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 Vladimir Bekhterev

Born:   January 20, 1857
Deceased:   December 24, 1927

orld-famous Russian neurologist


Vladimir Bekhterev, world-famous Russian neurologist, was born to the family of a civil servant, who died several years after, leaving the whole family on the shoulders of his wife. In 1967 the boy entered Vyatka gymnasium, which was among the oldest educational institutions of Russia. In 1873 Bekhterev successfully passed admission tests to Medical and Surgery Academy. Vladimir took active part n the social life, but he never forgot about his studies – he was a successful student and chose his future profession, spending four years in the academy. Bekhterev decided to dedicate his life to neuropathology and psychiatry – at that time these two subjects were trained as one clinical discipline.

In 1877 Russia got involved in the war with the Ottoman Empire, and Vladimir Bekhterev, who recently finished the fourth year of studies, entered ambulance detachment as a volunteer. When Bekhterev returned, he spent two months in hospital with some kind of fever. Russian army was short of medics, and Medical and Surgery Academy started graduation exams earlier than usually. Bekhterev was one of three students, who got As in over two thirds of subjects. Excellent marks allowed Vladimir to try to enter the Institute of Medics’ Improvement, which graduates were known to become professors.

Vladimir successfully passed exams and showed excellent performance, however, he and other successful applicants were not enrolled in the Institute, since Russia needed military medics due to stringent foreign policy. As a result, Vladimir Bekhterev found himself as a junior doctor in the clinic of mental and nervous diseases. In the clinic, Bekhterev worked with enthusiasm – he paid much attention to experimental work.

In 1879 Vladimir Bekhterev became a full member of St. Petersburg Psychiatrist Society. The same year Bekhterev married Natalya Bazilevskaya, whom and whose parents he knew for a long time. Bekhterev and his wife rented a flat near Medical and Surgery Academy. Natalya turned out to be a good housekeeper and a great help for her husband. In 1880 Bekhterev wrote a series of ethnographic essays about Votyaks – modern Udmurts. His essays became very popular among Russians, because they revealed the unpleasant truth about common life of a small nation, hosted by the Russian Empire. Bekhterev became famous as a publicist, able to bring to light burning social issues.



Human nervous system
On April 4, 1881, Vladimir Bekhterev defended his doctor thesis “Clinical studies of temperature in some forms of mental disorders”, in which he supported adepts of material basis of mental disorders. The medic got the “privat-docent” title and was allowed to read lectures on diagnostics of nervous diseases to 5th-year students. In 1884 Bekhterev got a full-time position in the clinic of mental disorders. The same year Bekhterev’s supervisor arranged the medic a trip to Europe in order to improve his skills. At that time, Vladimir Bekhterev published 58 scientific works, most interesting of which covered studies of peripheral and central organs of equilibration.

The trip abroad Vladimir Bekhterev began in June 1884 – he went to Germany first, and then moved to Paris to work with Jean-Martin Charcot, founder of first hospital for patients with neurological problems in the world. While traveling, Bekhterev received the invitation to head the psychiatry department in Kazan, and he had to shorten his trip in order to return to Russia in September 1885. In Kazan Vladimir Bekhterev worked hard to organize his department. The medic got an opportunity to fulfill his dream – to study nervous system and its physiological, psychological and clinical problems. The time for systematic understanding of the essence of nervous and mental activity of human beings under normal and pathological conditions, has come, and the first stage was examining structure of brain.

Vladimir Bekhterev paid special attention to studying brain pathways, using a variety of methods, including embryonic or development technique. The medic believed that specific zones of cerebral cortex had specific functions. His experiments in Kazan University led to a large number of scientific articles. Vladimir Bekhterev also thought that nervous and mental disorders didn’t have a distinct border between them. The scientist noticed that nervous diseases were often accompanied by mental disorders and vice versa. Enormous clinical experience allowed Bekhterev to publish articles in allied subjects – he was the first one to describe ankylosing spondylitis, later known as Bekhterev disease. In 1891 Vladimir Bekhterev approached Kazan government with a proposal to open Neurology Science Society, and city authorities agreed. Bekhterev became the chairman of the Society. In 1893 Bekhterev was invited to head the department of nervous and mental diseases in St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy, and the scientist agreed. Vladimir Bekhterev arrived in St’ Petersburg and immediately started working – he began organizing first Russian neurosurgical operating room, aiming at establishing a specialized neurosurgery with either surgeons, experienced in neuropathology, or neurologists with some experience in surgery. However, Bekhterev didn’t perform any surgery, but took active part in diagnostics of neurosurgical diseases.

In 1894 Vladimir Bekhterev gained a Full State Counsellor title. Later the same year the medic entered Medical Board of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Working capacity of the scientist was fascinating – between 1894 and 1905 Bekhterev carried out 14-24 scientific works every year. We should keep in mind that Bekhterev never put his name under papers, done by other people.



Human brain
In November 1900 two volumes of Bekhterev’s “Pathways of brain and bone marrow” were nominated for the Baire’s prize, and the scientist received the prize in December. In 1902 the medic summarized his scientific and life experience in the book “Mind and Life”. The same year Vladimir Bekhterev prepared first volume of “Foundations of Brain Functions Theory” for press – that book became his main work in neurophysiology. The book systematized all existing in literature and Bekhterev’s own results of experiments on nervous system and brain functions, as well as functions of all parts of brain. First volume, which came off the press in 1903, contained general aspects of brain activity, for instance, Bekhterev suggested an energetic inhibition theory, saying that nervous energy in brain moved towards a centre, which was active, leaving other brain parts in inhibited state.

After finishing seven volumes of “Foundations of Brain Functions Theory”, Vladimir Bekhterev was attracted by scientific problems of psychology. Assuming that mental activity was a result of brain functioning, the medic considered achievements of physiology to be the most important, especially association or conditioned reflexes. In 1907-1910 Vladimir Bekhterev published a three-volume book “Objective psychology”, in which outlined main concepts of that new field of psychological science, created and developed by him. The scientist claimed that all mental processes were accompanied by reflex movements and vegetative reactions, which could be observed and registered. Bekhterev said that scientists could study not only perceived, but also unconscious mental phenomena. The medic suggested following division of psychology: individual, social, national, comparative psychology and zoopsychology. Bekhterev also insisted that child psychology should be a separate science.

In 1915 Vladimir Bekhterev’s initiative led to opening an orphanage with a kindergarten and school for refugee children from western regions of Russia. After October revolution, Bekhterev actively participated in creating public health services in the young country. In 1918 Vladimir Bekhterev applied for establishing a research and development organization – the Institute of Studying Brain and Mental Activities. The Institute opened soon, and Bekhtere headed it until his death in 1927. Rumors said that the scientist diagnosed paranoia in Josef Stalin, and it killed him.

Source: Science & Life


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