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Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 47, no. 5,
September–October 2009, pp. 3–25.
© 2009 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved.
ISSN 1061–0405/2009 $9.50 + 0.00.
DOI 10.2753/RPO1061-0405470501
G.V. Akopov
The Problem of Consciousness in
Russian Psychology
The Unitary and Interdisciplinary Approaches
The article discusses new disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches
to the analysis of consciousness in modern Russian psychology. A wide
spectrum of approaches is presented and their merits and weaknesses are
analyzed based on G.V. Akopov’s previous publications.
The special status of the topic of consciousness in psychology today derives
from a whole host of specific factors. One of them is the prodigious
increase in the number of published scholarly pieces, including monographic
studies, in the last quarter of the twentieth and early twenty-first
centuries (Akopov, 2002, 2006); thematically new periodicals, both print
and electronic, on the problem of consciousness have sprung up (Journal
of Consciousness Studies, Consciousness and Cognition, and others).
The Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson, Arizona, and the
Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness have been in operation
since the 1990s; many large-scale conferences on consciousness
have been held (Akopov, 2006).
Scholars’ new surge of interest in the problem of consciousness is
largely attributable to the transition of present-day society from the
postindustrial to the informational phase and to the recent philosophy, a
new scientific ideology, and the ideas of postmodernism; new integrated
fields of knowledge have emerged, such as neuroscience, cognitive science,
and the science of consciousness.
Another characteristic feature of the problem of consciousness is
that it is impossible to assign this topic to any single field of science or
to any single psychological area of study. Consciousness is included
in every sphere of human conduct and activity and is represented, one
way or another, in all psychological platforms and areas of study—from
behaviorism to humanistic psychology.
Research on the problem of consciousness may be viewed on a continuum
from the neuroscientific approaches of studying the mechanisms
and correlates of consciousness to cognitive approaches in describing the
functioning of consciousness. Bordering on the continuum are attempts
to study consciousness by using physical variables (quantum, wave, and
molecular mechanisms) and computer programs in artificial intellect.
In the explanatory outlines by foreign writers we encounter manifestations
of both extreme biologism (Searle) and systemic substantialism
As for Russian psychology, one can highlight various aspects in a
systematic formulation of the problem of consciousness.
On a philosophical-psychological level, the main difficulty lies in
defining the essential characteristics of consciousness, since it is traditionally
in binary opposition to matter and directly or indirectly participates
in various derivatives of this opposition: psychic-corporeal, subjectiveobjective,
individual-social, internal-external, orderly-spontaneous,
dependent-autonomous, necessary-free, and so on. In the classical version
one can state that: (a) consciousness defined in any manner is logically
contradictory (Allakhverdov, 2000) because it is underivable from matter;
(b) the concept of consciousness is gnoseologically uncompletable,
since by dint of the attribute of reflexivity it cannot be endowed with a
quality of completeness (including the Gödelian version); and (c) it is
ontologically universal, since consciousness can formulate any manifestations
of human life (existence) (Znakov, 2005). The nonclassical and
postnonclassical discourses have substantially expanded the horizon and
along with it the spectrum of problems, without determining fundamental
solutions from the new perspectives. At the same time, the narrative
approach and social constructionism have given consciousness a new
value dimension.
A great deal of time and space was devoted to philosophical-psychological
explorations in Soviet psychology, not always with justification.
The dialectical- and historical-materialist saturation of the fundamentals
of Russian psychology became its substantive and integral characteristic;
its removal is equivalent to a loss of face. In this connection, one can assess
the consequences of this philosophical orientation, as O.V. Gordeeva
does. The writer considers in sequence the limitations that a philosophical
platform imposed on the construction of a theory of consciousness,
attributing precisely to this the exclusion of a number of problems, approaches,
categories, aspects, and areas of study of consciousness and,
unfortunately, disregarding other possible factors (the research tradition,
the Russian scientific mentality, and others). In particular, material from
the works of A.N. Leontiev is used to try to prove the one-sided nature
of the principle of the unity of consciousness and activity in the context
of the conceptual primacy of activity, specifically the one-sidedness and
incomplete dialectic of the principle in the sense that the contradictions of
this unity have not been defined and the problem of the specific nature of
consciousness and activity within the framework of the unity has not been
solved. Gordeeva sees obstacles in this “to the investigation of the internal
patterns of the development of consciousness (following a change in
material existence), its spontaneity, and its capacity for self-development,
self-determination, and self-regulation” (Gordeeva, 1997).
The philosophical-psychological imperative, which was overtly or
latently present in major and minor works by Soviet psychologists,
undoubtedly imposed certain limitations both on the research programs
of psychologists and especially on summary and educational
publications. These limitations, as Gordeeva correctly points out, had
a substantial impact on the elaboration of problems of consciousness.
In our view, however, the limited nature of research programs on
consciousness derived not so much from the principle of the unity of
consciousness and activity, which was formulated and played its role
in a somewhat different causal relationship, as from the unshakable,
antidialectical “brain-consciousness” connection. By way of illustration,
let us merely turn to the most massive philosophical-psychological
works: N.

