The wide ranging book by Antonio Damasio takes a shot at explaining the "there, there" of being human --- consciousness.
One of his definition shots is: "Consciousness as we commonly think of it, from it's basic levels to its most complex, is the unified mental pattern that brings together the object and the self".
Another is: "...the presence of you is the feeling of what happens when your being is modified by the act of apprehending something. The presence never quits, from the moment of awakening to the moment sleep begins. The presence must be there or there is no you."
We all pretty much echo SCOTUS Potter Stewart with the "I know it when I see it" relative to obscenity in his case, but relative to consciousness here. I'm fairly sure one of the marks of autism (which Damasio doesn't mention) is that many autistic people can't recognize others as conscious, and sometimes the consciousness of autistic people is compared to being possibly similar to that of some animals. (One of the people making this comparison was Temple Grandin, a PHD who is autistic ...)
He talks of two kinds of consciousness "core and extended". Core is "the feeling", extended is all your biography, knowledge, and creativity. Your "higher functions". The core consciousness seems to be largely a brain stem phenomenon heavily connected to your emotions and "body loop" (mental image of your body / connection to body).
I really like how he uses real known mental conditions to talk about specifically what brain injuries will affect core and extended consciousness and how. I believe in "spirit", and also believe that consciousness (especially core) is where "matter meets spirit". My personal view is that we will eventually find some "quantum biological effects", possibly in a specific area of the brain stem that are the link to the non-physical.
Back to the book ... "Life needs a boundary. I believe that life and consciousness , when they eventually appeared in evolution, were first and foremost about life, and the life urge within a boundary. To a great extent they still are."
"The life urge"? -- pretty close to "The Force" of Star Wars fame, or even "the animating spirit".
My reading seems to be getting feverish here, and I'm behind in blogging what I've read lately -- "the creative urge" seems to be driving me. Where might that come from? Same place as the "life urge" I'd guess, or as I'm also in Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra", perhaps "the will to power" has a similar origin?
"Time Reborn" was about figuring out "what's out there" ... but the "mechanism" (if you are a strict materialist) that we are using (running on?) to theorize, develop equations, run experiments, etc is human consciousness ... "the feeling of knowing" ... "the life urge".
Sit in a quiet place, Relax and take a couple deep breaths. Now, focus ONLY on your breathing -- gently. It's not a contest, there is no "right or wrong". You will likely have "intruding thoughts" -- you may actually get frustrated. What is getting in the way of YOU, and your attempt at simple relaxed focus on your breath is your mind -- your "ego". Your "busy brain" -- the Zen folks call it your monkey-brain.
My view is that the "you" that is observing your breathing is "core consciousness", and the distractions are coming from your "extended consciousness". I believe that the connection to the infinite is from your core consciousness -- and that the extended is what wants to take over the ship and convince you that you and everything "out there" is a bunch of "stuff" ... and so are you. If it can't succeed in convincing you, it will work very hard to distract.
I'm definitely of two minds on this issue! ;-)
It's a worthy book -- it is well reviewed and has a lot of secular accolades. I sometimes look at books like this and the "Time Reborn" book as a NY Street game of "hide the spirit" -- see, no spirit under this shell ... switch, switch ... oh, "life force"? "emergent"? "Principle of Sufficient Reason"? ... nah, "Pay no attention to that spirit behind the curtain"!