Pavlov was born on September 14, 1849 at Ryazan, where
his father, Peter Dmitrievich Pavlov, was a village priest. He
was educated first at the church school in Ryazan and then at
the theological seminary there.
Inspired by the progressive ideas which D. I. Pisarev, the most
eminent of the Russian literary critics of the 1860's and I. M.
Sechenov, the father of Russian physiology, were spreading, Pavlov
abandoned his religious career and decided to devote his life
to science. In 1870 he enrolled in the physics and mathematics
faculty to take the course in natural science.
Pavlov became passionately absorbed with physiology, which in
fact was to remain of such fundamental importance to him throughout
his life. It was during this first course that he produced, in
collaboration with another student, Afanasyev, his first learned
treatise, a work on the physiology of the pancreatic nerves. This
work was widely acclaimed and he was awarded a gold medal for
In 1875 Pavlov completed his course with an outstanding record
and received the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences. However,
impelled by his overwhelming interest in physiology, he decided
to continue his studies and proceeded to the Academy of Medical
Surgery to take the third course there. He completed this in 1879
and was again awarded a gold medal. After a competitive examination,
Pavlov won a fellowship at the Academy, and this together with
his position as Director of the Physiological Laboratory at the
clinic of the famous Russian clinician, S. P. Botkin, enabled
him to continue his research work. In 1883 he presented his doctor's
thesis on the subject of «The centrifugal nerves of the heart».
In this work he developed his idea of nervism, using as example
the intensifying nerve of the heart which he had discovered, and
furthermore laid down the basic principles on the trophic function
of the nervous system. In this as well as in other works, resulting
mainly from his research in the laboratory at the Botkin clinic,
Pavlov showed that there existed a basic pattern in the reflex
regulation of the activity of the circulatory organs.
In 1890 Pavlov was invited to organize and direct the Department
of Physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Under
his direction, which continued over a period of 45 years to the
end of his life, this Institute became one of the most important
centres of physiological research.
In 1890 Pavlov was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the
Military Medical Academy and five years later he was appointed
to the then vacant Chair of Physiology, which he held till 1925.
It was at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in the years
1891-1900 that Pavlov did the bulk of his research on the physiology
of digestion. It was here that he developed the surgical method
of the «chronic» experiment with extensive use of fistulas, which
enabled the functions of various organs to be observed continuously
under relatively normal conditions. This discovery opened a new
era in the development of physiology, for until then the principal
method used had been that of «acute» vivisection, and the function
of an organism had only been arrived at by a process of analysis.
This meant that research into the functioning of any organ necessitated
disruption of the normal interrelation between the organ and its
environment. Such a method was inadequate as a means of determining
how the functions of an organ were regulated or of discovering
the laws governing the organism as a whole under normal conditions
- problems which had hampered the development of all medical science.
With his method of research, Pavlov opened the way for new advances
in theoretical and practical medicine. With extreme clarity he
showed that the nervous system played the dominant part in regulating
the digestive process, and this discovery is in fact the basis
of modern physiology of digestion. Pavlov made known the results
of his research in this field, which is of great importance in
practical medicine, in lectures which he delivered in 1895 and
published under the title Lektsii o rabote glavnykh pishchevaritelnyteh
zhelez (Lectures on the function of the principal digestive
Pavlov's research into the physiology of digestion led him logically
to create a science of conditioned reflexes. In his study of the
reflex regulation of the activity of the digestive glands, Pavlov
paid special attention to the phenomenon of «psychic secretion»,
which is caused by food stimuli at a distance from the animal.
By employing the method - developed by his colleague D. D. Glinskii
in 1895 - of establishing fistulas in the ducts of the salivary
glands, Pavlov was able to carry out experiments on the nature
of these glands. A series of these experiments caused Pavlov to
reject the subjective interpretation of «psychic» salivary secretion
and, on the basis of Sechenov's hypothesis that psychic activity
was of a reflex nature, to conclude that even here a reflex -
though not a permanent but a temporary or conditioned one - was
This discovery of the function of conditioned reflexes made it
possible to study all psychic activity objectively, instead of
resorting to subjective methods as had hitherto been necessary;
it was now possible to investigate by experimental means the most
complex interrelations between an organism and its external environment.
In 1903, at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid,
Pavlov read a paper on «The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology
of Animals». In this paper the definition of conditioned and other
reflexes was given and it was shown that a conditioned reflex
should be regarded as an elementary psychological phenomenon,
which at the same time is a physiological one. It followed from
this that the conditioned reflex was a clue to the mechanism of
the most highly developed forms of reaction in animals and humans
to their environment and it made an objective study of their psychic
Subsequently, in a systematic programme of research, Pavlov transformed
Sechenov's theoretical attempt to discover the reflex mechanisms
of psychic activity into an experimentally proven theory of conditioned
As guiding principles of materialistic teaching on the laws governing
the activity of living organisms, Pavlov deduced three principles
for the theory of reflexes: the principle of determinism, the
principle of analysis and synthesis, and the principle of structure.
The development of these principles by Pavlov and his school helped
greatly towards the building-up of a scientific theory of medicine
and towards the discovery of laws governing the functioning of
the organism as a whole.
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. In connection with the discovery of this general postulate
Pavlov proceeded to investigate «artificial conditioned reflexes».
Research in Pavlov's laboratories over a number of years revealed
for the first time the basic laws governing the functioning of
the cortex of the great hemispheres. Many physiologists were drawn
to the problem of developing Pavlov's basic laws governing the
activity of the cerebrum. As a result of all this research there
emerged an integrated Pavlovian theory on higher nervous activity.
Even in the early stages of his research Pavlov received world
acclaim and recognition. In 1901 he was elected a corresponding
member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1904 he was awarded
a Nobel Prize, and in 1907 he was elected Academician of the Russian
Academy of Sciences; in 1912 he was given an honorary doctorate
at Cambridge University and in the following years honorary membership
of various scientific societies abroad. Finally, upon the recommendation
of the Medical Academy of Paris, he was awarded the Order of the
Legion of Honour (1915).
After the October Revolution, a special government decree, signed
by Lenin on January 24, 1921, noted «the outstanding scientific
services of Academician I.P.Pavlov, which are of enormous significance
to the working class of the whole world».
The Communist Party and the Soviet Government saw to it that Pavlov
and his collaborators were given unlimited scope for scientific
research. The Soviet Union became a prominent centre for the study
of physiology, and the fact that the 15th International Physiological
Congress of August 9-17, 1935, was held in Leningrad and Moscow
clearly shows that it was acknowledged as such.
Pavlov directed all his indefatigable energy towards scientific
reforms. He devoted much effort to transforming the physiological
institutions headed by him into world centres of scientific knowledge,
and it is generally acknowledged that he succeeded in this endeavour.
Pavlov nurtured a great school of physiologists, which produced
many distinguished pupils. He left the richest scientific legacy
- a brilliant group of pupils, who would continue developing the
ideas of their master, and a host of followers all over the world.
In 1881, Pavlov married Seraphima (Sara) Vasilievna Karchevskaya,
a teacher, the daughter of a doctor in the Black Sea fleet. She
first had a miscarriage, said to be due to her having to run after
her very fast-walking husband. Subsequently they had a son, Wirchik,
who died very suddenly as a child; three sons, Vladimir, Victor
and Vsevolod, one of whom was a well-known physicist and professor
of physics at Leningrad in 1925, and a daughter, Vera.
Dr. Pavlov died in Leningrad
on February 27, 1936.
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Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921.