Ivan Pavlov: Life Is A Bitch

M. Nesterov. Portrait of Ivan Pavlov. 1930

M. Nesterov. Portrait of Ivan Pavlov. 1930

September 26 is a birthday of a great Russian —  Ivan Pavlov (26 September [O.S. 14 September] 1849 — 27 February 1936). He devoted his life to the study of physiology and sciences, making several remarkable discoveries and becoming the first Russian Nobel laureate — he won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1904.

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I.P.Pavlov’s classic works in the field of physiology of digestion were conducted at the Department of Physiology of the Institute of Experimental Medicine. In the beginning of the twentieth century, he led the team of researchers in the field of conditional reflexes. This work laid the foundation of a new branch of science — the physiology of the higher nervous activity.

M. Nesterov. Ivan Pavlov.

M. Nesterov. Ivan Pavlov.

On the M. Nesterov’s portraits above, Pavlov looks like studious Santa Claus, but among his students and contemporaries he was famous for his explosive temper –“spontaneous morbid paroxysms,” as he called it. There were many stories about these vintage explosions. Afterwards, he would make his apologies and get on with his work.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Pavlov seriously contemplated emigration but decided not to leave Russia. His Western colleagues helped him financially during the hungry years of civil war (1918 – 1921). Interestingly, no colleague abroad and no institution offered him a position or research grant to work in the West. The thought was that at 68, Pavlov is quite at the end of his career, nearly done as a scientist. They were wrong: Pavlov continued his research on conditional reflexes for another two decades, becoming an international icon in his and many other fields of science.

In 1935, on the International congress of Physiology he was proclaimed “Princepes phisiologorum mundi”.  At that time Pavlov was already an academician, honored member and doctor “gonoris causa” of more than 120 scientific societies and universities.

Incidentally, during a trip to the United States in 1923 he was mugged and robbed of all his money in Grand Central Station in New York, and wanted to go home “where it is safe,” but was convinced to stay.

Ivan Pavlov's dog

This is a taxidermied exhibit, not a live animal.

Like Darwin, Pavlov believed dogs had full-fledged thoughts, emotions and personalities. His lab dogs were given names that captured their personalities and were routinely described in lab notebooks as heroic or cowardly, smart or obtuse, weak or strong, good or bad workers, etc. Pavlov constantly interpreted his own biography and personality in terms of his experiments on dogs (and interpreted dogs according to what he thought he knew about himself and other people).

Ivan Pavlov dog sculpture

The Monument to a Dog.   In 1935 at the 15th International Physiological Congress Pavlov was named “The Oldest Physiologist of the World”. In that year on the initiative of Pavlov a monument to a dog was installed near the department of Physiology, in the garden of the Institute of experimental medicine, to pay a tribute to the dog’s unselfish service to biological science.

quoteIvan Pavlov grave


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