P. Antonov regards consciousness as the highest form of
reflection of the objective world in the human brain (Antonov, 1959);
P.F. Protasenia links an understanding of the psychological patterns of
consciousness to a study of the physiological mechanisms of the brain’s
operation (Protasenia, 1959); D.I. Dubrovskii, as a matter of principle,
does not separate the brain and consciousness, regarding this as an integrated
problem, and proposes an informational approach to solve it; the
writer contends that the concept of information makes it possible quite
precisely to encompass and combine in the same theoretical context “both
a description of the phenomena of consciousness (content, sense, value
relation, intentionality) and a description in the vernacular of cerebral
processes (natural-science terms, i.e., concepts of spatial and physical
properties). Under this approach “the phenomena of consciousness are
interpreted as information,” its medium “is a specific cerebral process,”
and the entire problem of “brain and consciousness” therefore boils down
to “deciphering the cerebral codes of psychic phenomena” (Dubrovskii,
1994). Despite the attractiveness of this approach, the question of how
information organizes itself remains unclear.
We find an inversion of the informational approach in the context of
solving the problem of consciousness in L.M. Chailakhian. The writer
proceeds from the premise that consciousness does not appear in any
artificial construction of intellectual systems (computers), while it is an
obvious fact in natural evolution. As a result of this conclusion, Chailakhian
infers that the mystery of consciousness is hidden in the specific
features of, and fundamental differences between, these two processes:
the natural-artificial evolution of intellectual systems. In researching
the specific nature of these systems, the writer finds that the functioning
in artificial systems takes place by informational or perfunctory means,
while “such interactions in natural systems proceed by informationalenergetic
or substantive means” (Chailakhian, 1992).
Despite the ideological dominance of the Soviet period of development
of psychology, there always existed an ideological opposition,
both overt (often suicidal) and more or less carefully veiled, to the
philosophical-psychological majority. The “minoritarian idea” of the
possibility and necessity of studying consciousness without the “brainpsyche”
connection is clearly evident, in our view, in the philosophical
essays of G.G. Shpet (the essay “Consciousness and Its Owner” [Soznanie
i ego sobstvennik]). In vigorously criticizing the framing of the question
“Whose consciousness?” Shpet asserts: “No ‘unity of consciousness’
belongs to anyone, because it does not involve ‘belonging’ at all,
it is merely the unity of consciousness, that is, self-awareness. Whose
consciousness?—one’s own, free consciousness!” (Shpet, 1994, p. 28).
And further on: “The question of ‘no one’s’ consciousness has come up
in various forms. Among the well-known responses to it, their ‘critical’
part seems more valuable than the ‘constructional’ part, which ends with
either abstract definitions of the self or highly inane ‘psychophysical
hypotheses’” (ibid.).
M.M. Bakhtin was highly critical of the concept of “the unity of consciousness.”
“The multiplicity of equivalent consciousnesses” (Bakhtin,
1994, p. 8) does not fit into the principle of the unity of consciousness.
According to Bakhtin,
a unity of consciousness that replaces the unity of existence inevitably
turns into a unity of one consciousness; in the process, it makes absolutely
no difference what metaphysical form that consciousness assumes:
“consciousness in general,” . . . “the absolute self,” “the absolute
spirit,” “normative consciousness,” and so on. Alongside this unified
and inevitably single consciousness there is a multitude of empirical,
human consciousnesses. This multiplicity of consciousnesses from the
perspective of “consciousness in general” is accidental and, as it were,
superfluous. Everything that is important, that is true in them is part of the
unified context of consciousness in general and is devoid of individuality.
Whatever is individual, whatever distinguishes one consciousness from
another and from other consciousnesses is cognitively unimportant and
pertains to the field of the psychic organization and limitedness of the
human individual. (1994, p. 54)
We should also cite a statement by M.M. Bakhtin about the relationship
between truth and consciousness, which typifies the traditional, pre-
Bakhtinian logic of cognition in some impersonal “unified systemicmonological
context,” in which only a mistake individualizes. “All that
is true fits within the bounds of a single consciousness, and if it does
not fit in fact, then only for reasons that are random and external to truth
itself. Ideally, consciousness alone and a mouth alone are completely
adequate for the full extent of cognition; there is no need for a multitude
of consciousnesses and no basis for it” (ibid.). And he goes on:
I must note that it does not yet follow at all from the very concept of
unified truth that there must be a single and unified consciousness. One
can certainly assume and conceptualize that a unified truth requires a
multiplicity of consciousness, that it fundamentally does not fit within
the confines of a single consciousness, that by its nature, so to speak, it is
social and event-based and is born at the point of contact between different
consciousnesses. Everything depends on how one conceptualizes truth
and its relation to consciousness. A monological form of perception of
cognition and truth is only one of the possible forms. This form occurs only
where consciousness is placed above existence and the unity of existence
turns into a unity of consciousness. (ibid., p. 55)
Substantive interaction between consciousnesses is impossible on the
basis of philosophical monologism, and therefore substantive dialogue is
impossible. In essence, idealism knows only one type of cognitive interaction
between consciousnesses: the teaching by someone who knows and
possesses the truth of someone who does not know and is mistaken—in
other words, the relationship between teacher and pupil and, consequently,
only a pedagogical dialogue. (ibid.)
The ideology of nonfreedom, even in a mild form such as a pupil’s
nonfreedom, which is unacceptable in Bakhtin’s polyphonic system
of consciousnesses, runs into an equally categorical rejection in the
philosophical metatheory of consciousness of M.K. Mamardashvili.
