With his research work Sechenov laid the foundation for the development of neurophysiology, physiology of labor, analytical approach in physiology, evolutionary physiology, physiology of higher nervous activity and other areas.

Some modern researchers believe that the outstanding discoveries by Ivan Pavlov would have been impossible without the works by Ivan Sechenov.

At the very beginning of career Sechenov chose physiology as the main focus of his research.

“The reason for my cheating on medicine was that I did not find in it what I had expected, – instead of theory pure empiricism”.

I. Sechenov

Ilya Repin-Ivan Sechenov

Ivan Sechenov by Ilya Repin

First Success

While studying the effects of alcohol on the metabolic processes in the body, the muscles and the nervous system, Sechenov found a mistake in the experiments of the famous French physiologist Claude Bernard, which immediately brought fame to the young physiologist among his European colleagues. Bernard, as a true scientist admitted his mistake.

The Fluorescence of the Crystalline Lens

In 1858 Sechenov was studying the functions of the visual system and discovered the phenomenon of fluorescence of the crystalline lens (i.e., the emission in a certain light; you can see it for yourself at a night club).

Study of the Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Especially interesting are Sechenov studies on the physiology of acute alcohol poisoning.

He shows that most of the alcohol is not destroyed in the stomach, but gets to the blood while circulating there for a long time.

Sechenov concluded that alcohol suppresses chemical processes in the tissues, causes shortness of breath and speeds up heart rate, and negatively alters the functions of many organs.

150 years ago Sechenov already disproved a view that supposedly alcohol stimulates the blood flow to the brain.

Also Sechenov demonstrated that alcohol causes dehydration.

It was the first fundamental study of the effects of alcohol on the human body.

With this study Sechenov laid the foundations of the reflex theory.

Reactionary Persecution of the Scientist

In his works, Sechenov determined that all mental activity at its basis has the processes of the nervous system. And he actively promoted this discovery in public lectures and articles.

This position was at odds with the official point of view. Censorship prohibited publishing Sechenov works; and soon against Sechenov there was a case filed for advocating “extreme materialism.” Only intervention by the progressive people in Russia shielded Sechenov from being sentenced.

Sechenov Inhibition

Active persecution of progressive thought on the part of the tsar’s officials in Russia in the 1870s forced Sechenov to move abroad. After a series of experiments Sechenov made a discovery of delaying nerve centers in the optic thalamus of the brain (“Sechenov inhibition”). That means that all the activity of the nervous system consists of two main processes- excitation and inhibition!

The Death of the French Aeronauts

Two of the three Frenchmen who have flown on an aerostat to an altitude of 8.5 km, were killed. After examining the cause of the tragedy, Sechenov gave what became a widely known explanation that their deaths occurred due to the lack of oxygen. This is what started research in the aviation physiology.

Physiologists for Psychology

By determining the reflexive nature of mental activity, Sechenov gave explanation to such notions as sensation and perception, associations, memory, thinking, motor acts, development of the psyche. It is only natural that Sechenov was elected an honorary chairman of the I International Congress of Psychology (Paris, 1889).

It is believed that Sechenov was a prototype of the positive heroes in the novels by Turgenev and Chernyshevsky, who among others attended Sechenov educational lectures.



This article uses some materials by A. Nozdrachev and V. Pastukhov.

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