A somewhat old Discover Magazine interview with Gerald Edelman-
Before talking about how this relates to consciousness, I’d like to know how you define consciousness. It’s hard to get scientists even to agree on what it is.
William James, the great psychologist and philosopher, said consciousness has the following properties: It is a process, and it involves awareness. It’s what you lose when you fall into a deep, dreamless slumber and what you regain when you wake up. It is continuous and changing. Finally, consciousness is modulated or modified by attention, so it’s not exhaustive. Some people argue about qualia, which is a term referring to the qualitative feel of consciousness. What is it like to be a bat? Or what is it like to be you or me? That’s the problem that people have argued about endlessly, because they say, “How can it be that you can get that process—the feeling of being yourself experiencing the world—from a set of squishy neurons?”
How does this primary consciousness contrast with the self-consciousness that seems to define people?
Humans are conscious of being conscious, and our memories, strung together into past and future narratives, use semantics and syntax, a true language. We are the only species with true language, and we have this higher-order consciousness in its greatest form. If you kick a dog, the next time he sees you he may bite you or run away, but he doesn’t sit around in the interim plotting to remove your appendage, does he? He can have long-term memory, and he can remember you and run away, but in the interim he’s not figuring out, “How do I get Kruglinski?” because he does not have the tokens of language that would allow him narrative possibility. He does not have consciousness of consciousness like you.