For example, Mamardashvili writes: “We cannot make judgments either
about logic or about laws without basing our judgments on a clear-cut
awareness of the phenomenon of freedom as the basic human phenomenon”
(1996, p. 91). According to Mamardashvili, consciousness does
not boil down either to a reflection or to the content of consciousness,
it is more “the event of the presence of consciousness or of the subject
in consciousness” (p. 219). Illustrating this proposition in the case of
perception, Mamardashvili points to a qualitative difference between
the subject’s perception (the content of perception) and the identification
of the event as its perception (“the quality of having been observed is
equated with its content,” p. 252). The fact of “having been perceived
or not having been perceived” is associated with some knowledge (“ontological
preknowledge” in philosophy; apperception in psychology) as
“a certain predifferentiatedness of consciousness” in the sense that “if
you don’t know something, you may not perceive it” (p. 253). A very
important observation made by Mamardashvili in the context of the
philosophical metatheory of consciousness and, unfortunately, still not
officially approved in psychological personology is that “consciousness,
or conscious perception, is an opportunity for a larger consciousness,
. . . that is, an opportunity for reproducing or expanding in volume
something like itself” (p. 255). Mamardashvili links this opportunity to
a mechanism of “bringing oneself into a different state from the one I
was in until the moment after which it may be assumed that something
has been perceived. I am different than I was before that” (p. 254).
During the post-Soviet period the “underground of diamat [dialectical
materialism]” finally “surfaced” from the “scientific subconscious” and
was verbalized, and philosophical thought openly proclaimed the need for
a unitary approach in the investigation of consciousness. V.I. Molchanov’s
“attempt to evaluate consciousness in the language of consciousness”
was revealing (Molchanov, 1992). The “paradigms of consciousness”
defined by Molchanov were based on the structure of various types of
experience (existence?), to wit: “difference–synthesis–identification,”
wherein the experience of difference acts as the essential characteristic
of the experience of consciousness, as “self-referential experience,”
that is, “experience that does not refer to other experience.” At the same
time Molchanov also does not reject the above-mentioned system of
binary orientation of consciousness: (a) “consciousness’s understanding
of itself”; (b) an understanding of the world of objects, signs, images,
social roles, and so on.
On a general psychological level consciousness is imbued with
maximum breadth (all psychic processes, states and attributes), on the
one hand, and with a complete nonconcreteness of manifestations, on
the other.
The philosophical ambiguity in approaches to solving the problem of
consciousness had to have an impact on psychological interpretations
of the psyche in general and of consciousness in particular. The critical
condition of psychology as a result of this was determined by L.S.
Vygotsky, who proposed as a solution a totally new and original area of
cultural-historical psychology. The latter is indeed overcome as both the
pure phenomenologism of descriptive psychology, which derives from
man’s spiritual life and recognizes the higher, complex forms of psychic
life but does not deem it necessary or feasible to seek an explanation for
them, and the natural-science paradigm of explanatory psychology, which
is limited to research in elementary psychological processes (Luriia, 1979,
p. 22). It is important in Vygotsky’s theory to separate questions of the
origin of a phenomenon and questions of actual functioning. In this case
the problems of external and internal determination, a solution to which
is proposed by V.P. Zinchenko (1991), do not seem so critical.
In the context of the origin of consciousness in A.R. Luria’s interpretation,
in order to explain the most complex forms of conscious life
according to

L.S. Vygotsky, it is necessary to go beyond the organism and
look for the sources of this conscious activity and “categorial” behavior
not in the depths of the brain and not in the depths of the spirit but in the
external conditions of life, and above all of social life, in the sociohistori10
cal forms of man’s existence (Luriia, 1979, p. 23), which is completely
consistent with the philosophical basis of Russian psychology (p. 25).
The opposition between the interdisciplinary and unitary approaches
in the comments of some researchers gives rise to an association with
the well-known principle of the supplementarity of the physics of the
microworld. For example, V.N. Miasishchev, while recognizing that
the problem of consciousness, falling within the scope of philosophy,
psychology, pedagogy, the social sciences, and medicine (psychiatry),
nevertheless deems “the psychological fact that it belongs to the human
individual, as the highest formation in the human psyche, as the highest
attribute of the human personality, . . . to be source material for all
levels of investigation of consciousness” (Miasishchev, 1966, p. 132).
In this logic, the growth in the number of grounds for interdisciplinary
research on consciousness is accompanied by a similar increase in the
need for a unitary approach. On the other hand, certain issues from the
logic of the unitary approach invariably (traditionally?) lead to a need
for the interdisciplinary approach. For example, E.P. Velikhov, V.P.
Zinchenko, and V.A. Lektorskii, the authors of one of the programs of
the interdisciplinary approach, ask themselves, “where is consciousness
as a subjective reality?” and find that the answers to this question “range
between social and neurophysiological ‘matter’” (Velikhov, Zinchenko,
and Lektorskii, 1988, p. 32). Therefore, the trouble does not lie with
philosophical limitations, which may not even exist in an atmosphere
that allows for more than “pedagogical dialogue” (Bakhtin). We can cite,
in particular, the interpretation of the question of the relation between
consciousness and existence, which, in the view of Velikhov, Zinchenko,
and Lektorskii, “does not boil down to a question of primariness and
secondariness (although it does derive from that). A study of the relation
between consciousness and existence includes an investigation of all of
its manifold and historically changing types and forms.” And although
the authors attempt “to take research in consciousness” beyond the
classical paradigm of “consciousness in the world of consciousness” or
the newer one, “consciousness in the world of the brain,” intending to
investigate it on a universal scale, the mutual complementarity of the
unitary and interdisciplinary approaches remains. In both cases (approaches)
the change in research orientation proposed by the authors is
feasible and very important—a replacement of the problem of observation
“with tasks of construction, formation, and genetic modeling of the

phenomena of consciousness and the psyche” (Velikhov, Zinchenko,
Lektorskii, 1988, p. 32).
