It seems that self-awareness just may be the crux of the biscuit. Maybe that's where what we call "consciousness" gets a toehold. And, though I'm not sure, I'll bet it's not like a light switch. I'll bet there's a spectrum of self-awareness that we are near one end of and a weather vane is at the other end of. Try and think back to when you became self-aware. Can you pinpoint an instant where the lights came on and you said, "Wow, here I am," like the sperm whale and the bowl of petunias generated by the Infinite Improbability Drive in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy? There may be people who can, but I can't. I know I was self-aware at six because my grandmother asked me what it felt like to be six and I said, "Duh, I dunno," as I fiddled with the window crank in the back seat of my dad's Hunter Green Buick Roadmaster. But it's not like that's when I all of a sudden knew that I was; that's just when I realized that it didn't feel any different to be six than it felt to be anything else. Memories very much earlier than that become far and few and fuzzy, trailing off into . . . what? Oblivion?
The User Illusion comes unraveled a little bit at the end when Norretranders goes off on some environmental activist rants that are maybe a little off-topic, but one thing he does focus on at the end of the book is that the absolutely discreet individual consciousness that we in the Western world take for granted may not have always been the norm and may still not be the exclusive norm in other cultures, especially ones based more on clan, tribe and family than on clearly demarcated individuals. People in our past and people in other cultures foreign to us may operate with something more like a hive-mind style consciousness. Consciousness might only not be discreet in time, but maybe not always in space, either.
Amen, hey baby, and all that shit!