Fun facts about Pavlov

I think this should go under “things I never knew about Pavlov”:

Pavlov is perhaps best known for introducing the idea of the conditioned reflex, although Todes notes that he never used that term. It was a bad translation of the Russian uslovnyi, or “conditional,” reflex.

At the university, Pavlov’s freshman class in inorganic chemistry was taught by Dmitri Mendeleev, who, a year earlier, had created the periodic table of the elements as a teaching tool.

In Russia, and even to some degree in the West, physiology was still considered a “theoretical science,” and the connection between basic research and medical treatments seemed tenuous. Todes argues that Pavlov’s devotion to repeated experimentation was bolstered by the model of the factory, which had special significance in a belatedly industrializing Russia. Pavlov’s lab was essentially a physiology factory, and the dogs were his machines.

At first, Pavlov, his wife, and their four children were treated like any other Soviet citizens. Their Nobel Prize money was confiscated as property of the state. From 1917 to 1920, like most residents of Petrograd, which would soon be called Leningrad, the Pavlovs struggled to feed themselves and to keep from freezing. It was nearly a full-time occupation; at least a third of Pavlov’s colleagues at the Russian Academy of Sciences died in those first post-revolutionary years. “Some starved to death in apartments just above or below his own in the Academy’s residence,” Todes writes. Pavlov grew potatoes and other vegetables right outside his lab, and when he was sick a colleague provided small amounts of firewood to burn at home.

The Soviets came to regard Pavlov as a scientific version of Marx. The comparison could not entirely have pleased Pavlov, who rebelled at the “divine” authority accorded Marx (“that fool”) and denied that his own “approach represents pure materialism.”

He also never even used a bell, but preferred more precise tools like metronomes. He also had ‘angry’ days when his staff knew not to bother him.

The article is chock full of interesting stuff, and I feel bad about excerpting this much; there is much much more in the original article.


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