The treatment of consciousness as the integration of psychic processes
is a fairly common method of defining consciousness in psychology.
Zinchenko, however, has in mind the reductionist supplanting of
consciousness-the-process with the result of that process, that is, “with
a certain empirical phenomenon that is accessible to self-observation”
(Zinchenko, 1991).
While he also does not accept, on the whole, another group of methods
of ontologizing consciousness, related to “an effort to localize consciousness
or to establish its essence in terms of cause and effect in structural
formations of a material nature” (localization of consciousness in the
brain, a search for the matter of consciousness in language), Zinchenko
proposes a holistic and the most consistent theoretical and experimental
investigation of the problem of consciousness. Zinchenko’s conceptual
configuration of consciousness represents the result of many years of
joint research that have developed the traditions of Russian psychology
(Zinchenko, 1991). It is hard to categorize Zinchenko’s carefully designed
construct of consciousness as a unitary construction, since the examination
of such structural components of consciousness as biodynamic and
sensory fabric presupposes transcending psychological approaches to
the study of consciousness or expanding the sphere of the conscious to
the sphere of the psychic.
The overt or implicit equating of consciousness and the psyche has
been consistently reproduced throughout the history of the study of the
problem in Russian psychology, which is apparently attributable to the
incorporation into psychology of the philosophical lack of differentiation
between the concepts of “the psyche” and “consciousness” and
the synonymy between the psyche and consciousness that was noted
already in the materials of the 1966 symposium “The Problems of Consciousness”
(Averbukh, 1966, p. 459). This antiunitarianism regarding
consciousness is echoed in the position of a number of researchers on
the fundamental inseparability of the conscious and the unconscious
in the human psyche. For example, A.A. Megrabian (1966) posits that
there exists in the human psyche a dynamic sphere of unperceived, automated
psychic processes that continuously and efficiently serves the
sphere of optimally clear consciousness, ensuring its normal, regulatory
activity. Even more categorical is A.N. Shogam (1966), who asserts
that consciousness is impossible without support from the unconscious,
and that acts of consciousness take place because and only because they
rely on countless automatic functions that “operate” without the direct
participation of consciousness.
According to A.V. Brushlinskii, the relationship between the perceived
and the unperceived (the unconscious) “from the outset was and always
has been nondisjunctive.” Also citing S.L. Rubinshtein, Brushlinskii
(1996) notes that primal nondisjunctiveness means that “the difference
between the perceived and the unperceived is not that in one case everything
is perceived in its entirety and in the other nothing is perceived.
Differentiating between the perceived and the unperceived assumes that
one takes into account what is perceived in each specific case.” The theory
of the nondisjunctiveness of the psychic assumes continuous interaction
between the perceived and unperceived.
This way of framing the question of the inseparability of consciousness
and the unconscious, in a certain sense, supports the idea of a
unitary approach to the problem of consciousness within the scope of
psychology, eliminating the necessity of examining it in the rigid “brainconsciousness”
nexus, but at the same time preserves the positions of
antiunitarianism, conditioning the study of consciousness on the need
for considering it in conjunction with the unconscious.
A multitude of highly important categories are associated with the
concept of consciousness in psychology: personality, activity, intercourse,
the subject, and so on. Brushlinskii notes that “consciousness is especially
essential for man as a subject, because it is during the activity of reflexion
that he forms and develops his objectives (which may only be conscious
ones), that is, objectives of activity, intercourse, contemplation, and other
types of conduct” (Brushlinskii, 1996, p. 20).
The dialectic of the external and the internal is very important in this
process. In the view of V.A. Barabanshchikov, the subject is not separate
from, and not opposed to, the perceived world, as it seems to the ordinary
consciousness. From his very birth man is immersed in this world and
proves to be an essential condition of its existence and development. In
changing the world and acting in a practical way, the individual absorbs
the content that is discovered, converting it according to his own needs,
goals, and values and turning it into his personal possession—an inner
world (Barabanshchikov, 2005).
A theoretical solution to the problem of the external and the internal
in forming an image of the self and the world as a realization of consciousness
is discovered in the works of V.P. Zinchenko (1998, 1999).
On the one hand, he develops and substantially augments the views of
A.N. Leontiev and A.V Zaporozhets on this problem, while on the other,
he concretizes S.L. Rubinshtein’s postulate on consciousness and action
as man’s connection to the world (Rubinshtein, 1957).
Contact is the condition, form, type, and means of the connection.
Contact in the form of intercourse is regarded by M.I. Lisina (1997) as
the decisive factor in the formation and development of consciousness,
awareness, and self-awareness.
