Thinking about consciousness on a Monday night while sitting in bed is more enjoyable than you might think. I’ve read a number of books on the topic and I do recommend Godel, Escher, Bach, How The Mind Works and Other Minds as good places to start.
One of my pet peeves is that none of these books properly consider the societal aspect of consciousness, they mostly consider consciousness as an individual phenomenon. It seems plausible to me that consciousness is a derivative from the social importance of differentiating the self from the group. After all, the species that we consider to be somewhat conscious, dolphins, whales, apes are all social animals
Without a strong conception of self it becomes impossible to keep track of other cooperative or competitive players, remember faces, reciprocate favors and perform all sorts of other critical social functions. While non-social animals may still have consciousness, I have a sense that there is a selective pressure for strong consciousness in highly social animals.
Another curiosity about consciousness is that it’s non-falsifiable. I know that I am conscious, but I cannot know if anyone else is. I am conscious therefore I am. But then, why do we all agree on the consciousness of each other, there cannot be any credible proof! Partly, I think this is what makes the invention of human rights (and animal rights even more so) such a pleasant surprise.
My theory is that consciousness is a social imaginary more so than the characteristic of an individual. We are conscious because we believe in the consciousness of each other, and our behavior towards each other reflects that belief. If dogs can convince all of us that they are indeed conscious, then they would be conscious just as we are. The same argument holds for artificial intelligence as well.
Consciousness is only applied externally from inside. It’s a social imaginary