Physiologist and surgeon, b. 26 (14*) September 1849 (Ryazan, Russia), d. 27 February 1936 (Leningrad [St. Petersburg], USSR).
Ivan Pavlov was the son of the priest in the small village of Ryazan. After primary education at the church school he attended the theological seminary of Ryazan to be trained for the priesthood. Contact with progressive ideas on literature and physiology caused him to abandon religious studies and turn to science. In 1870 he enrolled in the physics and mathematics faculty of the University of St. Petersburg to take the course in natural science.
During his studies Pavlov became attracted to physiology; it remained his fascination for all his life. With another student, Afanasyev, he wrote a treatise on the physiology of the pancreatic nerves and received a gold medal for it.
In 1875, having completed his studies with the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences, Pavlov decided to continue his studies at the Academy of Medical Surgery. He completed this in 1879 with another gold medal. After studies in Leipzig and Breslau he presented his doctoral thesis on the subject of "The centrifugal nerves of the heart" in 1883.
As Director of the Physiological Laboratory at the Botkin clinic Pavlov developed into an extremely skilful surgeon; he could insert a catheter into the femoral artery of a dog without anaesthesia almost painlessly.
In 1890 Pavlov was appointed director of the Department of Physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine, a position he retained for the rest of his life. In the same year he became Professor of Pharmacology at the Military Medical Academy. In 1895 he was appointed to the Chair of Physiology, a position he held until 1925.
During the decade 1891 - 1900 Pavlov concentrated on the physiology of digestion. He published his research, which is of great importance in practical medicine, in 1895 under the title Lektsii o rabote glavnykh pishchevaritelnyteh zhelez (Lectures on the function of the principal digestive glands; 1897).
In 1895 Pavlov's colleague D. D. Glinskii had developed a method to measure salivary secretion by establishing fistulas in the ducts of the salivary glands. Pavlov used this technique to carry out experiments that proved that what previously had been described as "psychic" salivary secretion was of a reflex nature. He showed that these reflexes were not permanent but temporary and introduced the term of "conditioned reflex." The discovery of the function of conditioned reflexes opened the way for the investigation of the most complex interrelations between an organism and its external environment by experimental means.
During the following decades Pavlov developed a systematic research program on conditioned reflexes that transformed Sechenov's theoretical attempt to discover the reflex mechanisms of psychic activity into an experimentally proven theory. In his paper "The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals" given at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid of 1903 he stated that a conditioned reflex should be regarded as an elementary psychological phenomenon and that this allowed an objective study of psychic activity.
Experiments carried out by Pavlov and his pupils showed that conditioned reflexes originate in the cerebral cortex, which acts as the "prime distributor and organizer of all activity of the organism" and which is responsible for the very delicate equilibrium of an animal with its environment. In 1905 it was established that any external agent could, by coinciding in time with an ordinary reflex, become the conditioned signal for the formation of a new conditioned reflex.
Pavlov received world acclaim and recognition early in his career. In 1901 he was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1904 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology, and in 1907 he was elected Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences; in 1912 he was given an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University; in 1915 he was awarded the French Order of the Legion of Honour. In 1921 a decree of the new Soviet government signed by Lenin noted "the outstanding scientific services of Academician I. P. Pavlov, which are of enormous significance to the working class of the whole world."
Throughout his remaining life Pavlov and his collaborators were given unlimited scope for scientific research. He transformed the physiological institutions headed by him into world centres of scientific knowledge. The Soviet Union became a prominent centre for the study of physiology, which was acknowledged by the fact that the 15th International Physiological Congress of 9 - 17 August 1935, was held in Leningrad and Moscow.
Although Pavlov's attitude to psychic activity was based on scientific materialism - an attitude shared by the Bolshevik government - Pavlov never joined the Communist party and was frequently in conflict with it. His sometimes ardent criticism did not deter the government from continuously increasing its support for his work.
* in the old Russian calendar
Gantt, W. H. (1995) Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th ed.
Nobel e-Museum, the Official Web Site of The Nobel Foundation (2004) Ivan Petrowich Pavlov. http://www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/1904/pavlov-bio.html (accessed 8 August 2004); based on Nobel Lectures. Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1967.
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