The development in the early 1980s of methods of experimental
psychosemantics of consciousness (Petrenko, 1988; Shmelev, 1983)
substantially moved forward the solution of the problem of consciousness,
and this is perhaps the only instance of an interdisciplinary approach
within the scope of psychology that proved to be highly productive and
plentiful, both in terms of theoretical constructs and of applied solutions
and concrete results in the various spheres of human life. Suffice it to
point out the research in categorial structures of individual consciousness
by the method of building subjective semantic spaces; research in
the specific nature of individual consciousness in the process of man’s
perception of man, the occupational and ethnic derivation of stereotypes
in everyday consciousness, and others (Petrenko, 1988, 2005). This
research, however, as abundant as its content and related applications
are, is still only a part, a perspective, one of the aspects of a significantly
broader problem.
The system of “psychologic” of V.M. Allakhverdov can be considered
the first experiment of this kind if we exclude V.A. Petrovskii’s logicalpsychological
approach in the scientific elaboration of problems of the
psychology of the personality (Petrovskii, 1996). Allakhverdov definitely
deserves credit for his open position—that is, his conscious break with the
principles of interdisciplinarianism and consistent view of consciousness
as a self-contained and independently functioning psychic phenomenon
(unitarianism). Certainly there may be temporary losses here. It is no accident
that a very long work by Allakhverdov (2000, 2003) does not examine
the special states and phenomena of dysfunctions of consciousness,
while “use of the abundance of psychopathological disorders substantially
enriches the possibilities of a researcher’s encounter with the phenomena
of consciousness in all of their diversity” (Ushakov, 1996, pp. 51–63).
The “psychologic” that Allakhverdov is developing, as a new form
or construct of scientific psychological knowledge, makes possible not
only an expansive approach that involves an increase in the number of
problems of consciousness and, accordingly, their solutions, but also an
approach that is traditional for science and involves grouping and summarizing—
that is, a decrease in the number of entities. The phenomena
of contact and freedom, which are inherent in the very essence of man’s
consciousness, may be adopted as such entities, which determine and
explain the whole multitude of problems of consciousness. Themes of
contact and freedom are overtly, but more often latently, present in all
serious explorations on the problems of consciousness. For example, in
the aforementioned work on this problem we find the function of contact
manifested as the attribute of narrowness, limitedness, lack of development,
and imperfection of consciousness if the openness of consciousness
to different worlds, to the worlds of emotions, imagination, ideas,
and practical activity, breaks down (Zinchenko, 1991, pp. 15–36). The
logic of the final part of this comment becomes completely clear when
one considers that “the freedom of human activity is also manifested in
man’s taking control of his own feelings, needs, and desires—in man’s
domination of himself” (Shorokhova, 1961, p. 340).
The category of freedom in the psychological context is investigated
by E.I. Kuz’mina. She sees the “psychological coloration” of philosophical
interpretations of the category of “freedom” in the following
• freedom as reflexion;
• freedom as independence from emotions;
• freedom as a result of overcoming boundaries mentally or in real
• freedom as a result of making a free choice;
• freedom as a sense of freedom, as a value (Kuz’mina, 1994, p. 12).
In defining the psychological sense of the category of “freedom,”
Kuz’mina (1994, p. 6) combines the sensory, rational, and action-oriented
aspects, without putting forth the aforementioned attributes of freedom
as essential characteristics of consciousness.
These characteristics, as well as another essential characteristic of
consciousness—the characteristic of contact—can be observed to be
implicitly present in various structural formations of consciousness, in

various typologies of consciousness, and in various contexts of the study
of consciousness.
Returning to the broader context of conducting interdisciplinary-unitary
approaches to the problem of consciousness, we should also take note of
the following special attribute. The interdisciplinary approach requires not
only that the problem be related to relevant fields of knowledge, such as
physiology, sociology, medicine, and so on, but also that the type of relation
the researcher or narrow specialist has to it in his field be taken into
account—that is, the appropriate type of perception of the problem, the type
of thinking—in other words, professional (specialized) consciousness—
physiological, sociological, medical, pedagogical, and so on. Certain types
of consciousness not only may not intersect but also may not even meet.
This paradox of the idea of the interdisciplinary approach was articulated
in another context in the work of Allakhverdov (2000), who presents, in
a very committed fashion, an experiment in building the entire edifice of
psychology on a foundation different from the traditional one, evidently
eschewing dialectical discourse, which was incorporated by philosophy into
psychology (especially brilliantly in S.L. Rubinshtein), for formal logic.
By giving the brain the status of a perfect apparatus, Allakhverdov
would seem to have eliminated the psychophysical problem and, along
with it, the interdisciplinary stereotyping in defining and investigating
consciousness; the author, however, then separates the mechanism
and content of consciousness and proposes studying the former (the
mechanism) by natural-science methods and the latter (the content of
consciousness) by social-science methods. According to Allakhverdov,
consciousness can be studied not only in terms of logic (orientation toward
formal correctness and lack of contradictions), natural science (reliance
on matching up experience and logic), practice (orientation toward
results and effectiveness), social science (interpretation of everything that
has been learned and reliance on tradition and ideals) but also in mystical
terms (trusting one’s own feelings). We must note that Allakhverdov
attributes the unsatisfactory structure of all of modern psychology to the
lack of differentiation between theoretical and empirical terms used in
psychology; theoretical terms are included in a logical description of
the psychic; empirical terms are intended for a description of observable
reality itself. Allakhverdov’s “psychologic” views the psyche as a logical
system, and in this case many paradoxes of consciousness, which he
discusses in detail, are resolved (Allakhverdov, 2000).
