Category: Quotes

Ivan Pavlov Quotes – New Ideas and Old Books

Pavlov on Old Books

Ivan Pavlov is very well known for his dog(s), but Pavlov is also credited with a quote of which I am very fond. I first heard of the quote from Professor Andrew R. Wilson of the U.S. Naval War College in his excellent Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers

“If you want new ideas, read old books.”

Ivan Pavlov Quotes – Provenance

I’m a sucker for good quotes, but I have found the Internet an unreliable purveyor of their provenance, so I try to track down the source whenever possible. However, the absolute provenance of this quote is unclear, but I found it used by Professor Aidan Moran of University College Dublin in Ireland in an article that is also excellent reading entitled, “If you want a new idea, read an old book.” By the way, I think the points Professor Moran brings out from the research of William James and Margaret Floy Washburn are similar to my contentions about studying history to develop new ideas whilst trying to innovate in one’s chosen field. I contacted Professor Moran about the quote and he pointed me to the place he found it which was a presentation entitled, “Limits of anatomy to predict physiology” by Nils P. Johnson, MD, MS, FACC, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine and the Weatherhead P.E.T. Imaging Center University of Texas Medical School at Houston  Memorial Hermann Hospital – Texas Medical Center, Houston, Texas, United States of America. (phew). Dr Johnson also did not know the provenance, but pointed me to his source of Van Calster, B. (2012), “It takes time: A remarkable example of delayed recognition.” J Am Soc Inf Sci Tec, 63: 2341–2344. doi:10.1002/asi.22732 – with the quote listed here – Patrick Durusau’s Another Word for It blog.

Dr. Philip Teitelbaum referenced the quote from his mentor,  the Nobel Prize winner, Georg von Békésy (1899-1972), in “Some useful insights for graduate students beginning their research in physiological psychology: Anecdotes and attitudes.” Although Békésy was academically active in Pavlov’s lifetime, there is no obvious personal overlap, since Békésy was in Hungary and Pavlov in St. Petersburg during their lives at that time. Obviously, Pavlov was a Nobel prize winner in Physiology as well and very well known in the Physiology field, so Békésy would have read Pavlov and may have even corresponded with him or spoken with him at some point of which I am not aware.

So, how about it? Anyone have any leads for me on the above quote attributed to Pavlov?

More on Ivan Pavlov

There is an interesting personal aside on Ivan Pavlov that makes me like him even more. Pavlov was favored by the Communists, especially Lenin, after the Russian Revolution, but Pavlov did not disguise his disdain for the Bolsheviks. Later, Pavlov actively tried to help people he knew that were caught up in the murderous intrigues of Stalinism by writing to Stalinist officials in trying to get them released from arrest and the gulag.

Photo Credit: Mikhail Nesterov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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