Two new papers on Sherrington

The November issue of Brain includes two articles about Charles Sherrington that will be of particular interest to historians of neuroscience.

Related resources are provided below the jump.

  • Feindel, W.  (2007).  The physiologist and the neurosurgeon: the enduring influence of Charles Sherrington on the career of Wilder Penfield.  Brain, 130(11), 2758-2765.

Wilder Penfield, a Rhodes scholar from Princeton University, New Jersey, was a student in the first course on mammalian physiology given in 1915 at Oxford University by Charles Sherrington, newly arrived from Liverpool where, as Holt Professor of Physiology for 20 years, he had become a leading authority on the physiology of the nervous system. The practical ‘exercises’ as well as graduate research on the Golgi apparatus and the decerebrate preparation, carried out by Penfield in Sherrington’s laboratory, gave him the groundwork to develop his career as a physiological surgeon, who made fundamental observations on functional localization in the human brain during the surgical treatment of patients afflicted with epilepsy.

  • Gibson, W. C.  (2007).  A student recalls Sir Charles Sherrington, O.M. (1857–1952).  Brain, 130(11), 2766-2769.

Charles Sherrington.

  • Granit, R.  (1982).  Interactions between Pavlov and Sherrington.  Trends in Neurosciences, 5(6), 184-186.

Discusses C. S. Sherrington’s and Pavlov’s approaches to the study of the CNS. The Sherringtonian approach through spinal reflexes was based on the insight that the relatively simple and highly reproducible input-output relationships of the spinal cord would lead to an understanding of fundamental mechanisms involved in brain function. Sherringtonian ideas have provided a solid foundation for modern physiology (e.g., the discovery of the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials by J. C. Eccles et al, 1951). On the other hand, the Pavlovian approach through conditioned reflexes attempted to elucidate more sophisticated properties of the CNS. Because of the complexity involved, modern physiology has as yet been unsuccessful in embodying Pavlovian ideas, especially in fields of memory and learning.

See also:

  • Mowrer, O. H.  (1976).  How does the mind work? Memorial address in honor of Jerzy Konorski.  American Psychologist, 31(12), 843-857.

Discusses the career of Jerzy Konorski and ways in which his work was continually and consistently directed toward an examination of how the mind operates. Konorski’s early training as a physician, his work in Pavlov’s laboratory, his interest in the work of Charles Sherrington, and his experience as director of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw are examined. In the beginning, Konorski was a behaviorist, but later he showed an unabashed interest in “mental life.” Eventually his work became known in the US; he made several visits here and even received grants from the National Institutes of Health. Emphasis is placed on how the work of Konorski and his “school” interdigitates with learning theory and research in this and certain other Western countries.

  • Windholz, G.  (1997).  Pavlov and the mind-body problem.  Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 32(3), 149-159.

I. P. Pavlov claimed that the mind-body problem would ultimately be resolved by empirical methods, rather than by rational arguments. A committed monist, Pavlov was confronted by dualism in the case of an hysterical person. Under normal conditions, her body’s left side was insensitive to pain, but when she was hypnotized, there was a reversal of her sensitivity to pain, with the right side becoming insensitive. Pavlov acknowledged that the divergence between stimulation and response suggested dualism, yet condemned his disciple G. P. Zelenyi as well as Charles S. Sherrington for their dualistic tendencies. Pavlov’s continuous adherence to monism is attributed to the influence of popular scientific books that he read during his adolescence. The books maintained that science was based upon monism. Pavlov proposed that by introducing the concept of emotions, an hysterical person’s condition could be explained within the framework of his theory of higher nervous activity, thereby obviating the need to change his paradigm.


About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.