The work of Allakhverdov should be respected as one of the rare unitary
studies of consciousness, but his assumptions and conclusions raise a
number of questions. While analyzing the specific nature of natural- and
social-science knowledge, Allakhverdov fails to disclose his methodological
positions in addressing the question of the relationship between
the theoretical and the empirical in science, types of rationality, and so
forth. In some places one gets the impression that the author interprets
consciousness in the broad sense, as the psyche (“we are entitled to speak
of the work of consciousness among animals”) (Allakhverdov, 2000, p.
329). Allakhverdov attributes the large number of experiments by various
researchers to the laws of the operation of consciousness he formulated;
what is addressed, however, is mostly orienting, that is, “sensory consciousness,”
while reflexion is not addressed. Allakhverdov’s recognition
of “individual variables,” specifically the interferential propensity (an
inability to perform the task of ignoring something, for example, not to
think about a lame monkey, or Stroop effects) and its influence on the
productivity of accomplishing a related task (Allakhverdov, 2000, p.
397), casts doubt on the his entire edifice of psychologic. Indeed, the
same questions of predictability of behavior in instances when reflexive
processes are activated come up in this case. Many experiments cited
by Allakhverdov (Bardin’s law, Rubin’s law) can be explained from the
standpoint of a different rationality, for example, the principles of contact
and freedom in the operation of consciousness: the first principle assumes
a continuous need for autonomy, choice and creativity in decision making,
and independence from other people’s wishes and intentions. For
example, in Rubin’s law (the law of figural after-effect) (Allakhverdov,
2000, p. 447), the need for freedom from the experimenter’s manipulations
may manifest itself, albeit contrary to objectivity. It should also be
noted that one of the paradoxes of consciousness described—the Oedipus
paradox, that is, the phenomenon by which awareness of a prediction
of one’s own behavior (especially a prediction by an outside observer)
restructures the development of events—was first pointed out, as the
author notes, by V.A. Petrovskii (1996, p. 158).
The task of identifying a given approach to dealing with the problem
of consciousness as unitary or interdisciplinary is similar to questions of
the methodological basis of analysis of psychic phenomena that have been
actively discussed in recent issues of the journals Voprosy psikhologii,
Psikhologicheskii zhurnal, and Metodologiia i istoriia psikhologii.
The article by A.V. Iurevich that initiated the debate states that
psychology itself is often understood as the science of the determination
of phenomenological events by nonphenomenological causes
(Iurevich, 2001, pp. 3–18). Given this understanding of psychology,
in the author’s view, the “methodological liberalism” that allows for a
“many-layered,” multilevel description, explanation, and structuring
of psychic phenomena. In Iurevich’s view, four such principal levels
may be singled out:
• the phenomenological level (images, emotions);
• the physical level (physiological processes);
• the biological level (bioevolution);
• the social level (social surroundings) (Iurevich, 2001).
The critical responses by V.I. Morosanova (2001), T.D. Martsinkovskaia
(2001), I.O. Aleksandrov and N.E. Maksimova (2002), and
M.S. Gusel’tseva (2002) regarding Iurevich’s idea of methodological
pluralism in Russian psychology were caused, in our view, not so much
by the substance of the problem as by the poor choice of the term (word
combination). In our opinion, what is involved here is precisely an interdisciplinary
approach to the study of the psychic, and it is inadequate, of
course, to confine oneself to the four aspects cited by Iurevich. A broader
list of aspects and approaches to the investigation of the problem of
consciousness could include:
• the historical aspect—the historical evolution of the problem
and the methods of addressing it;
• the philosophical aspect—various philosophical foundations
• the psychophysical aspect—the “brain and consciousness”
problem, or more broadly, the psychophysiological problem;
• the psychoevolutionary aspect—the development of consciousness
in phylogenesis;
• the biosocial aspect—the problem of the biological and/or
social determination of consciousness;
• the methodological aspect—the basic principles of the
investigation of consciousness (determinism-freedom, activityintercourse,
development-creation, personality-society, etc.)
and the methods of a logical conclusion (discourse, type of
rationality, the “probative” quality of arguments).
The multitude of aspects of (approaches to) addressing the problem of
consciousness, of course, does not negate the correctness and necessity
of studying consciousness as such, in its “pure form,” as a special phenomenon
of the psyche. In this context as well, the value of experimental
research on consciousness cannot be overestimated. For purposes of a
fairly universal model for experimental study of consciousness in our
work, a certain sequence (system) of situations involving perception of
specially selected, ambiguous images was chosen, which were previously
used in another context in the relevant classical experiments. An
important new feature was the degree to which the test subjects were
psychologically involved and, accordingly, informed regarding the procedures
of experimental manipulations—that is, the level of actualization
of test-subject manifestations.
Current concepts of the subject who performs psychic activity (Brushlinskii,
2002; Rubinshtein, 1999, 2003) make it possible to identify other
interpretations of the phenomena of ambiguity in the visual perception
of certain stimuli.
The problem of the subject is attracting increasing attention from
psychologists in different areas of study of Russian psychology. The
basic tenets of the psychology of the subject were elaborated by S.L.
Rubinshtein, D.N. Uznadze, B.G. Anan’ev, and others. Modern Russian
psychology continues scientific research in problems of the subject in the
scientific school of A.V. Brushlinskii and K.A. Abul’khanova-Slavskaia.
