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On this day in 1849 the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was born.
During the 1890s Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food.
Pavlov’s observations led him to formulate his concept of the conditioned (i.e. learned) reflex. In his most famous experiment, he sounded a tone just before presenting dogs with food; from this they were quickly conditioned to begin salivating every time he sounded the tone.
This ground-breaking work won him the Nobel Prize in 1904. Pavlov lived through the years of revolution in Russia and died in 1936. The phrase ‘Pavlovian reaction’ lives on.
Here is a poem about learning, by Alexander Pope, A Little Learning::
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts ;
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
Today I ask that I will never cease to learn even little things – whatever Alexander Pope says.