- Pavlov und der neue Mensch: Diskurse über Disziplinierung in Sowjetrussland, and: Pavlov’s Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise
On 10 December 1904, the king of Sweden, Oskar II, conferred the gold medal of a Nobel Prize laureate on Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, the 55-year-old Russian physiologist. The king did not find Pavlov to his liking, however. "I fear your Pavlov," he admitted to Emmanuel Nobel, the nephew of Alfred Nobel, who had founded the prize, "he wears no orders and is probably a Socialist" (Todes, 347). The king may have based his suspicion that Pavlov was a socialist (which he never was) simply on the physiologist's class background. Pavlov had not received a classical (gymnasium) education, and he had a poor command of foreign languages. To the end of his days, he spoke and wrote even German with crude grammatical errors, although that was the language in which he had communicated with his teachers, Karl Ludwig and Rudolf Heidenhain. In the final analysis, he was one of those numerous seminary students of the 1860s who abandoned their religious careers under the influence of the writings of Dmitrii Ivanovich Pisarev and the new cult of the natural sciences; they were often openly derided for their low birth and "democratic" manners. What enabled Pavlov to achieve a dazzling scientific career and scale the heights of national and international fame?
Daniel Todes's new book, from which the Swedish king's remark is taken, addresses this question. The book is essentially the first intellectual biography of Pavlov in English. It focuses primarily on Pavlov's research on the physiology of digestion, which made him the first Russian scientist to win a Nobel Prize. Soon after receiving the Nobel, Pavlov switched to the study of conditional reflexes (Todes uses the adjective "conditional" rather than the common "conditioned" for the Russian term uslovnyi refleks), work that made [End Page 647] him a legendary figure of the 20th century who symbolized the possibility of subjecting human behavior to rational control. Since Todes devotes relatively little space to Pavlov's research on conditional reflexes, Torsten Rüting's book, which appeared at almost the same time as Todes's monograph, serves as a logical continuation of it. Rüting analyzes Pavlov's work on the physiology of higher nervous activity, and he tries to show the connection between Pavlov's ideas and the themes of the "new man" and the rational transformation of human nature that appear so prominently in Russian and Soviet culture.
In the early 1890s, no one had heard of Pavlov beyond a narrow circle of Russian physiologists. He completed his education and began his scientific career rather late in life. Born in 1849, he studied at the Riazan´ Theological Seminary and then at the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of St. Petersburg University. On graduating from the university, he entered the Military- Medical Academy, where he defended his doctoral dissertation, and in 1884 he went to Germany for two years. On his return to Petersburg, he served as an assistant to the famous Russian physician Sergei Petrovich Botkin in the small laboratory Botkin had established in the Military-Medical Academy. Pavlov supervised the work of Botkin's graduate students, which left him little time for his own research.
In 1890, however, Pavlov became "one of the influential bigwigs"1 at the new Institute of Experimental Medicine (IEM) which Prince Aleksandr Petrovich Ol´denburgskii, the well-known patron of science, was founding in Petersburg. As Todes's book makes clear, Pavlov's invitation to join this institute made his scientific achievements possible. The IEM was modeled on the Pasteur Institute in Paris but differed from it in two respects. On the one hand, it embraced a wider range of research areas, including not just...