The problem of the subject who performs psychic activity, however,
specifically perceptual, mnemic, intellectual, and so on, requires new
examination that incorporates the achievements of cultural-historical
Ambiguous images represent a new opportunity for direct study of
manifestations of subjectness at both the theoretical and experimental
levels. The situations themselves involving perception of ambiguous
images are being examined for the first time as well-defined models
of interaction between the experimenter and the test subject that allow
the mechanisms of the operation of consciousness to be studied in
the context of their derivation from the factors of contact (connection
[kommunikatsiia], intercourse) and freedom of the test subject from
the experimenter’s manipulations (strictly compliant implementation
of instructions, execution with random variations, creative execution,
“constructive” execution). The planned models of experimental situations
make it possible to investigate not only the dependence of the effects of

the ambiguous images that are perceived on the level of subject-based
involvement by the test subject (i.e., the rules of interaction between
the experimenter and the test subject) but also the influence of certain
biologically generated psychological characteristics of the individual
(productivity of attention, temporality, and others). The latter makes it
possible to focus on new facets in the solution to the problem of the biological
and the social in man, specifically to identify the relative weight
of the individual and subject-based factors in the organization (external
aspect) and self-assessment (internal aspect) of human activity.
In classical experiments with ambiguous images different test subjects,
acting with the same substantive instructions, may manifest different
individual, subject-based and personality-based attributes, which will
undoubtedly affect the results of the experiment; these variables, however,
were not fully taken into account or systematically investigated in the
works of E. Rubin, E. Boring, K. Koffka, and others. One cannot overlook
the fact that an experiment is also interaction between the experimenter
and the test subject, and consequently the influence of this variable as
well on the results of the experiment must be considered.
The new context of the problem also necessitates a more “subtle”
analysis of experimental (and other) situations from the standpoint of
dispositionism and situationism (Ross, 2000), as well as in the context
of the factorial structure of consciousness (contact, intercourse–freedom,
creativity); in this context the experimental method in modern psychology
requires a new conceptualization: our research shows how the effect of
the ambiguity of a visual image depends on the type and level of subjectbased
involvement by the test subject in the experimental situation as
well as certain individual characteristics of the test subjects (Akopov
and Kukushkina, 2005).
The organizational aspect of the experiment provides for a variation of
conditions and the instructions given to the test subjects, which makes it
possible to clearly differentiate the level of subject-based involvement by
test subjects in the performance of a visual task of detecting an ambiguous
image in a classical series of stimuli (a pyramid out of six or seven cubes;
two faces and Rubin’s vase; E. Boring’s “wife/mother-in-law”; and others).
The individual psychological characteristics of participants are diagnosed
in a system of individual, characterological, and set-oriented characteristics
and indicators of psychic states, as well as special visual abilities.
The work of test subjects with ambiguous images presents several
aspects of manifestations of the subject, specifically subject–object and
another subject–subject, and it may also be studied in connection with
the variable content of instructions and psychological characteristics of
the experimenter. By examining the experimenter’s actions as a variable
condition, one can determine a fuller picture of the connections being
investigated. The full diversity of the relationship between experimenter
and test subject lends itself to a factorial description in accordance with
current developments in the problem of consciousness (Akopov, 2002).
The factors of contact (communication) and freedom (creativity) in the
genesis and manifestations of consciousness as a regulator of behavior
make it possible to conduct a systemic analysis of interaction between
experimenter and test subject and to determine the fullest phenomenology
of the problem being investigated.
The results of experiments conducted jointly with O. Kukushkina and
A. Berkalieva confirmed our hypothesis that the characteristics of the
image perceived depend both on the psychic state of the test subject and
on the characteristics of the stimulus. What is described is the tendency
of the process of perception to be influenced by such characteristics as
the degree of subject-based involvement in the perceptual act, the psychic
state, and the activeness of the test subject, which is expressed in the
conscious directedness toward the object of perception and the degree of
concentration on it. There was no observed tendency to exert influence
on the part of such characteristics of test subjects as productivity of attention,
heart rate, and the length of the individual minute.
Proceeding to the applied psychological aspect, we can state that there
is little room for consciousness in the diverse branches of psychology,
with the possible exception of psychotherapy and part of pathopsychology.
At the same time, there are common word combinations: economic
consciousness, political consciousness, electoral consciousness, legal
consciousness, moral consciousness, professional consciousness, consumer
consciousness, and others.
The present situation, in which consciousness is highly involved and not
very much in demand in applied works cannot be considered accidental
for the current system of psychological knowledge and practice. This is
especially true since, in a whole host of new areas of Russian psychology,
consciousness “works” not only as a basic category but also as a
clearly operationalized concept. In particular, we are referring to the abovementioned
psychosemantic concept of consciousness being developed
by V.F. Petrenko both in the theoretical and the application-rich aspects;
the psychologic of consciousness as a new general psychological basis of
psychology, developed by the scientific group directed by Allakhverdov;
the massive series of studies by V.V. Znakov (2000) on the psychology
of comprehension and self-comprehension as the most important manifestations
of human consciousness and existence; the new studies by
V.A. Labunskaia (1999) on the conscious and unconscious components
of nonverbal expressions of the personality; the unique studies by A.O.
Prokhorov (2005) on the problem of semantic determination of psychic
states; the historical-psychological and narradigm approaches of V.A.
