Kullervo Rainio

Towards a Holistic Study on Consciousness


In spite of the fact that there are lots of differing philosophical views concerning the nature of consciousness and lively discussions and debates going on, the main line of the empirical study seems to be one-sided, even missing clear goals and the relevant methods. This concerns particularly neurophysiological brain research. One may question whether its object is the consciousness at all.

Philosophically, one can not support the popular ideas of physicalism, according to which consciousness does not actually exist (eliminative materialism) or the study of it could be substituted for the research of brain phenomena (reductive materialism and emergentism). In trying that, one has to neglect the existence of qualia and of intentional acts as well as to declare the free will as an illusion.

The reductionistic orientation means actually a deep methodological decline. One sees the consciousness as an additive whole. After the remarkable findings of the gestalt psychology (even from 1912) it should be quite clear, however, that the living organism is a holistic whole which determines the meaning, the position and the function of its parts. In the study of consciousness this means that the consciousness needs to be examined as a process of holistic mental states and the concepts to be created for analysis of the transition processes between them.

We can handle the concepts of the mental states and the transitions as thoroughly theoretical, but we need some connection to the empirical world. Thus, which should be the observables of the theory of consciousness? The brain states? No. The observables can be only the relevant behavioral states of the individual, perceived by observers, states defined according to their meanings, i.e., seen as meaningful acts of the behaving object.

In psychology, a serious attempt to create a really holistic theory of behavior has already made, namely Kurt Lewin's framework. He postulates forces which exercise their effects on a person as a thinking and behaving wholeness. The behavior process occurs in a hodological (or topological) space, i.e., in a graph.

Lewin's system has serious weaknesses, which account for the lack of estimation power. However, by making several radical corrections one can modernize it. I have done this in my works "Stochastic field theory of behavior" (1986) and "Cognitive Process and Behavior; A Conceptual Framework and Simulations" (2000). My modification does not only embrace space (the graph of states) but also time as discrete variables (steps in time).This makes possible to define the psychic forces as transition probabilities from state to state in the graph representing cognitive (mental) space. These probabilities (forces) are determined by valences of the mental states. - The laws of decision-making and of the connection between cognition and behavioral action are given.

This stochastic theory is used for building simulation models of problem-solving in laboratory games. The estimation power is shown to be rather high.

Communications: kullervo.rainio@pp.inet.fi