What is consciousness?

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"What is consciousness?"

   --unknown (maybe Terrence McKenna?), on a Space Tribe sample

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page goes into substantially more detail but generally reaches the same conclusion: dunno.

Perhaps no aspect of mind is more familiar or more puzzling than consciousness and our conscious experience of self and world. The problem of consciousness is arguably the central issue in current theorizing about the mind. Despite the lack of any agreed upon theory of consciousness, there is a widespread, if less than universal, consensus that an adequate account of mind requires a clear understanding of it and its place in nature. We need to understand both what consciousness is and how it relates to other nonconscious aspects of reality....
A comprehensive understanding of consciousness will likely require theories of many types. One might usefully and without contradiction accept a diversity of models that each in their own way aim respectively to explain the physical, neural, cognitive, functional, representational and higher-order aspects of consciousness. There is unlikely to be any single theoretical perspective that suffices for explaining all the features of consciousness that we wish to understand. Thus a synthetic and pluralistic approach may provide the best road to future progress.

wikipedia makes a valiant effort:

Consciousness is a characteristic of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment. It is a subject of much research in philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science.

And from a commentary on the Buddhist six-element meditation, thoughts on how to proceed in the presence of so many open questions:

The Buddha introduces the element in this way: “Then there remains only consciousness, bright and purified.” It’s just possible that he was referring here to mind’s intrinsic nature, or he may simply have meant that the mind has been brightened and purified by letting go of grasping after the other five elements. In any event, we’ve realized that there’s nothing we can grasp onto and our mind now turns its attention to itself — the grasper.