Massimo Pigliucci in Aeon:
These days it is highly fashionable to label consciousness an ‘illusion’. This in turn fosters the impression, especially among the general public, that the way we normally think of our mental life has been shown by science to be drastically mistaken. While this is true in a very specific and technical sense, consciousness remains arguably the most distinctive evolved feature of humanity, enabling us not only to experience the world, like other animal species do, but to deliberately reflect on our experiences and to change the course of our lives accordingly.
A lot of the confusion, as we shall see, hinges on what exactly we mean by both ‘consciousness’ and ‘illusion’. In order to usefully fix our ideas instead of meandering across a huge literature in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, consider a fascinating essay for Aeon by Keith Frankish. He begins by making a distinction between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness. Phenomenal consciousness is what produces the subjective quality of experience, what philosophers call ‘qualia’. This is what makes it possible for us (and, presumably, for a number of other animal species) to experience what it is like, for example, to see red, or taste a persimmon, or write essays on philosophy of mind.