced the organism the more advanced the level of consciousness. Like life, consciousness cannot magically arise from nothing. Most scientists would laugh if you said simple life like bacteria were aware. But they are. If bacteria and other simple life forms were not aware they would not be able to feed as they could not distinguish themselves from food.
Maybe consciousness is not as magical as we tend to think it is. All we as humans do is receive sensory input, process it and display specific adaptive responses. If humans have consciousness but our bacterial-like ancestors did not, that means consciousness magically arose out of thin air at a certain point in the evolutionary process. As physics tells us we are just massively complex systems of pure energy. Matter is just energy bound into systems. So unless you invoke some kind of magic this energy must have a conscious-like property. Energy must be aware in a sense because awareness cannot just magically arise at a certain point of organizational complexity. The Universe then is conscious.
Responding to environmental and internal cues is sensing. In order to sense that something is external to yourself or internal to yourself you need to be self-aware. Self-awareness is consciousness. Cells can sense yet they have nothing we’d call sense organs. Cells are just made of proteins. How can proteins sense? Proteins are molecules and molecules are made of atoms. Cells then are just a mass of atoms bound up by natural forces into a complex system. Properties cannot magically arise out of thin air. Either they need to be inherent in the building blocks of the system or the property is in fact an illusion resulting from our own perceptual limitations. So can atoms sense and be conscious or is sensing and consciousness an illusion? Either way the undeniable conclusion is that the building blocks of everything can sense and is conscious.
Conscious energy is energy that is aware of its self. It is self aware. When this energy is bound up into a complex system or pattern in which different parts of the system communicate amongst themselves that energy is now aware of itself within a system. There is no magical emergence taking place here. The capacity for self awareness is a property of this energy. Provided it is getting information about the system, the energy is aware of the system it is part of. When the system is broken down the energy is no longer aware of the old system because it no longer exists. Nothing tangible is destroyed a pattern is merely rearranged. Awareness is a property of the energy not the system. We as humans are actually not aware, it is the energy we are made of that is aware of our human system.
Consciousness then is self-awareness or awareness of systemness. The system is aware that it is a system. It is so aware because of information processing. External information affects the system. Internal information regulates the system. There are some interesting considerations to make. Now the odd thing is that energy, the primary stuff, is simply the capacity to do work. It doesn’t really make sense to say that “the capacity to do work” is conscious. Energy would not seem to be a system but more like thought. It would seem that energy itself is actually directed consciousness. Life, consciousness and self-awareness are all one and the same.