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LETTERS TO AND FROM THE EDITOR Dear Sir: I recently came across R. Efron's article entitled, "The Conditioned Reflex: A Meaningless Concept," published in the summer 1966 issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine [t]. I have read it with dismay. The inaccurate statements contained in this article are so numerous that it would be impossible even briefly to outline them all within the frame ofa letter. A few examples will suffice to illustrate. I may cite such absurd statements as the author's assertion that no reflex has ever been conditioned, or his affirmation that there is as yet no physiological evidence to support the notion oftemporary cerebral connections, or his announcement that the concept ofconditioned responses is the expression of "mechanistic materialism," of which Pavlov is claimed to be a representative. No more accurate are the author's references to Pavlov's views on the inheritability ofconditioned reflexes and to the relationship between these views and the notorious theory of Lysenko, who, according to the author, turned Pavlov's ideas into state dogma.Just as fallacious is the author's conception of the phenomenon which Pavlov termed "freedom reflex" and of the wellknown orienting reflex. Regarding the former, the author admits that it is not clear to him what is meant by that term—a conditioned or an unconditioned reflex. He assumes: a conditioned reflex. Alas, a wrong guess. What is meant is an inbom, unconditioned reflex. With regard to the orienting reflex, the author is even more severe and affirms that, ifone accepted this concept, one would also have to recognize a special analytical reflex, an epistemological reflex, an argumentative reflex, and so on. In connection with the above pronouncements, in order to facilitate the evaluation of their scientific merits, I may refer the interested readers to my monograph, Neuropsyche und Hirnrinde (Berlin and Vienna: Urban & Schwarzenberg), Volume 1; further, to my communications to the French National Academy ofMedicine (Bulletin ofthe Academy, Vol. 103, Nos. 9 and 12; Vol. 140, Nos. 5 and 6; Vol. 143, Nos. 26 and 27); and to my articles publishedinthe:JournalofNervous andMentalDisease (Vol. 116, Nos. I and 5; Vol. 121, No. 1), one ofwhich (Vol. 116, No. 5), I may say in passing, contains pertinent data relating to Pavlov's views on the inheritability ofconditioned reflexes and also his statement on his stand in the matter, made to me in 1929 in Paris. However erroneous the views expressed in Efron's article, they can be, ifnot excused, at leasteasilyunderstood, ifonetakesinto consideration thenumerous obstacles, including thelinguistic barriers, with which many research workers haveto cope in orderto acquire first-hand knowledge ofconditioned-reflex investigation carried out in foreign countries, especially in Russia. 163 There is, however, one particular feature of the article which is startling. I have in mind the author's method ofanalyzing the concept "reflex"—the point ofdeparture of all his subsequent contemplations and conclusions. The author adopts the definition of "reflex," found in Webster's ThirdInternational Dictionary. He quotes this definition: "An act (as a movement) performed automatically and without conscious volition." After explaining that the term "automatic" is synonymous with "involuntary," he points out that the differentia "performed automatically" implies that "other classes ofaction exist which are performed non-automatically, that is, with conscious volition." He continues: "If volitional (i.e., voluntarily initiated) acts did not exist, there would be no point in using the terms "automatic" or "involuntary" as a criterion to difFerentiate one class ofaction from another, for all actions would be automatic or involuntary." So far so good. But now a surprise awaits the reader. While stressing the above truisms, the author, flagrantly contradicting himself, adopts the formulation, "without conscious volition." One may ask: "Is there any other class ofvolition, namely, an unconscious volition?" It is noteworthy that no other dictionary—general or medical—uses the incorrect definition found in Webster's dictionary. What is more, the editors ofthis dictionary, apparently , soon became aware ofthe erroneous formulation which accidentally had found entry into the definition of"reflex," since on another occasion, when explaining the term "automatic," Webster's dictionary defines it as being "involuntary," "ofreflex nature," "without volition." The improper adjective "conscious" is no longer used...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 163-176
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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