Ivan Pavlov

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Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) was a Russian physiologist who won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his famous experiment in which he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a metronome. The experiment helped lead to the development of the behaviorist theory of psychology and is perhaps the "textbook" example of classical conditioning today.

Pavlov's experiment for which he is most well known started out as something entirely different. As a part of a study on digestion that Pavlov was conducting on dogs, Pavlov rang a metronome every time he fed them. He noticed that the dogs would begin to salivate at the sound of the metronome, even if no food was present. He also found that if the metronome was rang without food enough times, the reflex would become extinguished. In other words, the dogs would stop salivating at the sound of the metronome.

When Russia became the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin attempted to have Pavlov try to do a similar experiment regarding humans for his Marxist ideology, with the latter being shocked at the implications behind Lenin's plans.[1]

Notes and references

  1. A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution
    In October 1919, according to legend, Lenin paid a secret visit to the laboratory of the great physiologist I. P. Pavlov to find out if his work on the conditional reflexes of the brain might help the Bolsheviks control human behaviour. 'I want the masses of Russia to follow a Communistic pattern of thinking and reacting,' Lenin explained… Pavlov was astounded. It seemed that Lenin wanted him to do for humans what he had already done for dogs. 'Do you mean that you would like to standardize the population of Russia? Make them all behave in the same way?' he asked. 'Exactly' replied Lenin. 'Man can be corrected. Man can be made what we want him to be.'… [T]he ultimate aim of the Communist system was the transformation of human nature. It was an aim shared by the other so-called totalitarian regimes of the inter-war period…As one of the pioneers of the eugenics movement in Nazi Germany put in 1920, 'it could almost seem as if we have witnessed a change in the concept of humanity…We were forced by the terrible exigencies of war to ascribe a different value to the life of the individual than was the case before.' ...The notion of creating a new type of man through the enlightenment of the masses had always been the messianic mission of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia, from whom the Bolsheviks emerged. Marxist philosophy likewise taught that human nature was a product of historical development and could thus be transformed by a revolution. The scientific materialism of Darwin and Huxley, which had the status of a religion among the Russian intelligentsia during Lenin's youth, equally lent itself to the view that man was determined by the world in which he lived.Thus the Bolsheviks were led to conclude that their revolution, with the help of science, could create a new type of man...