I just started reading Out of Our Heads by Alva Noë.  Noë operates from the premise that consciousness is not merely a mental process that comes from the machinations of the brain. In a wonderfully insightful metaphor he states, “Consciousness is more like dancing than it is like digestion.”
Brain and environment
The idea that consciousness is a process of interaction between the brain and the environment is thought provoking. My musings about consciousness and matters of neuroscience frequently turn to trying to place my brother Michael in a light that would enable me to understand him. Mike hit the trifecta in terms of understandability. He is very low functioning, autistic and nonverbal.
Mike is aware of his environment. At his group home, he recognizes familiar staff members; he knows where the food is. He knows what it means when he and the rest of his housemates gather in the dining room at certain times of day. Mike is conscious in the sense that he interacts with his environment. However, it is impossible to tell what dance of consciousness he is dancing.
My brother has been a mystery to me as long as I have had consciousness. I have always wanted to know his mind; there have been times where I have doubted that he even had a mind. I have concluded that he indeed has one; it is an ‘other’ mind. Noë speaks to this topic:
“It can seem, then, that the closest we can come to knowing other minds, in a theoretical respectable way is having some account according to which behavior and neural activity provide criteria of a person’s psychological state.” 
The problem in understanding my brother, on more than a rudimentary level – meaning more than being able to predict that he will go to the kitchen and look for food if he is hungry, or go toward the bathroom (if we’re lucky) when he has to void himself – is the inability to apply reliable criteria that accounts for other more complex of behaviors, such as laughing, crying, slapping himself.
He does try to convey some of his desires. For instance, if he wants to go outside (presumably), he takes my arm and brings it to the door for me to open it. In this case, his psychological state seems clear: he has a desire to be out of doors. Others of his behaviors have clear antecedents. For example, if he is frustrated in attaining his desire, it is mostly predictable that he will slap himself or otherwise show his presumed frustration.
How does one break through to be an acknowledged part of his environment? Is it possible? Perhaps it is possible to decode his reactions to his environment by scrupulously accounting for his actions in response to what happens around him. But exhaustive logging may not be successful, since we don’t even know how he experiences his environment. Is he sensitive to certain sound frequencies, smells? Is his underwear irritating him?
Furthermore, even if we are successful, we only have half of the conversation: we know his psychological state. Some scientists believe that a hallmark of severe autism is the inability to attribute psychological states to others. This condition is known as mind blindness. One way to think of this is to consider a ‘mind-blind’ Tarzan. He will never understand that Jane’s name is ‘Jane’, no matter how many times she points at him and says “You Tarzan,” then points at herself and says, “Me Jane.”
I am so grateful that Mike is in a group home where his professional caregivers maintain his environment and pay attention to his needs. This frees him up to dance with his environment in his own way.