“Reflexes of the brain” – voice of a physiologist about the mental life of a human

“Reflexes of the brain” – voice of a physiologist about the mental life of a human

Ivan M. Sechenov (1829 - 1905) – physiologist, naturalist, PhD, Professor of Emperor Moscow University, Medical Department, Honorary member of Emperor Academy of sciences, Demidov’s XXXII Prize laureate.

Education. In 1848 I. M. Sechenov graduated from the Main military engineering school in Saint-Petersburg.

In our University. Graduated in 1856, worked as an Assistant Professor and Head of Physiology Chair. I. M. Sechenov was involved in the foundation of the Physiological Institute.

Training abroad. After graduating from our University I. M. Sechenov went to study abroad. Among all the professors Du Bois-Reymond, Carl F. W. Ludwig, Hermann L. F. von Helmholtz and Claude Bernard had the most profound impact on the scientist. He became a teacher and a friend to the russian physiologist.

Brief biography. Ivan Sechenov was born in the village of Tyoply Stan (now Sechenovo) in Simbirsk Province (Nizhny Novgorod region). In 1856 after graduating he went to study abroad so that to prepare himself to be a professor.

When abroad Sechenov became friends with future outstanding scientists: S. P. Botkin, D. I. Mendeleev, A. P. Borodin, their friendship lasted throughout his life.

In 1860 was appointed the professor of Physiology at Medico-Surgical Academy. During these years he founded the first in Russia physiological laboratories.

I. M. Sechenov supported the women’s desire for Higher medical education. Nadezhda P. Suslova and Maria A. Bokova – the first women-doctors in Russia – were Sechenov’s students. After many years Bokova became Sechenov’s wife.

Working in many institutions of Higher education in Russia he always achieved a lot both in science and in education, managing socio-scientific student work. Different outstanding people from various fields of science and culture happened to be his friends and colleagues. For instance in Novorossiisk University in Odessa he got acquainted with I. I. Mechnikov (Nobel Prize winner of 1908).

In 1889 I. M. Sechenov returned to his Alma Mater to the Chair of Physiology, and after two years became its head. The ten years (1891–1901) of his leadership were very fruitful: he managed to create a physiological laboratory. There he studied blood gases, objective laws for human working capacity, managed to define optimal patterns for work and rest.

In 1901 Sechenov resigned from his post of the head of the Physiology Chair, and continued doing active research at his laboratory.

The scientist always supported any form of popularization of science, he gave lectures on anatomy and physiology at Prechistenskie working classes during the last few years of his life.

He died in 1905 and was buried on Vagankovskoe cemetery. In 1940 his ashes were brought to Novodevichy cemetery.

Scientific achievements. In 1860 I. M. Sechenov defended doctoral dissertation “Materials on the future physiology of alcoholic intoxication”.

I. M. Sechenov has revealed and described in detail the fundamental physiological phenomena of CNS functioning: central inhibition, summation of excitation and the aftereffect.

He suggested the idea about peculiarity of reflexes, which have their centers in the cerebrum, and about reflex foundation of psychic activity. He provided scientific basis for optimal quantity of working hours for the workers.

An outstanding physiologist, Nobel Prize winner (1904), I. P. Pavlov, called the doctrine of reflectory character of cerebrum activity the “brilliant swing of Sechenov’s thought”, and the author himself – the “Father of native physiology and bearer of absolutely free spirit”. This doctrine is crucial for explaining psychic life, as it discloses the particular brain mechanisms of the psychic and shows the conditions under which is forms and what significance it has in the vital activity of an organism. The genius conjecture of the reflectory character of cerebral activity was reaffirmed in Pavlov’s doctrine, where he developed it and proved it experimentally. I. P. Pavlov exclaims:

“Yes, I’m glad that together with Ivan Michailovich and a regiment of my dear fellow-workers we acquired for the mighty power of physiological research not a half but the whole living organism. And that is wholly our Russian undeniable accomplishment in the world of science and in common human thought”.

The perpetuation of the memory in our University. In 1955 our University was named after I. M. Sechenov, the monument in front of our Museum (work of sculptor L. E. Kerbel) was installed in 1958. In 2015 the center of specialized training – “Sechenov Medical Pre-University” for pupils living in Moscow was opened. In the Center there is an auditorium dedicated to the great physiologist – “Sechenovskaya” auditorium.

In our Museum. The Museum preserves a publications of I. M. Sechenov, some books and articles published in Germany and Austria are in German: Physiologische Studien über die Hemmungsmechanismen für die Reflexthätigkeit des Rückenmarks im Gehirne des Frosches. Hirschwald, Berlin 1863; Ueber die elektrische und chemische Reizung der sensiblen Rückenmarksnerven des Frosches. Leuschner & Lubensky, Graz 1868.

A significant number of devices used by the scientist during his experiments are presented in the Museum’s affiliate – “Memorial museum of I. M. Sechenov”. There are: ergographs, cymographs, a sphygmomanometer, galvanometer, reflexometer, ets.


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