Biography Ivan Petrovich Pavlova

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Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who lived from September 14, 1849 until February 27, 1936. He received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1904 and is famous for his observations of conditioned behaviour. He is largely remembered for his work that demonstrated that salivating dogs learn to associate food with the ringing of a bell. In time the phrase “Pavlov's dog" became a widely used expression to describe a person who reacts to a situation in preference to critical thinking.

Ivan Pavlov was born in the town of Ryazan some 120 miles to the south east of Moscow. His father, Peter Dmitrievich Pavlov, was a priest in a local village. Following in his father’s footsteps Ivan enrolled at the Ryazan Ecclesiastical Seminary but soon dropped out in favour of the Saint Petersburg State University where he enrolled in 1870 to study natural sciences. His choice is said to have been influenced by the literary works of Dmitry Pisarev and the scientific works of and Ivan. M. Sechenov. Ivan Pavlov later described Ivan Sechenov as the father of Russian physiology.

Pavlov was an excellent student. When he graduated from the Saint Petersburg State University in 1875 he enrolled at the Academy of Medical Surgery. Pavlov completed his doctorate in 1878 and received a gold medal from another course in 1879.  Thereafter he enrolled as Director of the Physiological Laboratory in the practice of Sergey Botkin an eminent Russian physician. In 1883 while working for Botkin Pavlov produced a thesis entitled ‘‘the centrifugal nerves of the heart''

In 1890 Pavlov took a new job at the Department of Physiology in the Institute of Experimental Medicine. During the next 45 years Pavlov developed the department into a world class research centre.

Pavlov conducted his famous investigation into the gastric function of dogs in the Department during the 1890s. His experiments began by a study of the response of the salivary gland to various food stuffs. These preceded the famous experiments which replaced the food with various other stimuli. Pavlov showed that the dogs could be trained to respond to a wide variety of stimuli, including electric shocks, whistles, metronomes, tuning forks, and a range of visual stimuli, as well as the ringing a bell. His results on 'The Work of the Digestive Glands'' were written up in 1897 and were sufficient to earn him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

Pavlov’s relationship with the Communist authorities was ambivalent. Vladimir Lenin thought highly of his work and showered money at the institute.  Pavlov however famously said in 1923 that he would not give the hind leg of a frog for the social experiment at large in the Soviet Union. Later in the 1930s he wrote letters of protest to Vyacheslav Molotov following the murder of Sergei Kirov, who had stood up to Stalin, and asked for the verdict against several acquaintances to be reconsidered.  

Pavlov continued his research at the Department until he was an old man. He died from double pneumonia at the age of 86 in 1936, and even then asked one of his students to detail the circumstances of his death.

The Soviets revered Pavlov. When he died he was given a grandiose funeral and his workplace was preserved as a museum.

The work of Ivan Pavlov was brought to western attention through the writings of John B. Watson. Aldous Huxley wrote of a world conditioned by Pavlovian impulses in his novel “Brave New World”. In science the work of Ivan Pavlov preceded that of Carl Jung and William Sargant.

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