Famous People In History: Ivan Pavlov

There’s a certain logic to why I’ve chosen this particular person to highlight, but I would not recommend you try to follow that logic since it exposes you to the danger of thinking like Fakename does.

However, it started with my thinking about eating dogs, which I posted about yesterday, and progressed to thinking about dog behavior, particularly my own, whom I will never eat.  Well, unless I find myself in some post-apocalyptic situation, then all bets are off.  I was thinking about the concept of what I call “accidental learning”, where dogs learn stuff you wish they hadn’t. 

In my case, the dogs have learned to associate my shutting down the computer with food.  First, the computer makes that Windows sound…”Dah dah dah…dah dah” (fade….).  This means that I will likely be standing up, and if I’m standing up, there is a greater chance that I will be somewhere near the food container, and that some of that food will end up in their bowls.  Thus, when they hear the Windows sound, they start dancing.  Very, very annoying. 

This led me to think about Pavlov and his bell.  See?  I warned you not to try to follow this. 

I admit that the only thing I could remember about Pavlov had to do with bells and dogs, but there is so much more to him, as I learned from the Wikipedia entry about Pavlov’s life.

First, it seems there was some controversy about whether or not he actually ever used a bell.  (And you thought Fakename spends too much time contemplating subjects from the Who Cares? category.) 

So the judgement of history is this:  Yes, he did use a bell, but he also used a variety of stimuli including “electric shocks, whistles, metronomes, tuning forks, and a variety of visual stimuli”.  If only Pavlov had had Windows.  It would have saved him a lot of time. 

Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1904 for his work on how the digestive system functions.  This came from his observation that dogs begin to salivate before they actually have access to food.  This “reflexive” response led him to further experiments, such as an investigation into the response to stress and pain.  I guess I don’t have to tell you how you study that.  The answer is, you have to induce it. 

Which brings us at last to the larger philosophical question, which is, Is this something we really needed to know?  And was it worth causing suffering to helpless creatures to find it out?  Fakename says no, because we already knew it.  Even in Pavlov’s lifetime, anybody with a dog could have told you about that reflexive response thing, even without Windows.  But there was (and possibly still is) a mindset among certain scientists, who believe that a phenomenon isn’t “true” unless it’s described under “controlled conditions”.

There was a time when cosmetics were routinely tested on rabbits, followed by a time when cosmetic companies prominently noted that their products were never tested on animals.  Now you never see those disclaimers, because it’s understood that it doesn’t happen.  If there is a value to inducing pain and stress in other animals, what would that value be? 

Fakename thinks that Pavlov would be perfectly comfortable in today’s world, where we can have an apparently serious national debate about the effectivenes of waterboarding, without regard to its moral implications.

3 responses to “Famous People In History: Ivan Pavlov

  1. Once again we are thinking along somewhat similar lines, even if those lines are not parallel.( Linear logic is highly over rated! It’s so easy to see where they’re going and ambush them! 😉 )

    I was thinking about a post (when I can “fit it in” because the next few are already completed or in development) about “experts.” For every “expert” saying “X,” I can bring up another expert that says “Y.” It is just opinion these “experts” are propounding.

    I’ve not forgotten that every pediatrician in Manila wrote me off as “no hope” when I was less than a year old and had gastroenteritis and so no hospital would admit me. Obviously, these “experts” were ALL wrong!

    I might add that the “controlled” paradigm in research may have been useful and may be useful in some scenarios where there is no “known.”

    But, for example, in cancer research, there already is a huge knowledge base about survival rates. So why put anyone into a “placebo” when testing a new approach? We already know what their prognosis is…

    So I’m glad to see that more and more, the “placebo” group is being offered the new approach as soon as there is any indication that it improves the prognosis, even if it just to extend their life by a few months. Because in that time, another approach may show up and they may benefit, and so on.

  2. Gastroenteritis seems to be chancy with respect to reliable prognosis. There’s your sample of one and my sample of one.

    Different species involved. The dearly departed horse, 7 months after I bought him, ended up at the local university veterinary school hospital with a Dx of gastroenteritis. They warned me they did not expect him to live out the night and that treatment would cost $800/day.

    Twelve days and $1200 later, he came home. I had to feed him carefully thereafter but I rode him another 10 years before a different problem brought him down.

    That first 24 hours did cost $800 …

  3. Pingback: Over the weekend… « Thinking Outside The Skinner Box

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