Ivan Pavlov’s real quest

141124_r25787-690Michael Specter at The New Yorker:

Pavlov’s research originally had little to do with psychology; it focussed on the ways in which eating excited salivary, gastric, and pancreatic secretions. To do that, he developed a system of “sham” feeding. Pavlov would remove a dog’s esophagus and create an opening, a fistula, in the animal’s throat, so that, no matter how much the dog ate, the food would fall out and never make it to the stomach. By creating additional fistulas along the digestive system and collecting the various secretions, he could measure their quantity and chemical properties in great detail. That research won him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. But a dog’s drool turned out to be even more meaningful than he had first imagined: it pointed to a new way to study the mind, learning, and human behavior.

“Essentially, only one thing in life is of real interest to us—our psychical experience,” he said in his Nobel address. “Its mechanism, however, was and still is shrouded in profound obscurity. All human resources—art, religion, literature, philosophy, and the historical sciences—all have joined in the attempt to throw light upon this darkness. But humanity has at its disposal yet another powerful resource—natural science with its strict objective methods.”

more here.