Shkuratov (1997), specifically to the problem of the connection between
personality dissociation and the genesis of consciousness; the cognitive
platform of E.A. Sergienko (2006) in research on consciousness
in man’s early ontogenesis; the original concept of V.E. Semenov on
polymental types of consciousness in present-day society, and the series
of massive studies on the problem of economic consciousness in presentday
Russian society conducted under the direction of A.L. Zhuravlev and
his colleagues. It is clear from the above list that theoretical and applied
research is developing successfully in most cases, as long as it does not
deal with the entire categorial volume of consciousness but only with a
certain area or perspective—psychosemantic, hermeneutic, cognitive, and
so on. The more universal theoretical constructs of consciousness (the
structural approaches of A.N. Leontiev, V.P. Zinchenko, F.E. Vasiliuk, and
others) have so far yielded fewer results for practice, unlike the categorially
“compressed” versions (the psychosemantics of consciousness, the
psychologic of consciousness, the polymentality of consciousness, etc.).
The universal structures—the existential and reflexive layers of consciousness,
the biodynamic and sensory fabric, meaning and sense, “serve” the
construct of consciousness itself more than its practical results. Besides,
what is accessible to awareness of rest in consciousness is what consciousness
is directed toward, but not the mechanism of awareness itself.
Are there other possible conceptual descriptions (universal structures)
that would be “transparent” enough in terms of both objects and the
mechanisms of awareness? In view of the maximum commonality of the
category of consciousness, the broadest way of framing (differentiation)
reality (whether it is the actual kind or the virtual kind) is represented by
the dichotomy: unification–disunification. We chose the broader version
of the first term in this coupling, namely, “contact,” which also allows for
stages of precedence that do not necessarily lead to unification; as for the
second member of the aforementioned dichotomous coupling, the synonymous
substitute that was chosen was a term with a narrower meaning—
“freedom.” Therefore, the above dichotomy acquires a designation that is
more distinct from the phenomena of mechanics, physics, and so on, that is,
it becomes anthropic in nature. At the same time, the parts of the modified
coupling also assume a determinative character based on the dynamics of
their combinations of levels—that is, the character of factors. The use of the
category of “freedom,” which is seldom activated in present-day psychology,
may result, on the one hand, in the abandonment of absolute determinism
in conceptual psychological constructs (which present-day natural
science has already abandoned), and on the other hand, in the abandonment
as well of absolute utilitarianism (adaptation, functionality, reflectivity, the
systemic approach, etc.). Psychological alternatives to utilitarianism are
value-based and, in part, moral-ethical and esthetic approaches (consciousness
as a value, consciousness as beauty, as the beautiful, etc.).
This structure does not contradict the classical structure of consciousness.
The existential layer of consciousness is fully “covered” by the
contact interaction of the appropriate agents of “living motion” and the
sensory sphere with the relevant surroundings, and with due regard for
the new research by N.D. Gordeeva (Gordeeva and Zinchenko, 2001)
(the detection of analogues of reflexion even in elemental motions and
actions), one can also point to higher levels of contact (communication
on the basis of the content of feedback, semantic intercourse, and interaction).
The reflexive layer in essence (not as a component) is so free in its
manifestations that it can be regarded as the equivalent of freedom.
Semantic space as an operational model of consciousness in V.F.
Petrenko’s concept defines a universal domain of contact, while the subjectivity
of the semantic systems is defined by the factor of freedom.
The holism of consciousness in the psychological model proposed
by Allakhverdov is comparable to contact, while the paradoxes of
consciousness detected by him are an indisputable manifestation of its
(consciousness’s) freedom.
The definition of mentality as the unity of people’s consciousness in
a spatial-temporal dimension is, without question, derived from contact,
while polymentality (Semenov, 2005) is defined by people’s freedom in
joining various social groups under various conditions.
As for the internal operational resources of the dual-factor model of
consciousness, each factor in turn may be considered in a triadic structure:
contact—its absence or presence (based on the feedback criterion),
communication (based on the criterion of transmittal of a certain inforSEPTEMBER–
OCTOBER 2009 23
mational content), and semantic intercourse; freedom—the opportunity
to choose; the defining and finding of subjectively new goals (creativity);
the framing of objectively new conditions and goals (creation).
Each factor is also considered in two contexts—the external and the
internal. The problems and relationship of the external and the internal
in the methodological and concrete procedural aspects have been investigated
in Zinchenko’s works, making it possible, with due regard for
the three-component structure of each factor (contact, communication,
semantic intercourse, choice, creativity, creation) considered above and
the various combinations of components, to construct a fairly broad field
of concrete manifestations of consciousness.
The empirical testing of the above theoretical propositions is conducted
in model-based experiments with ambiguous images. Reversible figures
were previously studied in the theoretical context of gestalt psychology
and as an allusion of visual perception. What is compared in our case
are various explanatory models of perceptual fixation (a given visual
image): a model of classical reactive regulation of perceptual activity
(variations in the stimulus, conditions of the experiment, etc.); a model
of active (subject-based) regulation (level of subject-based involvement,
goals, plans, relations, self-control, etc.); a social-psychological model of
interaction between experimenter and test subject; the specific features
of psychic processes (attention and others), psychic states and individual
psychological characteristics of the test subject, and so on. The volitional
quality (steadiness) of regulation of a fixed image of an ambiguous figure
was chosen as an indicator of the explanatory potential of a given model,
including the two-factor model of consciousness.
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